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Mumbai matinee

Filmmakers went digital, Rajni went north, the ‘multiplex formula’ took a reality check, and we saw our first Hindi stereoscopic 3D film. Bollywood is on the move. But if it wants to get anywhere, it should stop looking West.

mumbai Updated: Jul 18, 2011 01:27 IST
Pritish Nandy

Every nation is defined by only one thing: Its imagination.

Even though we spend all our time boasting about the rate of growth of our GDP, our nuclear knowhow, our defence expenditure — all implying our emergence as a major global power all set to rule the century — the truth is: None of these matter unless we can grab the world by the power of our imagination. And it is my belief that this will only happen when we stop talking so much about money and power and start demonstrating our true talent as a nation capable of building on its creative instincts. Nowhere are these instincts more obvious than in our genius for popular arts, particularly our movies, which reach out to over a billion people and, more importantly, influence their lives, beliefs, wants and desires.

Not only are we the producer of the largest number of movies in the world, we are also the single largest consumer of our own films. With 3.8 billion ticket sales every year, Bollywood is bigger, hotter and infinitely more powerful than Hollywood. But because our movies address internal audiences who pay much less for a theatre ticket than the global average, we are rated as a much smaller and less influential industry. Give us six years and watch our movies set global trends in music, fashions, building brands. In fact, everything Hollywood is now famous for. We will do it bigger, better, smarter.

It took us this long because we made several false starts. The worst thing we did was try to ape Hollywood, copy their scripts, chase their imagery, style ourselves like them and, horror of horrors, attempt crossover films. Why do we need to cross over? We have the world's biggest audience — people who go to theatres to watch movies they like, again and again. We have the world's largest group of fiercely addicted TV viewers — 60% of them watching movies on the small screen. They borrow their lives from there. Our movies influence almost all consumer behaviour. So why should we compromise on this amazing strength and try to cross over? All it can do is make us look stupid and wannabe. As indeed we do look every time we make a Shalimar or a Marigold or a Kites.

In fact, given the power and imagination of our movies, we should stick, as far as possible, to our own traditional narratives and build on them to grab younger people and ensure they stay with us. This is happening. Our movies are covering old as well as young audiences, catering to mass tastes as well as niche viewers in a way that entertainment in India is now unquestionably one of the most exciting businesses of the future. While Hollywood is like one giant casino, Bollywood tempts the world with its unique risk profile. In fact, given the large number of people who speak and love the English language here, I will not be surprised if six years from now, Bollywood makes bigger, better, more interesting English films than Hollywood.

Yes, that's what I see as the future. Not Bollywood aping Hollywood but challenging it. By making outstanding English language films styled in our own way. Exactly as our writers in English are doing. Salman Rushdie, Aravind Adiga, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai don't write for crossover audiences. They have a global audience of their own, hooked on to their typically Indian narratives. On the other hand, authors like Chetan Bhagat, Ruskin Bond, Ashwin Sanghvi find such a big and loyal readership out here that they do not need to seek out international publishers. They sell enough copies of their books here and manage to sell their movie rights to local movie makers as well. This is exactly where Indian movies are headed.

In fact, popular Indian cinema has already started looking inward for inspiration. Tamil and Telugu rights for almost all our movies are snapped up immediately on release. Even more interestingly, Bollywood is now increasingly choosing to remake Tamil and Telugu movies instead of stealing Hollywood scripts. I see much more of this happening. Bengali films being remade in Hindi. Hindi films being remade in Telugu. Tamil films being remade in Hindi. And all our films being remade in English and working for audiences all over the world.

The only thing we have to worry about is what Hollywood spends sleepless nights over: How to beat the stupid 'star system'. It dulls the imagination, saps creativity, skews budgets and injures the business of filmmaking without adding an iota to the art. Can it be beaten? I have no clue. Six years later, we could be struggling with a new bunch of idiosyncratic stars. It could be worse. The same bunch of stars may still be holding us to ransom.

Pritish Nandy is the founder, promoter and non-executive chairman of Pritish Nandy Communications Limited.