While Diwali anyway occupies pride of place in the crowded Indian festival calendar, it holds a special significance for the film trade given its association with the Goddess Lakshmi and, by extension, wealth and prosperity. Further, as an occasion for families to get together and indulge, the Diwali holidays typically see an uptick in film ticket sales, which is why the Diwali weekend is one of the most coveted release windows for marquee films. This year is no exception, with Golmaal Again!!! and Secret Superstar now playing in cinemas.
Admittedly, the performance of the box office in the run-up to the festival of lights – bar a few stray successes – has hardly been conducive to celebrations and merry-making for the film fraternity. Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. After all, Diwali is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness, hope over despair and it is incumbent upon us to fight the good fight to overcome the tough times we find ourselves in.
In doing so, we can take heart and inspiration from those who faced much worse circumstances and yet emerged triumphant. Countless such examples can be found across the ages, but even in our own lifetimes, we have been witness to some miraculous comebacks. Come, let’s embark on a quick journey through the pages of recent history and meet some struggling people.
Our first stop is the sleepy island town of Rameswaram, where a boatman’s young son delivers newspapers to supplement his family’s meagre income. He studies and works hard towards his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, but narrowly misses out – standing ninth in an exam to fill eight vacancies in the Indian Air Force. What does the dejected young man do next? The answer, quite literally, is rocket science! He goes on to stand at the forefront of virtually all of modern India’s scientific achievements – the successful development of satellite launch vehicles, an advanced missile programme and the conducting of the Pokhran nuclear tests. And, on July 25, 2002, APJ Abdul Kalam is sworn in to the nation’s highest office, that of President of India.
We then head to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, where a stark 8 ft by 6 ft cell is going to be home for 18 years of a man’s 27-year long imprisonment. His crime? The colour of his skin in a country that is segregated on the basis of race. The cell is damp and will eventually lead to tuberculosis and chronic lung problems for the prisoner. He spends his days breaking rocks and facing verbal and physical abuse… but his spirit remains unbroken. On May 10, 1994, that man – Nelson Mandela – is inaugurated as the first black president of apartheid-free South Africa, more than 50 years after he began his political struggle for equality of all men.
Our next destination is the San Francisco Bay Area in the year 1985 where a brilliant but often difficult 30-year-old man is pondering his future, after having been thrown out of the company that he himself founded, by a CEO that he had hired. He is going to spend the next decade bringing out great but expensive products that wow but do not really sell much. Yet he perseveres, and in 1997, Steve Jobs returns to Apple Inc. where he subsequently launches revolutionary and hugely successful products like the iPod and the iPhone that propel Apple to become the world’s most valuable company and his own stature to the realm of legends.
We return home and time travel to the year 2000 where Indian cricket finds itself in shambles at the dawn of a new millennium. Besides other players, no less than the captain of the national team, Mohammed Azharuddin, has been handed a lifetime ban for his involvement in match fixing and the credibility of the sport is at an all-time low, imperiling its very survival. This is the backdrop against which Sourav Ganguly takes charge of the Indian cricket team and leads it to pole position in the sport’s world rankings. He also instills a self-confidence and killer instinct that subsequent captains like M S Dhoni and current skipper Virat Kohli build on, ensuring that India has remained in the top league of cricketing powers ever since.
Our final stop is England at the end of the 19th century. A kid who hasn’t even reached his teens feeds himself by working at a workhouse, an institution that provides (sporadic and barely edible) sustenance to the needy in return for their labour. He loses his father, a cruel and abusive alcoholic, when the latter’s liver gives way and his mother is committed to a mental asylum, which is where she ultimately dies. Hindi cinema can be quite generous in dishing out melodrama but even we might find this misery quite over the top were it to feature in one of our movies! Yet, this is no work of fiction, this is a true account of the childhood of someone who went on to become synonymous with cinematic comedy in an iconic career spanning almost eight decades – Charles ‘Charlie’ Chaplin.
As we have seen in this whirlwind world tour crisscrossing decades, seemingly insurmountable adversity is often the catalyst of great things. This Diwali, let’s resolve to similarly use the current, distressed state of our business as a springboard to attain unprecedented heights.