Regular readers (if any!) of this page will hopefully attest that at every possible opportunity, we try to convey a positive message and project an optimistic outlook in our editorials.
After all, as a trade journal whose target audience is the film community, our interests are aligned with those of the fraternity and we share the same goal of working towards a healthy, growing, progressive and harmonious film industry. We are also, thankfully, immune to the compulsions of mass media that are constantly blaring ‘Inside Scoop!’ and ‘Exposed’ headlines from their television channels or publications, in a bid to grab the attention of the general public
However, being a sympathetic well-wisher is not equivalent to being an undiscriminating cheerleader who is blind to the shortcomings of those one supports. So even as we champion the industry’s collective objectives, we also have to occasionally hold a mirror to its flaws and weaknesses because these can only be eliminated after one first recognises and acknowledges that they actually exist.
And the unbecoming trait that we want to reflect on this week is our fraternity’s rather macabre fascination with the misfortunates – real or perceived – of others in the same profession; our trigger-happy tendency to start broadcasting obituaries at the first inkling of a misstep by our colleagues; and our rather amnesic disregard for all that a person or an organisation may have achieved in the past while sniggering at their current setbacks.
It happens all the time: the moment it becomes apparent on any given Friday that a film has opened disappointingly, the knives immediately come out and snap judgments are made on how the future careers of the lead actors/director/producer/studio have entered a phase of an irreversible downward spiral. If you prepare a roster of all the stars, directors and banners of repute over the decades of Indian filmmaking, you can rest assured that pretty much every name on that list of worthies would have been similarly written off at some point in time or the other.
So it is par for course that recent reports of Disney India/UTV Motion Pictures suspending local film production have set off much comment and speculation, not necessarily of the empathic or supportive kind. The studio may have distributed the highest grossing Hindi film of all time and produced a host of hugely successful films; it may have been a pioneer in heralding the new wave of content-driven cinema; it may have been a launch or re-launch pad for many of our most celebrated filmmakers today; and it may have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the industry in fighting for shared causes – but all of this has apparently been instantly erased from our collective memory.
As Shakespeare wrote: The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones…
Needless to say, in the course of such a long and prolific journey, there must have been some mistakes along the way and some bets that didn’t pay off. And obviously it would be wise for others to learn from these experiences, both good and bad. However, the right to deride should be reserved only for those that have a longer filmography and a shorter catalogue of errors than the subject of their judgment.
But this note isn’t really about Disney which, as one of the elite major film studios in the world, will get by just fine, with or without our appreciation of their achievements.
What this piece is about is a yearning for empathy among filmmakers, a hope that we may be more circumspect and less gleeful in predicting doom for others. And it stems not from any utopian notions of grace and brotherhood among men but from a hardnosed understanding of what truly serves our self-interest.
Intense competition and one-upmanship is not the exclusive domain of the film industry. Indeed, things can get nastier and more ruthless in other sectors – Pepsi v/s Coke, Apple v/s Microsoft, Unilever v/s Procter & Gamble, Airbus v/s Boeing, to name just a few.
But there is a fundamental difference between the way most other industries operate vis-a-vis ours. Your decision to quench your thirst with Cola A is a direct and immediate loss for Cola B. Your decision to sign on to a new mobile operator will typically come at the expense of your existing service provider.
On the other hand, unless two films are going head-to-head on the same release date (and even this scenario is not always a zero-sum game), the failure of a particular film doesn’t necessarily benefit the prospects of a future release. In fact, with cinema being a pretty expensive proposition for the average film-goer, a disappointing movie experience reduces one’s propensity to watch subsequent films.
Even more importantly, the lifeblood of our industry is a steady influx of outside money and that flow of capital is ultra-sensitive to the prevailing business sentiment at any given point in time. Which is why, depending on whether films are generally doing well or poorly, we are constantly oscillating between cycles of liquidity excesses and scarcities – more the latter than the former, unfortunately.
We have said this many times on this page and it bears repeating: a successful film helps us all, just as a flop hurts us all. That’s not an empty platitude; it is one of the most fundamental realities of our business. We would be well-advised, therefore, to be less hasty in, and derive less pleasure from, the anticipation of the last rites of others. Because that could well be, quite literally, our own funeral.