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Change Is The Only Constant

On the 7th anniversary of Box Office India, superstar Amitabh Bachchan shares the 7 big changes he’s witnessed over the years as an actor

From Celluloid to Digital

The first thing we notice in today’s times is that there is no celluloid. We used to have films that would be loaded as magazines into a Mitchell camera, and much later an Arriflex camera. They both had almost the same footage, of about 1,000 to 1,500 feet of film. Therefore, you had to finish the shot that you were taking within that. Otherwise, you had to cut and stop, and the entire big magazine would need to be taken out, reloaded with fresh celluloid and brought back again, by which time the lighting would have changed. It was a time-consuming process.

Actors, however, got used to working like that. And with a magazine of, say, 1,000 feet, you barely got a shot of one minute and 30 seconds. So, in a sense, it was quite convenient. Sometimes, artists felt, ‘I wish there was more film as they hoped to carry on with a similar mood. By and large, I think people were quite happy with it.

The fact remains that celluloid was not easy to import and it was also expensive. Hence, the director would quickly cut a shot if it was not working out or if it was taking too long. Often this would result in too many retakes. Then, jahan tak bola tha woh toh

theek hai par uske baad, we would start again.

Now films are being shot on a digital camera and there are no compulsions of time. In my latest release, Pink, for example, a large portion of the film is set in a courtroom. We used seven digital cameras and they ran at the same time, capturing 15 to 20 different artists. The artists have to be involved in a sequence in a scene that lasts for 15 to 20 minutes, and nobody stops. So I think their involvement in the scene is much greater, and you don’t have the limitation of time, as far as filming is concerned.

Promoting Films As Products

Indian films are now being marketed for the first three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Previously, there were very few advertising mediums. We just had newspapers and billboards. Now you need to do a lot more marketing. It has become almost corporatised, where specialists study your film and tell you how to market it.  They design and execute the promotional campaigns, it is a lot like what they do to sell a product.

We also have to follow that system because the lifespan of a film in a cinema hall has become very short, and within that short span you need to get all your footfalls, eyeballs and money. To achieve that you need to market, you need to promote the film.

Shelf Life of Films Has Decreased

It’s been a few years since the shelf life of a film went from 25 and 50 weeks to just weekend numbers. Films used to run for weeks but now their shelf life is often limited to those initial three days. Therefore, the film must have the calibre to generate returns within those three days.

Enhancement of Film-Viewing Facilities

If you are going to pay a large sum of money to watch a film, you need to have a luxurious ambience. I grew up in a time when we would pay eight annas – 50 paise – to be able to watch a movie. Now you spend `500 or more to watch a film. You are trying to entice the audience to come and watch the film in an atmosphere which offers some kind of luxury.

I remember a time when it was amazing to go inside a cinema hall that was air-conditioned. I come from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Niranjan cinema was the only cinema in the city that was air-conditioned. Walking into an air-conditioned cinema hall for the first time was an adventure and an unbelievable event for us.

Now, you have reclining chairs and I have seen how the seat turns into a bed. You can watch a film with your partner – you have a pillow, you have a blanket — you can even eat your food there.

I don’t know when they get the time to watch the movie playing in front of them but these are the facilities available now. These changes benefit cinema owners, who want to make your viewing experience so comfortable that you go back again.

Single screens will always have their charm. Some of the really big, commercial and escapist films run in single screens. Sure, they have competition from the multiplexes now but I think they will continue to exist. A lot of people complain they had to shut their single screens, but that is a business decision. Some of the big stars like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan still fill up single screen cinemas.

Evolution of Technology and Resources

With the opening up of the economy you can import goods much more easily and with the rise of disposable income, people have access to so much more. The evolution of technology has aided this further. Look at VFX, the face transplants and all those kind of things which are now being used by our technicians so effectively. It’s wonderful.

We never had access to this kind of stuff. If we had to do a double role, there was a huge process that we had to go through. I have been through that process in my early career, I did many films where I essayed double roles and triple roles. Now it is so simple. They have a green screen where you can do whatever you want and everything else is added in later. Technologically, we now have the access and the experts for all departments of filmmaking. Film communities all over the globe are able to communicate a lot more with each other because of new technologies, which is truly wonderful,

Global Reach of Indian Cinema

As an industry, we were not aware of the extent of the reach our films. It was only when we started going to other countries, we noticed the Indian diaspora’s love for our films, particularly after the video cassette recorder was invented.

The VCR started taking our films everywhere. There were people who were exporting them and marketing them. You had countries like Russia, where Mr Raj Kapoor was a legend; we had countries like Beirut, where Mr Shammi Kapoor was popular. Most of the African countries – Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria – watched our films much later. Our films were being watched in America as well because there is a large Indian population there.

I think the industry got concentrated attention when the younger generation came in and the markets opened up, in particular, Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar. The kind of films they made earlier on had immense patronage from the audience overseas. They became very huge and popular.

These are some of the changes that we have noticed, and it is prevalent worldwide. It is not limited to the Indian diaspora. If a family moved to the United States in the early 1940s, they would have lived through four generations in that country but somehow they always remained rooted to where they came from. When anything about their country comes out, the country that they came from, whether India or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or Pakistan, they relate to it and they patronise it, which is wonderful to see.

These young people who have been born and bought up there have their own local friends. In the UK, a lot of Britishers, British friends of Indian’s living there, see our films with them and start appreciating them. Now they have schools in London for South Asian studies. There is one old institute which studies Indian cinema very minutely. I have been to some of the classes there.

We were often criticised severely in the early years. Now, those are the very aspects of our filmmaking that are being appreciated. They love our songs, they love our music and the way we present our songs, something integral to Indian cinema.

The Audience Has Become More Knowledgeable

The audience is exposed to a lot more creativity than they used to be. Now you have television and the Internet. Whatever comes out in any part of the world is with you at the click of a button. We used to watch Hollywood films two years after their release. If you had to make a phone call to New York, you had to book it seven days in advance for it to go through.

Now that communication has become instant, the audience in India is also exposed to some great stuff that is happening in some other parts of the world. And therefore they expect that what they see in our cinema will hopefully be at par with that it, if not better. It is healthy competition.

The younger generation has great scope for experimentation. They want to do things differently. They are coming up new kind of scripts which, along with commercial, escapist cinema, are equally popular. That has worked very well for Indian cinema.

We have to move with the times. A lot of people from my generation sometimes say that the writing is not as good as it used to be, the songs are different, the music is different. Interestingly, this generation has grown up with music from all over the world. Sometimes, they go to sleep when they hear some of our old songs.

There is always going to be this debate. When we came along in the ’60s and ’70s, the ones before us used to say, pata nahi ye kaisi picture kar rahe hain; ajeeb si film hain. Now this generation says, ‘How did you work in films like that in the ’70s and ’80s?’ In another 10 years, that generation will be criticising the kind of films being made now.

As told to Rohini Nag Madnani

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