The division in cinema – commercial versus art cinema – has always been an invalid division and completely erroneous. The difference between one type of film and another depends entirely on the sensibilities of the filmmaker. It has nothing to do with commercial and art cinema, which is mere terminology. The fact is there is mainstream cinema, whose objective has always been to maximise a film’s earnings. It has only one aim – to entertain.
Cinema can be looked at in two ways. One, it is a product to be consumed, that is, it’s a commodity. The money earned has to be adequate enough so that you are encouraged to make more films.
The second way to look at cinema is – what impels a person to make a film or to give creative expression. While you entertain, you also want to make an aesthetic product. It simply means that you have created something aesthetically appealing, which is why you use the term ‘art house’ cinema. But the fact remains, that there is no actual separation on these lines.
The difference between the past and the present in terms of film financing is very simple. For the last 85 years, filmmaking was not considered an industry and it could therefore not raise money from financial institutions. Thus, it was usually individuals or consortia who invested in a film. The disadvantage was that the interest charged was very high, especially when the film neared completion. So what happened if you wanted to make a film that gave vent to your desire for self-expression but whose returns you could not guarantee? But, then, there never was a guarantee of any film making money, especially because 80 per cent of films failed at the box office. It was the 20 per cent which succeeded and absorbed the shock. Therefore, we could keep our noses above water.
When the Government of India decided that the film industry should be considered an industry because it employed very large number of people, people began to make films in 24 different languages. The industry could also now raise money from financial institutions. Thus corporate houses decided that films were an interesting business and decided to finance films themselves. But they also wanted control over the product and in the process wanted all aspects concerning filmmaking under one roof.
The big players stepped in and we had BIG Pictures, UTV, Eros International and Studio 18, to name a few. They hedged their bets to see that that their films did not fail as they did in the past. They also created a basket of products. So, if one failed, another would succeed. Thus unlike earlier, where you made a single film and hoped for the best, now there is a variety that also includes out-of-the-box cinema.
The entry of corporate houses also ushered in the age of multiplexes even as old-style cinema halls ran into losses. But multiplexes brought the middle-class back to the box office. They also had four to five screens each and this meant that they could offer a choice of films.
Since different types of people want to see different types of films, this meant a variety of films could now be produced. This was not possible earlier, when we used to struggle for finances to invest in our films. So, with the entry of corporate houses and multiplexes, filmmakers began to experiment with genres. Thus, the younger generation of filmmakers, like Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Habib Faisal and Vikramaditya Motwane, are not making conventional films. They are
making their kind of cinema – each one of them. Now they are two possibilities – to make the type of films they believe in and for these films to also become successful.
I therefore say that mainstream and art house cinema was never divided. Unfortunately, we are also falling into another pattern. To hedge their bets, most filmmakers feel there should be some magnet, a star, that will ensure a basic minimum earning. But some directors like Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj and Vikramaditya Motwane have broken that barrier by casting newcomers and some great talent. They want to make films according to their sensibilities and cinema that bears the stamp of their creative expression. It is their brand. So, as I started out by saying, there was never a divide.