An English expression thought to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse states: may you live in interesting times.
At first, it appears puzzling that the phrase would be considered malicious or bearing ill-will. Aren’t ‘interesting times’ preferable to ennui and boredom? However, on deeper contemplation, you start seeing where the ‘curse’ bit comes in.
Uninteresting times may be monotonous but offer a degree of stability and security that allow mankind to roll up its sleeves and go to work, laying the foundations of a more comfortable tomorrow. On the other hand, the volatility and uncertainty resulting from an era of rapid and tumultuous change may make for great material for news and social media, but are rarely a good breeding ground for growth and progress.
Boon or bane, there is no denying that we live in very interesting times, indeed. Case in point: the week that went by. Indeed, we don’t even need to look at that ‘large’ a sample as evidence; the events of last Tuesday/Wednesday shall suffice!
On the night of November 8, we all went to bed digesting the surprise announcement that the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes in our wallets (not to mention secret stashes, where applicable!) were suddenly not worth the pieces of paper they were printed on. And we woke up the next morning to news that a person whose antics and language would have had him constantly standing on the bench clasping his ears if he were a school kid in India, had just been elected to the most powerful office on this planet, that of the President of the United States of America!
There is a whole branch of science, aptly called Chaos theory, which deals with the unpredictable and the unexpected. One of its most famous concepts is the ‘Butterfly Effect’ which proposes that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. In short, an action in one place can have a totally unintended reaction elsewhere.
We, the Indian film trade, have often seen the Butterfly Effect in operation and will do so again as a result of last week’s momentous events.
For one, stakeholders in this week’s releases, Rock On 2, Chaar Sahibzaade: Rise Of Banda Singh Bahadur and Dongri Ka Raja will surely be impacted by the sudden liquidity crunch in the wake of the demonetisation of `500 or `1,000 notes. With permissible withdrawals of low-denomination or new currency set at very low levels, folks will obviously be inclined to preserve their funds for more essential necessities than watching the latest flick. Of course, options to make cashless payments at the box office or on ticketing websites and apps exist, but large swathes of our population still use hard currency as their sole medium of economic transactions – including paying for a cinema ticket.
Make no mistake, this is not a comment on the government’s bold and path-breaking crackdown on the curse of black money – an initiative we whole-heartedly support. In the larger scheme of things, the prospect of lower collections for a few films is not even comparable to the national interest sought to be served by the government’s decision.
Continuing on the theme of the Butterfly Effect, it won’t be surprising if, at some point in time, the other highly ‘interesting’ development of the week, the US elections, also ends up having its impact on the film trade.
If President Trump were to actually act on some of the promises made by Candidate Trump on the election trail – a hard line on immigration, renegotiating or termination of various multilateral and bilateral trade deals and a drastic relook at critical global pacts like NATO and the nuclear non-proliferation regime – there is no predicting the geopolitical, economic and social consequences of these measures. As a rising power of growing importance in a globalised world, India and the Indian economy will obviously not be immune to these ramifications. By extension, any situation of extreme strife will have a direct and immediate bearing on the public’s propensity to visit a cinema hall.
All of this only highlights what a gamble filmmaking really is. Many months, if not years, typically go into producing and releasing a film which usually accumulates around half of its lifetime theatrical revenues over its opening weekend and around three-fourths in its first week. That’s assuming your film lasts even that long – it is not uncommon for new releases to have their shows reduced or cancelled, often on the opening Friday itself.
If those weren’t odds formidable enough, there are the googlies meted out by events totally beyond the filmmakers’ control – or anyone’s control! – like the ones that set into motion this week with a Prime Ministerial statement in New Delhi and a Presidential candidate’s victory speech in New York.
There’s no saying where these curve balls may spring from – the delightful Oye Lucky Lucky Oye was severely impacted by the climate of fear that prevailed after the horrific 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. Similarly, Kaminey failed to achieve its full potential with a swine-flu epidemic causing a shutdown of public places, including theatres, in 2009. And need we even mention the pillorying and threats that certain films have faced – and continue to face – for the ‘crime’ of casting their films without gazing into a crystal-ball that predicted geopolitical developments in the future?
Makes you wonder… with the literally infinite variables our producers have to deal with, perhaps the most challenging job in the world is not the one that Americans voted on last week!