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Prophets Of Boom

On Friday, March 16, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will present the Union Budget for the fiscal year 2012-13.

Usually, in our pre-Budget edition, our note on this page is about proposals and reliefs the film fraternity would like to see in the Budget. Not that any of our recommendations find their way into the Finance Bill! Indeed, the various – and multiple – representations made by various industry bodies and associations to the Finance Ministry mandarins rarely lead to any concrete and constructive government action.So while we are carrying in this issue a feature on the industry’s wishlist of budgetary measures that would help us, I want to use this note to introspect on why our voice is so easy to ignore by the powers-that-be.

To begin with, how can we expect people to hear our voice when we don’t have a voice in the first place?

Instead we talk in many tongues – through multiple bodies, associations, federations, committees, groups and what-have-you. Further, even when these groups make their respective representations/appeals, there are different and often contradictory messages that individual members present during such interactions. So while it is easy to whine and talk about step-motherly treatment, we must also accept some of the blame for our inability to put forth a coherent, compelling and united stand.

And while on the subject of contradictory messages and signals, I think we need also to acknowledge the strange paradox of our industry. We all agree that our industry is in a financial mess – filmmaking is an inherently high-risk, commercial endeavour and external obstacles like high (and multiple) taxation and piracy further heighten the already formidable odds against success. However, ask any individual producer about the financial fate of his film and he will cry himself hoarse to prove that his film made money.

So on the Saturday following a Friday release, we see posters and congratulatory ads loudly proclaiming a film’s success. Even before a film is released, we are told that the project has made a table profit through pre-sales of IPR and that theatrical overflows are going to be a mere ‘bonus’. Films launched with the claim of being the most expensive ones ever, suddenly start claiming much lower budgets post release to prove that contrary to popular belief, they made money. The PR machinery goes into overdrive saying that producer X is so happy with the ‘tremendous response’ to his film that he has gifted his director and cast swanky BMWs and Mercedes Benzes and a sequel is in the works. And of course, let’s not forget the ‘success’ parties that have become the norm for virtually every film.

The obvious question – if all our films are ‘hits’, then what financial crisis are we crying over?!

And now let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mr Pranab Mukherjee or other folks involved in the Budget-making exercise. How seriously do we expect them to take our protestations of being in dire straits when all they see on TV and other media are flashy and glitzy announcements of success?

As kids, we all heard the story about the boy who cried wolf and found no allies when faced with a real crisis. Perhaps we too are guilty of the same…. with the difference that instead of crying wolf, we do a celebratory foxtrot!

Amen to that!

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