Directors and producers tend to believe that creativity is a product of extravagance, and that, to be creative, vast sums need to be spent on lavish productions. In the television industry, I have learnt to work with constrained budgets and when we’ve had bigger budgets, we’ve ended up spending more on visuals but making serials that were not exactly great. But when we’ve had less to spend on an emotionally charged story, we’ve made better episodes and managed higher TRPs.
Lesson learnt: It takes more than a big budget to make a good film. I had heard that a very flamboyant director once spent ` 40 lakh on a door in his film. Yes, a door! And when I watched the film, I was hard-pressed to identify this precious prop. I was confused – why spend a fortune on a door? It’s one thing to believe in visual poetry but in the final analysis, creativity and commerce must find a balance.
If there is no balance, someone will end up losing a lot of money and no creativity is worth anybody’s loss. Now, if it’s your own money, no argument. If you spend, say, ` 100 crore on making a film but you don’t sell it because you aren’t sure if your buyers will recover their investment, I am OK with that.. But if you make, say, four people buy the film and say ‘it’s their problem, not mine’, that’s ethically wrong. No sir! If they’ve bought your film, it is still your problem.
Isn’t it the responsibility of creators to make sure that buyers don’t suffer a loss? A lot of people place the blame on buyers and ask, ‘Why did they pay such an exorbitant price?’ How many ask, ‘Why did the producer ask for such an exorbitant price?’ It’s a basic tenet of business that you must be cautious when other people’s money is at stake.
I’m not recommending that one should become a baniya at the cost of creativity. Sure, spend as much as required but spend prudently. The greater the creativity overload, the smaller the section of the audience that will watch your film. And if you sink your own funds into a project like this, my respect for you will increase ten fold. Doing it with someone else’s money is just not right.
That’s why I have the utmost respect for Salman, Ajay Sir and Akshay Kumar. They are big stars doing commercial films. People blame them for not doing art house commercial films. But when you are that kind of star and you command that kind of price, you will choose a script that will do well. Eventually, they earn money for their producers. They do mass films. There are often these dubious comments, like, why can’t they support alternative cinema? It’s the other way around. The question is: Can alternative cinema support them? And if you want to make alternative cinema, you don’t need stars because there’s a small section of the audience who believes in this kind of content and they will go invariably with the presence of a big name or new names.
So I believe creativity needs to be channelised effectively, with the subject deciding the expenditure, not the other way around. You can’t decide on a budget and then choose a subject. Projects that follow this principle can go horribly wrong. Sometimes we create our own Waterloo.
I love the way Rajinikanth works. When he delivers a flop, he gives the money back to his producers. Or he does another film with them. In Hindi films too, we have actors who will make another film if the producer has lost money. We all make mistakes but we need to look after each other in such a small industry. Being whimsical about creativity at the cost of someone else’s money is just not right. I’ve worked with Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, and even if they charge me three times more than other actors do, at least they’re not whimsical. Neither do they turn up on the sets at 4 pm and leave at 6 pm.
In the same spirit, we producers should be loyal to our distributors and they, in turn, should do the same with exhibitors. Everyone in the value chain must be taken care of because it’s always give and take.
I am not making myself out to be a martyr. But if I don’t do charity, I should make sure no one loses money at my cost. It’s all about trust.