When Budget Calls the Shots in Bollywood: Imagine Raj Kapoor, K. Asif, Mehboob Khan, or Guru Dutt allocated a fixed budget with strict guidelines to adhere to while directing a film. Do you think it would have been possible for them to make their kind of cinema with restrictions imposed on their financial freedom? Forget caving into such limitations; they would have done quite the contrary: either walked out of the sets or shelved the project altogether.

Costly pursuit of perfection

Budgetary restrictions often flare up to create conflict with directors who nurture a perfectionist mindset. If they decide to re-shoot a song or a scene, imagine the hassles they would have to undergo: the elaborate rationale they would have to offer while seeking additional funds and special permission for the proposed deviation.

Upset with such tiffs, the temperamental directors who value the uniqueness of ideas and their execution much above monetary considerations would never genuflect before such diktats. The slew of episodes of skirmishes with many dynamic and ambitious filmmakers in the last two decades has shown that the corporate entities producing films refuse to be flexible when it comes to budgetary consolidation, rendering it clear that all filmmakers cannot direct under stifling corporate control.

Supremacy of aesthetic power

For those who believe in the power of improvisation and wish to invest their passion and energy to create good cinema are often seen as hard taskmasters who grant greater importance to artistic freedom vis-à-vis commercial compulsions as they believe better art can deliver better commercial success.

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If they are convinced that shooting a scene once again is justified, they will go ahead with that option instead of settling down with cosmetic changes. Such directors with convictions face discomfort while working with corporate producers who believe Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) must be honored to create quality cinema.

Despite their best education from the leading schools, their managers and research teams flounder to realize that cinema is a director’s medium and he alone should call the shots to make it a passionate engagement to deliver magical success. They cannot unite and agree to kill the soul of a film just to stick to the stipulated budget. Feeling bottled up, they put in their papers and hope for a better arrangement that would enable them to make their kind of films.

Passion drives excellence

Creating a mediocre film without the power of passion never delivers clutter-breaking work and never leaves a lasting impact on viewers. The element of spark is ignited when the director makes it the way he wants to shape the film without tackling financial worries. They are ready to stake everything and make their kind of films as they believe passion alone makes a difference to the filmmaking standards. Unfortunately, corporate players do not understand directors skewed in favor of instinct.

Corporate setback

More than a decade ago, corporate entities forayed into the celluloid space with great expectations that petered out soon as the film industry was not willing to reshape into a corporate hub where their rules and regulations would be recognized. The industry flourished because of passionate filmmakers who mounted their dream projects as they enjoyed the full support of producers who believed in their talent and gave them carte blanche to make their films without trying to save money where spending was required. A legion of filmmakers from the last century could flourish because creativity was unbridled, and they had people who understood the nature of the film business and were simply not into it for the sake of fetching huge returns.

The producers also had other expectations from the kind of films they made, and their belief system operated differently, unlike the corporate tribe that felt dazed by the fact it would be turned into a profitable business with better managerial controls even if it meant tampering with the soul of a film. When monetary incentives were the prime consideration driving the film production business, it became easy to envisage a stygian denouement that did not augur well for the industry that had sailed through the travails to reach the present position.

Emergence of small-budget films

Bollywood Inc.When Budget Calls the Shots - hof2

Corporate players were not keen to invest in cinema for several decades. With the growth of professional management in the film business, the tendency to curtail losses grew heavily, along with the need to plug the loopholes. What was seen as a masterstroke to restructure the finance model for curtailment of losses had proved to be the prime factor eroding artistic wealth.

With advanced technology, it became possible to slash the budget, save on lavish outdoor shoots, and stay away from heavyweight stars to produce small-budget films that would not only recover the costs but also lead to a healthy profit to enable the corporate player to plough back some of it in the production of another venture with the hope of doubling it up and then making another film by pooling the profit component alone.

Making a series of small-budget films with accomplished directors who can tell a good, gripping story became an all-pervasive reality even if they were not the nit-picking types. They were driven by the urge to find producers to back their projects in an industry where there is a dearth of sponsors willing to rope in relatively new filmmakers who have made a short film or directed a TV show before growing ambitious to direct a feature film. The arrival of corporate players proved to be a boon for directors who were talented enough to get noticed but not outstandingly brilliant to spend a whale of time on the perfectionism angle or grow obsessed with it.

They were happy to get the chance to make a film. If budgetary restrictions were imposed, they called it a disciplined approach to operating on restrained budgets that would boost their efficiency level. They were driven to the marquee to create an ecosystem with directors who would be ready to make compromises just to land a film and listen to the bosses as they were getting paid and getting the chance with ease – simply by refusing to be less ego-driven and less assertive to make films and earn their living. Such a vast galaxy of filmmakers would never stand up or challenge the corporate behemoths – rather build a good rapport to be lucky for another franchisee offer or make the next film with them.

Fine directors with spine

The number of pliant directors engendered hope of good times. Still, this honeymoon phase soon ended because they failed to show their spine as professionals and often listened to the advice doled out by management wizards, which led to the film’s doom. Soon, they understood that managerial hegemony was detrimental to the film business and that the creative worth of a director played a more decisive role than they believed. If they tinkered with that, the chances of a box-office dud multiplied. The need to have assertive directors with a voice and vision grew exponentially. The corporate players slowed down their pace and went in search of directors who had the X-factor coursing through their bloodstream.

Stars exploring new formats

The entry of players like Planman Motion Pictures raised hopes as some fresh filmmakers appeared to have been their discoveries. Despite a mixed performance in terms of hits and flops, they could not sustain in the long run—producers like Yoodlee films and UTV generated hope that cinema is here for good.

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The OTT platform seeded the idea that film ventures and adventures were suitable for this medium instead of being made into big-screen feature films. As the stars set up their own production houses, the uniqueness of corporate players waned. Mega stars produced their own films and allowed the preferred set of directors they connected with to make films their way.

This brought in fresh air of freedom and the flexibility to scale up budgets with directorial inputs that created better products and drove the ambitious filmmakers to return to the existing film houses or new production houses that were now chalking out strategies to launch one big film and make two small films with offbeat content and try out the potential of new filmmakers who could be given the responsibility of a big-budget movie in the future – depending on the kind of cinematic success their small ventures generated. This proved effective as we saw the emergence of a new crop of filmmakers who delivered big hits after their initial sleeper hits. With the matching of existing film producers and new directors through actors, they were able to stir a new pot of success formula behind the scenes.

If YRF produced mega commercial films, it also saw immense potential in making small-budget commercial flicks. Playing the role of a big profit maker and nurturing new directors’ talent fulfilled their dual responsibility and made the combination work out successfully.

Diversification of the portfolio made them more confident as their fear of losing money on small films was much less compared to what it used to be earlier. Even if they floundered to garner commercial success, they hoped it would get critical acclaim and also garner them a clutch of awards and bring them the pride of launching quality professionals in the film world who could subsequently contribute to the enrichment of the pool of talent in their subsequent works.

Compromising standards of excellence

Bollywood Inc.When Budget Calls the Shots - hof1

 

An overtly commercial approach of corporate players made their narrow thinking all too visible. An unexpected turkey at the box office made them eager to recover the loss in the next film, scale down the budget of their next film to minimize the risk of loss or take up rank newcomers willing to travel by train or make it an indoor venture.

If it meant making a song picturisation less grand, they were ready to do it with 50 dancers instead of 500. They were not searching for the showman through their ventures but looking for safe actors and directors who doubled or trebled their money for which they should have entered some other business and known the risk involved.

Star tantrums were not tolerated in most cases, and these were avoided where fading stars or faded ones were signed up. They could not bear the inflated cost of hiring stars, so they focused on actors. And actors, unfortunately, could deliver a limited range of profit in a film industry where big stars alone generate maximum profit.

The script is the new hero

On the positive side, what we saw through their entry was the respect for the bound script. Even if the corporate players could not make much headway, they would still be remembered for the emergence of the script as the hero of the film. This was a great lesson taught to the industry, which had not shown respect to writers and scripts for decades. The hurry to be seen as filmmakers often led to compromises in quality. The hygiene checks were relaxed where the budgets were pruned, and the tribe of filmmakers made films without purity, without taking ownership of the work.

With the need for quality content across various platforms, new corporate players can always resurface and revive. With players like Netflix entrenched in the production business, it is a foregone conclusion that the film industry needs people who believe in cinema instead of profit-makers alone. If corporate players revised their strategy and began to venerate directors, expect them to launch another showperson, though, for the time being, it seems a pipe dream.

Peaceful co-existence

There is always space for happy co-existence. Corporate players have their own set of advantages, just as the traditional film production houses have their own. There is space to co-exist and also let new entrants who are actors with resources willing to invest in their home productions and take the lion’s share of profit. What started in the 90s as a wobbly attempt has now achieved moderate to high success for many actors in the industry who do not run the risk of going bankrupt if a couple of their films flop in quick succession. They have created parallel routes to recover or minimize losses.

It has been established beyond doubt that the corporate bodies cannot dominate Bollywood, but they have the scope to become another production wing. The realignment process and the revised role of multiple stakeholders offer a balanced space to all three major segments producing films and feeding the celluloid dreams in this country. There is scope for tie-ups and new partnerships. Still, there appears to be near-zero possibility of corporate culture damaging the prospects of actors as producers or of producers from the traditional production houses.

Keep experimenting to forge new permutations and combinations, including crowd-funding, and continue giving more space to filmmakers if they wish to survive and flourish. Cinema is the director’s medium, and he alone should be trusted with his vision and given the creative freedom to make the film as per his choice, with minimal restrictions and interferences about budgets.

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Their greed to make a film should never come in the way and never make them compromise the benchmarks of excellence. They should remain steadfast and pure to their artistic vision because the magic of cinema is lost where the soul is tampered with – a loud and clear message for those who still do not let directors make films the way they want to make them.

Read More: Changes in Bollywood in 10 Years

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