Content is king, but in exile
If movie making is a gamble, so too is movie going, writes PRAKASH BELAWADI
THERE WILL be 100 multiplex screens in Bangalore by 2008. Actually 97, according to one insider, and given the congenital afflictions of delay that attend projects, that could happen only by 2010 perhaps. But that is bound to change the way we make movies. Crucially, it will determine who will see those movies, why and how. The big screens will make way for the new generation multiplexes that will make movies the lure, and shopping the real business.
Before sighing in nostalgic angst, we must consider a few more new age realities. There is a digital film technology revolution in the happening and the 100-year-old, dear old, chemical film coating process will soon be relegated to the appendix pages of photography textbooks. Science may be yet remain the territory that allows wild horses to run free, but surely technology is a stud farm that seeks to breed only winners you can bet on.
But then, if movie making is a gamble, so too is movie going. There is the hype, there are the critics and, there is word-of-mouth, but the punter pays first to take the bet and it is all over so quickly. The multiplexes will make the races harder, faster, and over shorter distances, because there are so many on the cards.
If one must rein in the metaphor and get on with it, what it means is that there will be a torrent of movies available from all over the world for these screens. So movies of the future, which seems ever so closer everyday, will have to be made for a simultaneous run across thousands of screens, while the hype lasts.
But to make a thousand movie prints the old way would be very, very expensive. At an average Rs. 50,000 for a celluloid print, that is likely to be more expensive than most Indian films. And the reels together will weigh an average 35 kg. Lugging them over and across the seas and around the territories, storage, and handling are a logistical nightmare.
But digital technology can put the film on a disc that costs less than Rs. 100. One step further into the future, which could be a couple of years away, is to beam the film directly on to the screen. A movie could be released, simultaneously, all over the world's little multiplex screens. Hype will be big, global and will last, as Woody Allen said, for the proverbial 15 minutes or days, in this instance.
What then happens to the well-made Rs. 2-crore commercial regional language film? The likely scenario it will encounter is that the advertisement for the Hollywood or even Hong Kong film will be on Page 1 of the popular newspaper, the TV promo commercial will be telecast with one-day internationals, and the hoarding will be bigger than the Vidhana Soudha.
The production cost of the global film will be Rs. 2,000 crore. After seven days, while the regional language filmmaker blinks, the global blockbuster will be followed by a Rs. 3,000-crore film. The answer is that all but the most intrepid regional language filmmakers will close shop. The depressing fact is that this is not a doomsday scenario (nice title for a big Hollywood film with graphics!) but a reality that is acknowledged by the last-mile people of our film industry. Exhibitors, everywhere and quietly, are closing down the big screens. Real estate is going up again and with burgeoning urban areas, can only keep going up. Every inch of urban space has to be converted to more lucrative use. Commuting is already a nightmare.
Every trip into any place in town has to be for optimal use. Could the family or a group of friends go to the movies, shop, eat and hang out, all at the same place?
There is other competition to consider. Television is so completely global that we all watch the same thing, whether in New Jersey or Tumkur, and it is not just Mickey Mouse speaking Tamil on TV. There is reality TV and international soccer and so many movies, and cricket, cricket, cricket. There are big screen projections in restaurants and clubs and malls. Multiplexes then, no question, coming soon to a theatre near you. Ask the nearest movie theatre owner.
If regional language will persist, it will have to be government-backed, subsidised, and a very downmarket. And content that we can reckon with and care about, will get less and less subscribed. If anything, the history of mass media has taught us that volumes do not bring down costs. Movie tickets are already expensive.
They will only become more expensive. CDs are more expensive than audiotapes and DVDs, more than VCDs. Governments and advocacies may change, but the future is relentless. Subsidies cannot last.
Perhaps the government should consider liquor licensing for big theatres that will screen regional language films. But seriously, there is a need for informed debate here. Our artistic expression has to be about us. It is not comfortable to wake up and see somebody else in the mirror.
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