Corporatisation in Bollywood: How much does it control creativity? Filmmakers express their thoughts

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On Saturday, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur tweeted about his film Dil Se… completing 22 years, hinting a change that has swept Bollywood for the worse. He wrote,“25 yrs ago Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Verma and I predicted that soon our creativity will be controlled by big corporations, if directors ourselves don’t get together to counter that corporate power. Dil Se was the first of that collaboration. Unfortunately, the last..”

So, What is this corporate culture he referred to? Is it still prevalent? If yes, how much of it controls the industry?

Onir, who has directed films such as My Brother Nikhil and I Am, explains,“Earlier, it was an organic process between a director and a producer. Now a whole lot of people, not filmmakers, are supposed to understand. For example, when you go to a restaurant, and decide you want to eat Punjabi food, but when you go to someone’s house, the cook feeds you, not what you order, with love. Filmmakers earlier made films with love and told the story they wanted to tell. Right now, the platform figures if this is a story it wants to tell. Their creative teams will say ‘this is not what we are looking for’,” he explains.

Elaborating more, Madhur Bhandarkar tells us, “It was there earlier, too, when a person would say ‘iss film mein item song daal do, film dry hai, comedy scene daal do’. Since the corporate culture came in, a lot of people have this focus group which assesses the film, gauges the script, shows the film to a test audience, which is not necessarily 100% right. There is no doctrine of making hit or great cinema.”

Today we see big producers with their own production houses, making films in collaboration with studios. Anurag Basu says the system of independent productions changed a long time back. “The studios decide what to make. The directors may have subject and a script idea, but the studio need not agree. They don’t most times and don’t back the project. They see the director’s last film, box office record etc. that’s how they judge mostly.”

Onir adds that what Kapur must have meant is that populism is not the best way of nurturing creativity. He says, “Right now, platforms look at who the star is, and the other is of course content, depending on who gets the eyeballs. Today, when you speak of the best Indian films such as Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), all were flops during their time, but they got made because people believed.”

Trade expert Atul Mohan says, “We have 15-20 companies functioning in corporate style.”

But Basu says that “new filmmakers and directors do face interference as studios always see the return on investment” but “it’s a business. It has made things more organised, everything is in white, no black money. Almost all the business is controlled by corporates,” he explains.

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