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Lesson from Hollywood

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the legendary 86 year old Hollywood studio, is filling for bankruptcy. This relates to Hollywood’s style of functioning, marred by overblown budgets, unreal plots, unsure narratives and tired stars, none of which enthuse audiences that are themselves changing and seeking novelty mixed with realism. In contrast, stands bollywood, the Hindi film industry steadily expanding over the globe. Just like Hollywood, bollywood also boasts of an amazing variety of talent, but its bonanzas were reasonably budgeted and sure of its roots. The bollywood of Raj Kapoor has always been unafraid to grow with new themes and emerging markets.

Bollywood has even inspired successful variants like “nollywood”, Nigeria’s take on Hindi films, colorful, small-budgeted melodramas that have swept the African continent. The vibrancy and energies of these cinemas are unmistakable. Perhaps it is small surprise that several American and British film makers are flocking to them for fresh ideas.

But the story is not that simple. With a lot of senseless movies being released in the recent past by our own bollywood, perhaps it is time to wait and ponder in which direction are we heading? From the outside you can say, that bollywood is trying new innovative things, something which has not been tried before, on a bigger scale. But the truth is that from the inside, they are just using big budget, as a mask to cover the lack of a solid script and cinematography. Almost 50 movies are released every year in the commercial film section, but only a handful of 5 to 6 films succeed in registering themselves as box office hits, both in terms of critical acclaim garnered and revenue generated. No matter what the actors and directors say about their films being a huge hit, a blockbuster, this is the hard fact which can be verified.

What happened to the cleverly budgeted films, on topics close to the heart of people which were made in bollywood in the 70s and the 80s? With 9s came a trend of aping the Hollywood, their scripts, their fashion sense, their plots and even the adultery seen in the Hollywood movies. In the 21st century with the advent of new technologies, improved animation and greater use of stunts, the whole face of bollywood changed. With India being on the verge of becoming an economic super power, investments in the film industry also went on piling, resulting in movies like Blue, Love Story 2050,etc. with huge budgets and lots of action which failed to deliver and capture people’s interest.

Indeed we also had a lot of new movies, which were fun to watch, and got etched in the pages of history of bollywood forever but we must not forget that, that is how the legend of Hollywood went too. Few hits and then a series of never-ending flops.

Winner of 205 Oscars over the years, it is extraordinary that a studio of MGM’s stature should see such days. Despite holding 4000 film titles including the sparkling James Bond series, the studio, has been plagued by debts of 4 billion dollars. It is anticipated that its lenders will take over most of MGM, forcing it to rescale operations. MGM’s crisis reflects greater trouble within Hollywood itself. In recent years, American cinema has increasingly been treated not as ‘show business’ but pure business. Films have been based on market strategy, distribution networks and commercial calculations as opposed to simply being cinema that delights and thrills viewers through the forceful creativity driving it. Once, MGM made iconic films like Gone With The Wind, Ben Hur, The Wizard Of Oz and Rocky. In recent times, despite the hype and hoopla surrounding Hollywood, it is hard to think of many movies which will live beyond their times, seeping into popular memory the world over.

If Bollywood wants to avoid landing in the same spot as Hollywood, then we need to keep pace with time, be constantly energized by everyday culture and mythology while increasingly including edgy, experimental stories. We have had some relief in the form of movies like ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’, ‘oye lucky! Lucky oye!’,    ‘iqbal’, ‘mithya’, etc. which in spite of their low budget were show stealers at the box office.

There is still time. We can stop ourselves from foolishly following Hollywood and eventually landing in the same pit where most of the big production houses in USA are finding themselves in. with a 1.2 billion strong population and an unparalleled craze for bollywood, we have got a good chance of saving our cinema, and its glorious past. It is time our directors and producers learned a trick or two form our rich history of film making, about making hit movies, clearly budgeted and yet straight from the heart.

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