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An unending search for a hit-making formula


22 Mar 2011
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MUMBAI: Is there any formula that could go on to prove that a film being made would become a hit with the audiences?

Speakers at a session at the ongoing Ficci-Frames here symbolically put up their hands in despair.

“Sadly, there is no such formula. All that one needs is a good plot that would relate to the audience,” said noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal. He along with scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali, filmmaker Ramesh Sippy, storywriter Shibani Bathija and Australian filmmaker Ian Booth were debating the subject of ‘The Business of Filmmaking’.

“Unlike the early days, today a lot of investment goes into a film project: so one has to be abundantly clear of the film he wants to make, scrutinizing each and every detail, from story to script to other parts of the filmmaking process. He should work in such a way that his money does not go down the proverbial drain and he is able to recover his investment in the project,” Benegal added. Besides, there are umpteen other ways in today’s world to recover the money - cable rights, satellite rights, home video etc.

Talking of why Indian films do not work in the West, Bathija said, “Most of our filmmakers still follow our traditional ways of filmmaking of incorporating the nine emotions - Music, love, tragedy comedy, society, children, the slap, God, S-X, and goodness - in their films whereas filmmakers in the West have moved to films on genres like tragedy, comedy, family drama, musical and thriller. We understand and applaud films from the West, and it is for them to also understand our films.”

Cautioned Rajabali, “Filmmakers should always bear in mind that if they feel a project is not viable, there is no point making a film.” For example, he said if one were to invest enormous funds in a film starring Boman Irani, then the film would not give the kind of returns that a Salman Khan film or a Shah Rukh Khan would give. “He should never do the film,” Rajabali added.

It is amazing to note that the country which produces 800 films a year is yet to find the answer to why 85 per cent of the films flop every year, Rajabali said, adding “there are people in states like UP, MP, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa whose one day salary equals the price of a cinema ticket but they still line up to see a film that may turn out to be bad.”

“Films do not flop, it is the budget of the film that falters,” felt Sippy, adding that once a filmmaker finishes his film, his project is taken over by distributors and exhibitors who want him to effect several changes to make the film look more groovy from their perspective. “For the changes, the filmmaker spends quite a lot and eventually when the film flops, it is he who suffers by way of the loss,” Sippy added.

Talking of collaborations and joint ventures, Sippy said, “While initially planning out Chandni Chowk to China, it sounded nice that there would be a story of an Indian based in China. When I took the storyline to the Warners, they lapped up the idea. But the film failed and the Hollywood studio burnt its fingers.”

But such films would get made by the dozen in the future, Sippy hoped, adding, “story-telling is bound to change and then we would see good days returning to Indian cinema.”

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