Thursday, June 28, 2007
With demand for better scripts and stories growing, tinseltown takes steps towards financial and creative discipline
When Sagar Ballary made his first feature on a low budget, he didn't waste a single shot. He said his teacher at the Satyajit Ray Institute of Filmmaking in Kolkata, the legendary Subrato Roy, had taught him how to be "economical and legitimise each shot." Though Ballary says he will never forget that lesson, he can rest a little easy from now on.
For, after the success of Bheja Fry - it grossed Rs 12 crore at the box office - Sahara One Motion Pictures has commissioned Ballary to make three films. The first, Kaccha Limboo, a picaresque story of a goofy 13-year-old, is already in the works.
It's the order of the day in a fast corporatising Bollywood - actors and directors signing up multi-film deals with production houses. So, you have Priyanka Chopra signing a non-exclusive, three-film deal with UTV; and a host of others from Akshay Kumar to Sanjay Dutt, as well as directors David Dhawan to Nagesh Kukunoor also being wooed by multi-film deals. And while Bollywood is still far from adapting a studio model like Hollywood, it's been taking steps in that direction.
"If you are in the movie business from one-line concept to merchandising, from development to distribution like we are, you obviously follow the studio model and it's working for us," says UTV's Siddharth Roy Kapur, EVP, marketing, distribution&syndication.
UTV has long-term relationships with Rakesh Mehra, Vishal Bharadwaj (they are producing his next film), Ashutosh Gowarikar, Anurag Basu (they produced Metro and will also produce his next film called Suicide Bomber) to name a few. According to director Vipul Shah (Namastey London), who signed a 10 film, Rs 100 crore deal with Adlabs, "A multi-film agreement gives the director assurance that he can experiment a bit more. It gives him creative security. It also pushes him towards financial discipline."
Percept Picture Company CEO Preet Bedi says actors and directors don't want to get into negotiation mode every three months. With the demand for better films going up and with talent a scarce commodity, it makes sense to think long-term and "look at a concept of lifetime value".
In a society steeped in the mall-and-multiplex culture, there's immense pressure on production houses too to release as many films as possible in the year. For instance, Yash Raj Films is releasing an-unheard-of five films-Ta Ra Ram Pum (already out), Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Chak De India, Laaga Chunri Mein Daag and rounding it off with Aa Ja Naachle - this year and is likely to release eight next year. The spate of releases forces production houses to be more organised and disciplined.
It helps to have "good" directors on their side, of course. YRF has agreements with Shimit Amin, Shaad Ali, Pradeep Sarkar, Anil Mehta, Siddharth Anand and Arjun Sablok, among others. They are also in talks with actor Ranbir Kapoor (Neetu Singh and Rishi Kapoor's son) for Anand's next film.
On the flip side, isn't there a danger of a studio model curbing creativity? In Hollywood, even famous directors like Martin Scorsese have had problems with big studios. "We are still in the honeymoon period," explains Shah. "Corporates who are pouring money into the film business here aren't giants now. They aren't interfering with our creative impulses yet."
According to Ritesh Sidhwani of Excel Entertainment - which is producing six films under its own banner which will include Don 2 - if a corporate wants to "align with us, it needs to bring more value to the table. Only investing money in our films is of no value to us". Sidhwani says it all depends on the deal. "I don't think a studio model will curb creativity."
A lot more actors and directors are demanding that they have a say in the making of the film before they sign on the dotted line. Which is perhaps the reason why when UTV signed up Priyanka Chopra for three films, it said that a key aspect of the partnership would be her active involvement in the creative areas of the films. "She will be involved in the brainstorming process of the films, including the short-listing of scripts and genres," says Ram Mirchandani, senior VP, creative and projects, UTV Motion Pictures.
As Shah puts it: "If you have creative freedom and financial support, all you need is to put the content in place."
With Bollywood not exactly sizzling at the Box-office this year - at least not yet - pressure mounts on its creative talent to look for better stories and better scripts.