Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

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Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

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A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

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It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

What happened to the Villains?

Stars should be dead, leaving the world lightless and pointless in the 21st Century, according to stardom theorist Richard Dyer. However, in Bollywood, we are experiencing a phenomenon of a different kind. The villains are dying.

Gone are the days when cinema was larger than life, shocking the audience at every turn by the larger than life villain, be it a comic book Mogambo in Mr. India (1987), a rough edged Gabbar Sing in Sholay (1975) or a psychopath Gokul Pandit in Dushman (1998). The bad men in post-2000 Bollywood are vanishing out from the silver screen. The question is, why is this happening?

If we think, the slow erasure of stardom and the death of the villain are connected. The audience is composed of common working people from all stratas of the society. Whatever the differences between two individuals may be, the common man is always driven by a typical quest regarding existence. He wants to know how anything in society is made, how making is organized and understood, and what their own relation to making is.

The complex ways in which we make an explanation of the world around us involves the ways in which we separate ourselves into public and private persons, into producer and consumer. And we always make sense of the world in terms of contrasts and differences. We cannot realize the good unless we know the bad. So, good and bad define one another for us. Which one is accepted as morally or legally good and which one bad depends on the nature of our society, our position in the power hierarchy and our education.

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Dividing all choices into black and white is known as binary opposition to social theorists and practitioners. This works fine when the society is going through a troubled or a developing phase, when the logic of we and they is functional, when the enemy is defined and is at sight. For Hollywood, the enemy was the erstwhile USSR, during the cold war.

In India, the enemy was rarely named. But he was there, both inside the border and outside. In the days of nation building, after Independence, the enemies were shown in general categories, like the black marketer, the gambler, the conning middleman or the usurper in the city and the land-owning zamindar in the village. The gullible hero of the ‘50s Bollywood, Raj (as he was known in many of his films), in Raj Kapoor’s movies, who is from the village and comes to the city, is shocked at its corruption. City bred marginal heroes, played by Dev Anand, knows corruption like the back of his hand (eg, Kala Bazaar, 1960) and even the tragic hero played by Dilip Kumar; all of them were defined sharply in contrast with dark opposing characters. By being a counter-force to the enemy of the common man, the hero was recognized by the mass of viewers who thronged cinema halls after a murky day of work and survival.

Villains were needed to implant dreams in the spectator. The dreams were the goals, the hero was the active virtual agent through which the spectator would reach the goals and the villain was the necessary barrier, who blocked the hero from reaching the goal. The pattern was epic in structure, as the ultimate goal was always connected to nation building in the post-independence era. The Indian mind accepted it and related it to real life sentiments.

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The situation changed in late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The neighbouring enemy was specifically named after wars with China and Pakistan. Also, the inside enemy was spotted and shown more precisely before and during emergency period. However, the villain became more of a personal, than a social villain, during emergency and since. During the Angry Young Man’s rule in Bollywood, be it Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna or another less successful actor, the villains were much more flesh and blood and less metaphoric. Those films were driven by a spirit of family vengeance. With rising figures in unemployment, uncertainty at work and a nation caught up in unstable politics (Congress was successfully challenged and thrown out of power for the first time after independence in 1977), more personal stories were required for the dreams on the silver screen.

Even after Congress came back in 1980, the scenario remained more or less the same, until it changed for a return of the lovers in the later half of the ‘80s. The villain was still a personal one. But he was not only a professional bad man like those played by Ajit, Prem Chopra or Amjad Khan, but someone like Gulshan Grover or Shakti Kapoor, who is also interested in the heroine. Facing these villians was less vengeance and more of a challenge. A good example of such a villain is Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). However, the old traits did not vanish. The cinema villain matured.

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Two new types of villains appeared in Hindi Cinema at the turn of the decade. The first was the cold blooded villain played by Nana Patekar as Anna Seth (Parinda, 1989); the other was the two-faced hero of Baazigar (1993), Shahrukh Khan. While the first type got worked, reworked and mixed with the second one in films like Krantiveer (1994) or Satya (1998), to become a stereotype in the end, and to gradually evaporate, the second one slowly became the norm.

Today’s films are less of an epic and closer to reality. Today’s youth knows how a society runs. Moral values have changed with a feel good economy, after India opened a large section of its market to the world. The concept of black and white villains and heroes are dated. In today’s list of coterie movies, the ambivalence is more prominent. The Badmaash Company (2010) hero Karan (Shahid Kapoor) or Delhi Belly’s (2011) hero Tashi (Imran Khan) could not be considered good even by the standard of ‘90s in Bollywood. They are considered normal. Cheat the cheaters is their motto.

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When the whole world has become a competition, and the best cheater gets the crown, how can a good hero be pitted against a dark villain? Such villains do not exist anymore, as the heroes have changed themselves. Today’s society does not need such villains because it has dispensed the idea of such heroes. Today’s society lacks a hero, a model figure in the classical sense. Hence, it is only normal that it should lack the contrasting figure of the villain too. Gone are the days when the bloodthirsty Gulshan Grovers romped the screen!

Careers in Film and Television Editing

India makes the maximum number of films in the world. In addition to this, there are some 30 prominent channels, along with many regional networks. The Indian Media & Entertainment Industry is inviting great investment and has tremendous growth potential. Today, the number of aspirants who wish to make a career in films and the television sector, especially in the field of editing, is at an all time high. The scope of editing is ever widening in this era of technological explosion because every piece of audio visual media, requires an Editor.

Editing is a crucial job, which goes far beyond matching visuals and sound in accordance with the script. A good Editor can make the critical difference to a program’s final quality.

An Editor is therefore both an artist and a technician. As a technician, s/he needs to be abreast of the state of the art technology, which keeps moving towards higher levels of sophistication. At Digital Academy-The Film School, we not only ensure a hands-on experience with state of the art software, but also prepare students for the possible changes of technology in the future for e.g. the shift of Standard Definition Television (SDTV), to High Definition Television (HDTV) or the change of celluloid based technologies to Digital projection technology, be it 2K, 4K or higher.

 

What we aim for is to impart an education that grounds the student’s minds in the unchanging principles that govern narrative communication, while also preparing them for the ever changing flux of technology.

With greater responsibility comes greater visibility and better money. Today’s Editor’s can expect to earn top of the line remuneration especially in the high end spectrum.


Careers in Cinematography

Television, video, and motion picture camera operators produce images that tell a story, inform, entertain an audience, or record an event. Making of commercial quality movies and video programs requires technical expertise and creativity. Producing successful images requires choosing and presenting interesting material, selecting appropriate equipment and applying a good eye and a steady hand to assure smooth natural movement of the camera. Technical expertise, a “good eye”, imagination and creativity are essential.

Cinematographers need good eyesight, artistic ability, and hand-eye coordination. They should be patient, accurate, and detail-oriented. They also should have good communication skills, and, if needed, the ability to hold a camera by hand for extended periods.

Employment of Cinematographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations in the near future. Rapid expansion of the entertainment market, especially motion picture production and distribution, will spur growth for camera operators. In addition, computer and internet services provide new outlets for interactive productions. Cinematographers will be needed to film made-for-the internet broadcasts such as music videos, digital movies, sports, and general information or entertainment programming.

Mostly starting as apprentices to well-established cameramen, the rise to the top need not necessarily be slow and steady for aspiring Cinematographers. All it takes is one independent job to be noticed and the sky is then the limit. Remunerations are modest for apprentices but leap in quantum measures as one’s artistry and uniqueness is recognized. Cameramen are highest paid technicians in any film unit. A career in Cinematography is a career of adventure, excitement, good remuneration and extreme job satisfaction.

Careers in Film & Television Direction

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every film must have a Director. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for Directors. A film Director is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer – all rolled into one. A Director is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if the student has the capability they might well straightaway become a Director as soon as they pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

A Rewarding Journey

Digital Academy – The Film School was founded as a result of a dream – to provide world class Film education in India. Since our humble beginnings in 2002, the journey we have undertaken and the standards we have achieved are a matter of immense pride for everyone associated with DA, its students and its management & faculty. I would like to share some details about our exciting journey so far. 

We began our journey with a handful of students, who we proudly call friends and associates. Our mission was never to churn out mere technicians, but to equip an individual to think beyond the ordinary. After all, creativity cannot be restricted within parameters. Our courses are structured to give hands-on training as well as an in-depth knowledge of the cinematic spectrum. Our strength lies in the fact that we conduct quality short-term courses, a feat that remains unparalleled in the industry. 

Over time, we have constantly reached higher to better our standards, to improve infrastructure and facilities, to broaden our curriculum and to have the best of the best to teach at DA. Today we use cutting edge technology, like Professional DV, HDV, Sony DSR 450, Sony D55, Beta, Red, 16 mm and 35 mm Arriflex cameras, Beta Recorders, FCP and more We also use both Protools and Nuendo recording suite using Yamaha DM1000 Digital Audio Workstation and also have a state of the art 5.1 surround studio among others.

Our student teacher ratio is an average of 1:12, which is remarkable as it gives you room for interaction with your instructors on a personal level and regular basis. Add to that, students coming in from all over India as well as globally from countries, such as New Zealand, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, Spain, Holland, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Morocco, Sweden, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Nepal, Cameroon and Nigeria, to name a few. The academy provides a diverse and multicultural learning environment.

Our Faculty, both from India and abroad, comprises of some of the most respected and experienced professional across the Industry. Many of them have won National Awards ( Including the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009 for the best short).

We firmly believe in going the extra mile for all our students and hence placements are an integral part of our program. Our well-placed network has enabled us to set our students in ace Film and Television production houses. And it is pure pride that we feel on seeing them succeed. Ours has been an exciting and rewarding journey that continues to scale new heights. And we would love for any of you, who are passionate about Films, to come take this journey with us. 

Regards

Kartikeya Talreja – Director



Passion, To Dream Bigger

Don’t let anything stand in your way, be the first”; words that may not sound very inspired, but they come from a real life hero, Jeff Arch, the critically acclaimed screenplay writer of the 1993 Oscar nominated hit ‘Sleepless In Seattle’ starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. And these words rang true in Jeff’s own life, and his relentless struggle in recognizing his passion for writing.

Jeff Arch had struggled with writing in his early years. He had written many screenplays. They would take him, on occasion, up to three whole years to finish, and never ended up being considered for production. Disillusioned, Jeff set up a karate school. But while his life as a martial arts school owner seemed on course commercially, within him, the passionate beast of writing lurked.

Perhaps under the guidance of his mentor, Hollywood cameraman Conrad Hall, Jeff decided that he could no longer ignore his Screenwriting passion; but he had to give up everything else and focus singularly on writing. Make a firm and unshakable commitment. He surrendered his karate school, and inspired by an infomercial that he credits for breaking his ‘mental crunch’ when it said, ‘You’ve got to think bigger than you ever thought you could think’; Jeff ordered a series of instructional tapes on writing. And unlike his earlier attempts, this time he sat dedicated, listened, learned, and began writing in earnest.

The result? A Cold War script that was well thought out, but not commercially viable. The kind of ‘setback’ that would earlier have dissuaded him; this time only served to fuel Jeff’s fire further. And he persevered with an unquenchable thirst until his passion finally gave the world, the much sought after ‘Sleepless In Seattle’. He was nominated for an Oscar as well as several other prestigious Screenplay category awards, and the Film has become an iconic landmark in popular culture.

Despite Jeff Arch’s success; it is undeniable that it came to him rather late in life. Why? Perhaps because he did not act strongly enough on his passion, as early in his life, as he could have. But today, passionate young people striving to be Writers and Film-makers have a tremendous opportunity to really fast-track their dreams. By attending a Film academy and receiving a formal education in the medium; young creative minds can skip the unsavory aspect of Films, the lingering doubt, the constant struggle. Because being armed with a comprehensive Film education, you are already prepared. All you then have to do is, work. You don’t have to go through several years writing or trying to Direct without full knowledge, and neither do you have to be self-taught. A good Film academy can give you all that & more, in a controlled, professional, and time-restricted manner; so that you emerge a confident, aware individual, who is ready to take on the Film world.

It’s now or never. Don’t let your passion stagnate. Let a great Film education be the fuel to your Film passion!

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