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. 

Shine Bright in Tinsel Town

Just like there is no sureshot formula to making a box-office hit, there is none real formula to making it big in the film industry. The path can be, and usually is, unclear, difficult, competitive and unpredictable. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities, and a place for many. If you have talent and the sheer grit to stick out, stardom may just be yours. Here are a few tips to steer your spectacular journey to tinsel town:


Have clear goals: Decide right at the start what is it that you want. Whether your aim is to direct, to act, to choreograph, to edit, or to script. It takes time to understand the workings of the industry, and hence, it’s best to identify what you want to do, and start early.

Create a niche: Once you decide where your passion lies, move ahead and decide the genre of filmmaking that you would like to be associated with. Some actors or directors make comedy films, while others action, and still others, documentaries.

Build a portfolio: No matter what resources or opportunities are available, start doing what you love, and keep building on it. If you like to act, do college plays, theatre, even home videos. If you wish to direct films, use any camera available, and start filming.

Participate in film festivals/film groups: Every city has film clubs that watch movies and discuss them. And if you are adventurous enough, you can also participate and screen your films in regional, national, or international film festivals.

Take care of all audiences: It is essential as an artist to not get slotted in one kind of role/films. You should not do only low budget films, or stick solely to big budget films. You must strive for a combination, so that you can reach out to all audiences.

Network with people from the trade: Business is about networking – go out there, actively talk to people about yourself and your work. Approach all your ‘filmy’ contacts, and see if anyone can help you in your rise to the top.

  1. Improve your skills: Take up a course for the skills that need working, whether acting, speech delivery, writing, editing, dance, etc. Many film schools and academies offer these courses.
  2. Assist a good director: While you are still waiting for your big break, it is a good idea to get some work experience interning with a good production house, or under a good director.
  3. Watch, read, absorb: Watch as many movies as you can spanning genres and nationalities. Read film trade magazines, and follow industry trends. Moreover, keep absorbing the life around you, as films are nothing but an interpretation of life.
  4. Embrace the media: The media is both a friend and a foe to the film industry, but the sooner you accept and embrace it, the sooner it’ll become your strength. Woo the media, and half your battle to stardom is won.

Saurabh Shukla speaks to students of Mumbai University

Speaking on the topic of ” Careers in Cinema “, Mr Shukla said that to be a Film Maker, one should obviously know the art of Direction but should acquire knowledge of all aspects of Cinema or at least have the working knowledge in areas of Cinematography, Writing, Editing, Acting and Production Design. He recalled his own days as a student in Delhi when he was studying for his M.Com when he was trying to be a ” Nobody ” He said that that was the time when he sensed a certain calling towards theatre and dramatics.He said that he was never formally educated in anything that is part of his profession.Those days, he said, when I look back, I worked very very hard but it was not work….everything that I did gave me a lot of joy…Every morning , after waking up, I felt the eagerness to go to the theatre for rehearsals, I read and analysed a lot of literature..and tried to analyse great works to the best of my ability….but had I been formally trained, I would have gone further and at a much quicker pace.Mr Shukla said ” The greatest thing that formal education gives you is a way, a much richer scientific and methodical path. I never had an opportunity that you people are getting now.

He said that the if a person is talented and works sincerely, he is bound to be successful in the world of Film and television which could not only pay very well, but also give enormous satisfaction and recognition. As a parting note, he said that in the journey that the students were about embark upon, he suggested to make the best use of all that they will get and wished the students all the very best .

Filmmaker of ” Harishchandrachi factory ” (The Factory of Harishchandra) visits Digital Academy – The Film School


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Paresh Mokashi , Writer, Director of the Marathi film ” Harishchandrachi factory ” or ” The factory of Harishchandra’, India’s entry to the Oscars, while on a visit to Digital Academy – The Film School, surprised the students when he said that he had never assisted any Film maker before he started making this film and also revealed that the first time that he ever visited a Film set was for this debut film of his. He had been part of Marathi theatre for a long time as an actor, writer and Director . He said that the greatest two qualities that any Film Maker should have apart from the know how of the technique of Film Making is clarity of mind and stubbornness. He said that most of what he learnt about Film making was by seeing films, many made by the masters of Cinema. He said that he did spend a lot time watching the treasures of world cinema in the National Film Archives in Pune and it is by watching these films that he enhanced his visual sense and knowledge. He said that this is what helped him have clarity of mind as to what he wanted the film to look like and this was most of the battle won. If a Director is confused, then the crew will take over the decision making and ultimately the look of the film will reflect that. Once a director knows what he wants, stubbornness helps in sticking to his decisions.


Speaking about the film’s journey, he said that patience is a necessary quality in this business. He said the the budget of this period film was about 3.5 crores , an unusually high figure for an Indian regional film whose recovery in the box office is very difficult. He said the when he selected his crew, all of them ie the cinematographer, costume designer etc had never done a single film independently before.After the wait for finance of almost three years, he was the only person in the crew who was making his debut…all of the other technicians were experienced by a few films…


Paresh then spoke about research he had to do for a period subject such as this. The film concentrates about a period in the life of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema, when he made his first film ” Raja ( King) Harishhandra”. The entire story deliberately was chosen not to be a biographic but about the time when Phalke was Directing and producing his first film. It was also given a humorous touch because Mr Phalke, according to many sources did have a good sense of humor. Research was an exciting part of the process because not only the city and costumes looked different, also the sound of the rickshaws operating then had to be sourced and or produced to get as close as possible to the original.

Speaking on the Oscars, he said that I am not surprised the my film did not make it to the final list of the Oscars as the final five were much better than my own film.He was happy to inform that the next film revolves around an archaeological treasure hunt and is linked to the journey of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata .

The students were very enlightened by the visit of Mr Mokashi and after being given a tour of the Film School, Mr Mokashi was delighted with the facilities of the school, its vision and objectives of creating visionary Film makers of tomorrow.

Dale Bhagwagar, renowned Bollywood publicist and PR, holds a guest lecture, at Digital Academy – The Film School

Dale Bhagwagar began his journey as a journalist twenty-three years ago, when he was just 14 years old. He contributed articles, poems to local newspapers and magazines in his hometown, Nagpur. Six years later, he joined a local newspaper as a trainee Sub-Editor and Reporter. After completing his graduation in English Literature he moved to Mumbai and was soon hired as the Chief Sub-Editor cum Reporter for the Bollywood gossip magazine “Cine Blitz”, which dealt with yellow journalism. That was the turning point in his life where he learnt the trick and trade of manipulating “Star images”. He is instrumental in shaping the careers of many celebrities. He has handled the PR for the likes of Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Esha Deol, Shiney Ahuja, Randeep Hooda and Vivek Oberoi, among 50 others.
 
 
He informed the students that the transition phase from the learning world as students to the real world as filmmakers in the “Big Bad Bollywood” would involve lot of effort, patience and an ability to adapt to situations and people. Commenting on this, he said, “When you are in the real world, when you are going to get out in the so called big bad Bollywood, the first thing one needs to do is unlearn certain things you learnt in schools and colleges. Schools and colleges teach you the basics but people work according to their experiences along with their team and it is very important to adapt to that team, their culture and their style of working”
 
He strongly believes that media has an upper hand in creating a perception in the minds of people and that is exactly when a publicist steps in. Elaborating on this, he said, “Publicists need to spin a very strong web of protection otherwise the media goes ahead to massacre brands and images the way it likes. That is why a publicist needs to be very firm and cautious while handling the Media sensibilities.
 
Throughout the session he emphasized on the line “We are living in a world where perception is reality” and that is exactly what PR does, it creates a perception in the minds of people propelling the image of a celebrity from downright negative to acceptable. His suggestions to the students about the benefits of PR and Media were, “Understand how the media functions, because ultimately you all are going to be made by your talent and then by media. How much ever talented a person is, if not projected properly, the career may not take that pace, and it could have taken”. 
 
Talking further on PR skills, he said, “Good news is Good, but Bad news is even better…. Ugly publicity is the best as it travels faster and hits the hardest… The worst of all is no publicity, as you need to generate the buzz because without which it becomes difficult to grow faster in today’s world. You will grow with your talent but with a PR marketing mind, luck comes faster”.
 
His advice to the beginners was to change their mindsets about the way he or she thinks of PR. It’s very important to project yourself the way you want others to perceive you.
 
Mr. Bhagwagar also advised the students to have dreams and then create roads to reach for those dreams. He said that you must be sure of your goals and then set a basic pattern and time frame to achieve those goals and carve a niche in the field you are interested in. He cited that “You have to stick to your roots, think of the sky and grow”. He also said that PR is just 10%, the remaining 90% is the talent you possess, you should be better filmmakers and the rest follows.
 
In his parting lines to the students, he said that “Start thinking of yourselves as brands. Subtle branding plays a huge role in the anticipation of your films. Though talent is what really matters, good support in PR skills takes any budding filmmaker to higher levels of success.
 
 
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008

Guest Lecture by leading Filmmaker, Mr. Mohit Suri at Digital Academy – The Film School, Mumbai

Mohit Suri is an Indian Film Director, mostly known for his films, like Kalyug (2005) and Awarapan (2007). His uncle is Producer/Director Mahesh Bhatt and his cousin is Actor Emraan Hashmi who has starred in three of his films. He started his career as an Assistant Director, and made his debut as a Director with the film Zeher.
 
It was followed by Kalyug, which is his biggest success so far, was both a critical and commercial success. His third film Woh Lamhe (2006) was critically acclaimed overall. His next film Awarapan (2007) was both critically and commercially appreciated.
Mohit’s latest film Raaz – The Mystery Continues (2009) was a Box Office Hit. His next film, Crook – Its good to be bad starring Emraan Hashmi again is set to be released shortly.
 
Mr. Suri commenced the lecture with a discussion about being successful Filmmakers; to which he said that there are no such formulas for being successful, nobody is aware about it. There are certain things that can lead you towards the path of being prominent Filmmakers but no guidelines as such has been laid down for anyone to follow. Make your own guidelines with a flexible outlook.
 
 
Elaborating on this, he said, being innovative in this industry is essential but by being innovative does not mean you need to be outlandish, it does not mean presenting the audience with something that they don’t comprehend. Innovation involves being relevant and enterprising. Usually it’s about rediscovering the old truth, which has been in oblivion for a long time, which goes beyond your regular showreel.
 
 
As a Filmmaker you have to constantly read and keep yourself updated about all the latest events taking place in the world. True education starts once you get out of the institute and start living with people, sharing the same passion for filmmaking. Research is involved with every Film and a Filmmaker is expected to be well versed with the subject his Film is based upon and then present it to the audience. Commenting more on this, he said, “Education does not end here, if you don’t read, don’t write constantly or be alive and see around, you would not be able to make good films”.
 
 
He acknowledged that direction is about your own sensibilities; it’s more about your feelings. The basic idea should be yours, the day you confirm to someone else’s sensibility you will fail and even if you succeed with that, you might not last very long. Being a Film Director changes you lot as a person from within. It’s vital to invest your emotions and feelings in your Films.
 
Another thing about Filmmaking is to collate as much experience as you can; it is crucial to have hands on experience to gain eloquence and be better Filmmakers with each Film. Speaking further on this, he added, “There are no set rules to be a Filmmaker, you learn by being there…just make films”. Sometimes even experience acts as your biggest rival. The more the experience, the tougher it gets, your upcoming or current work will always be judged by your previous work. The more successful you get, you tend to invariably repeat yourself thinking it will work but it does not. Being a Filmmaker is not just about telling story, it’s beyond that”
 
Mr. Suri further said that direction is not about technical skills alone, it’s about your feelings. Mere short taking is not the basis of a good Director. A Director should know to pen down his views. His suggestion to the students was to write for an hour about anything that comes to their mind. Talking on this, he said, “Best Directors are Writers. When you pen something down it’s inertia in the beginning but eventually you would enjoy it. You are halfway through to be a good Director”
 
 
In his parting lines to the students, he said, “Failure is inevitable but what counts is how quickly you get up and figure out what went wrong and start working on it. Don’t get intimidated by anyone, remember there is no such thing as a wrong shot”.
 
 
 
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008

Guest lecture by prominent Cinematographer and Director, Mr. Ashok Mehta at Digital Academy – The Film School.

Ashok Mehta, one of India’s most respected cinematographers, ran away from home and school in Delhi, in the 70s to pursue his dream of becoming an Actor. However, on arriving, he realized that life here was a struggle. He saw no point in returning home empty handed. So he started off as a canteen boy, worked as a hawker, a light man, a camera attendant, before he finally became a cameraman. With “36 Chowrangee Lane” he had his first tryst with recognition as a Cinematographer. No formal training groomed this National Award winning Cinematographer, who also turned Director with the film “Moksh”, starring Arjun Rampal, Manisha Koirala. He has several hit Films to his credit like” The Bandit Queen”, “ Ram Lakhan”, “Saudagar”, “Chalte Chalte”, “No Entry”, “Waqt: Race Against Time” amongst few
 
 
Mr. Mehta began the lecture by focusing on the qualities required to be an Actor. If story is the soul of the film, the Actors make it evident by adding verve to it. Actors are suppose to live the characters they play, which means they have to be instinctive with the mannerisms, characteristic traits and the temperaments of the role played by them. Another important factor for an Actor is to have a good memory in order to deliver dialogues with ease. He suggested that students read at least one page everyday and try to register the content of the page in their mind, which in turn will improve their memory.
 
An Actor is expected to understand the role precisely and play it with utmost clarity and consistency. Techniques can be learnt but the job of an Actor is to be natural, he/she should design a patter in the mind and act accordingly in order to concentrate on the frame. Above all Filmmaking is work of creation, which requires lot of commitment and conviction to reach greater heights and be accepted in the industry.
 
He further informed the students to not just remain mere technicians but to become creators and explore various forms of art to become a creative person. That can be done only when one learns the skill to transform technique into art, which has a longer shelf life and remains for years to come inspiring generations all together. Talking further on this, he said, “Technique should not overpower the content otherwise it becomes gimmick, it should remain and follow the subject. Be clear about what you need, how are you going to design and light up the event, be precise about converting techniques into art, that is a must”.
 
Talking about inspiration he said that being inspired is essential for any creative person, it enhances the core of an artist further helping him/her deliver the best. Inspiration comes from anything one should have the ability to pick up from any source. Even your six senses teach and inspire you. We all have an aptitude to learn and grow, even Mother Nature teaches you a lot of things, just be open to the elements. Inspiration does not mean imitating anyone, it means getting encouraged to do something better.
 
 
Mr. Mehta further stated that innovation is the most essential criteria required to be in a creative field. It is mandatory to be different from your previous work, and most importantly work for yourself to prove yourself and not others. Design yourself in such a way that your previous work acts as a challenge for you to excel in your next venture.
 
He further mentioned that knowledge is the key to any door of success. Adding to this, he said, “Keep reading and be updated about everything, there are so many books you can learn and improvise yourself from…get inspired from everyone and do not be egoistic”.  Knowledge acquired is always less.
 
If a Director is aware about other aspects of Filmmaking it becomes easier for him/her to contribute and communicate better, since you cannot understand other’s mind communication helps to bridge that gap. A Director is expected to have the capacity to at least understand the jargons of other department of Filmmaking to explain better to his team members.
 
Any creative genius should create an impression through his/her work, put your soul in your work for it to last. People who have contributed to the world of art are still respected, admired and cherished. It all depends on how well you communicate your views to the audience.
 
On asked about how important Lighting is he said that, using camera is a technique but how to change the mood and look of a particular scene depends on how well you illuminate it. It is critical to understand framing and composition and lighting will differ from scene to scene.
 
In his parting lines he advised the students to work hard and be open for learning from various sources. Elaborating on this, he said, “Everyone has a journey in life even blessed people have to work for it. Use your wisdom and decide whose experience and wisdom you should take and learn from”.
 
 
For more information contact:
Tel. no.: +91-22-28257009/+91-22-28257008
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