Is Bollywood in the throes of creative death

Written by Mahesh Bhatt | Updated: Nov 4 2004, 05:30am hrs
Its time to radically change the way we think about our business, the meek film broker said. He has been in the film trade for over 30 years. He was reacting to a news of yet another Bollywood film opening disastrously at the box office. It had to be pulled out from several cinemas on the very first day due to lack of audiences.

The thing which disturbed him the most was that this was not a low-budget, new star cast film. This one had a superstar.

Our industry and the entire media is boxed in by dysfunctional practices which, instead of exposing reality, is obscuring it. I wonder why all these frantic producers put themselves under huge debts and pay these stars so much money Whats going on in our industry Why do you think our films are flopping one after another he inquired.

His question set me thinking. There was no denying that the business environment the world over is becoming far less forgiving of mistakes. The impact of globalisation is all-pervasive these days. It has changed the ground rules of almost every business forever. We are living in a new age. In this period of lightning changes, our old ways of doing business just wont work anymore.

This is an epoch of hyper-competition, dilapidated prices and wafer-thin margins. It is certain that in the future, very few films will manage to make a profit, let alone break even.

But why is Bollywood rapidly failing Why is it facing its greatest economic challenge since Indian Independence

It is said that change, whether sudden or gradual, at some point makes old behaviour and beliefs obsolete. According to me, the crisis which Bollywood is facing has little to do with the prices of its stars or with its manufacturing capabilities. Neither has this crisis been activated by the raging piracy problem. Bollywood has run out of new ideas and is going through the throes of creative death.

Creativity is not a tangible asset, like cinema halls, raw film, lights or the camera equipment, which can be bought, sold or hoarded. Its like the air we breathe or the perfume we smell
Most people in Bollywood fail to realise that the entertainment industry breathes and thrives on two key factors: its openness to new ideas and its ability to harness the creative energies of its own workforce. In every age and in every business, people with new, daring ideas have managed to shake the world. But unfortunately ideas, especially new ideas, do not fall into our laps from the heavens. New ideas come from people. Today, like never before, Bollywood needs new people with new ideas.

Look at Hollywood. For years it has kept its creative fires burning by opening its doors to all sorts of talented people from all over the world. It is said that America produces $450 billion worth of films, music, TV programmes and books every year. Even today it is called the mecca of the entertainment industry.

But now things are beginning to change. All the creative talent that once went to America is beginning to disperse around the globe. This is because countries like Finland, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand have grasped the impact of creative minds on the economy. These nations are cultivating and encouraging new creative talents in every field to come and work in their country. Lord of the Rings is one recent example. The government of New Zealand funded this path-breaking film, which has not only swept the Oscars but has also become a global hit and made huge profits.

Its simple. To remain relevant and to stay new, you must continue to attract new, sharp, creative minds in your group and make huge investments in them. Because wherever creativity goes, economic growth is sure to follow.

Here, in India, most states are giving tax holidays to the exhibition sector to build multiplexes. I think that instead of pumping so much money into brick-and-mortar projects, we must invest generously in creating a new creative infrastructure. Ultimately even the continued existence of these giant multiplexes depends on the kind of movies our creative workforce manufactures.

In the UK, in West End and Broadway, theatre-owners spend three times as much on intellectual property as on their theatre buildings. Bill Gates of Microsoft said: Our primary assets, which are our software and our software development skills, do not show up on the balance sheet at all. This is probably not very enlightening from a pure accounting point of view. Even the chairman of Coca-Cola has acknowledged that its intellectual assets have a higher capital value than all its land offices, factories and bottling plants put together.

In the 21st century, Bollywood must focus on creating and encouraging its human capital. The movie business, world over, lives off ideas, but it also knows how elusive and puzzling ideas can be, and how casual their birth. World renowned screenwriter William Goldman once said: In Hollywood, nobody knows anything. Which is true, nobody knows which idea will hit the bulls eye next.

Creativity is not a tangible asset, like cinema halls, raw film, lights or the camera equipment, which can be bought, sold or hoarded. Its like the air we breathe or the perfume we smell. When its there, we are filled with a feeling of well-being. But when it disappears, the industry begins to choke and die.

A writer of repute says that the only attitude every businessman needs in these times of mind-boggling change can be summed up in one phrase: Relentless realism.

Bollywood is paying a heavy price for ignoring reality. The real long-term predicament facing Bolly-wood and the world is the looming shortage of creative talent. We have for too long ducked from the bitter truth that we have hit creative rock-bottom. Its time Bollywood urgently begins to make investments to renew and nourish its creative wells before they dry up forever.

The writer is a Mumbai-based film director