Anarchy in Indian cinema
Recent public mishaps and revelations regarding the Indian film industry point towards an urgent need to bring transparency and regulation to the wayward industry
Feature films have made a phenomenal contribution in educating the masses towards progressive thinking, social harmony and national integrity. The unique feature of Indian cinema is that it never drifted from the path of ethics. Basic human values, sentiments and emotions continue to be the underlying theme of stories. Cinema gave a larger platform to Indian music and dance to reach out to common man bailing them out from royal courts and temples. It also introduced western modern ways of life to a tradition-bound Indian society. The story of independent India is incomplete without due acknowledgements to our cinema.
However, infamy visited the industry when it transformed into a full-fledged commercial venture. Recently, a young and successful actor of Bollywood has reportedly taken his life. When the controversy surfaced, the Supreme Court had to direct the CBI to investigate. Soon after Sushant's death, some more artists too reportedly committed suicide. Leaving the merits aside, such tragic incidents gaining frequency in recent times do not augur well for the health of the industry. Allegations of exploitation, nepotism, moral turpitude, etc., are often levelled and disgruntlement in the industry is too visible to be curtained off.
India is the largest producer of films (1,500-2,000 films annually) in the world. But our films are rated substandard for lacking in originality. Blame games apart, in spite of dozens of films being submitted for the Oscars, not even one was selected in the best foreign film category, whereas entries from smaller countries like Brazil, Japan, Chili and Iran grabbed the awards not to mention the US or Canada who produce hardly around 700 films a year yet continue to dominate at the Oscars. Even at other major film
festivals like at Cannes, Venice or Berlin our films barely compete. The industry was worth USD 2.1 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach
3.7 billion by the end of 2020. Big money is welcome for it would help the economy in general but in the bargain bastardisation of an art form cannot be condoned. The narrative today is a race for quick money and cheap popularity, replacing excellence with mediocrity and casting social responsibility to the winds. Romance is shot in Alpes, ruins of Greece, monuments of Europe or on roads of US to entice audiences but unpatriotically promoting tourism of those countries. When the industry runs out of ideas, biopics are quickly made to make a fast buck. Films on rural life and social problems are a rarity today. The melody of Indian 'Ragragini' composed by great musicians like Naushad, Roshan, Madan Mohan is supplanted by catchy double entendre cheap songs. Traditional musical instruments are replaced by imported keyboards robbing the bread and butter of artists. Classical dance and music once popular on-screen until the 80s no longer find a place. Scores of extras are paraded in colourful outfits behind the hero and heroine in the name of 'choreography' dancing for solidarity, a rule of romance unheard. Vulgarity is glorified as humour while objectification is sold as art.
Successful regional films are quickly dubbed in Hindi with pathetic incoherence between dialogues and expressions to the shock of language professors, only to earn scraps at the box office. Ads for consumer products, once provided an opening for struggling artists, are snatched today by celebrity stars with no bars held whether it's about toothpaste or diamonds. It is tiring to discuss the degenerative trend set in, even though there is still a class of filmmakers upholding the values of art. We can well imagine how difficult and frustrating the young and talented artists feel to find a foothold amid such a dog eat dog industry.
Though declared an industry, 'manufacture' (definition of industry) of a film is not subject to systemic controls by the Government, unlike in regular industries; not even a policy exists for that matter. Surprisingly, when a poor driver needs a licence to make a living, actors, directors, musicians, singers, producers whose products directly influence society are free from such requirements. Neither previous permission is required nor a disclosure of the source of investment is necessary for making a film. Its enviable freedom throughout except for permissions for outdoor shooting which is but a mere formality. The 'Cinematography Act of 1952' is more about screening in theatres and safety of viewers than the production process. The only provision is in Section 5B (1) of the Act as a measure of control that enables Censor Board to refuse certification of a film if it is against the interests of sovereignty, security, the integrity of the nation, against public order, decency or morality etc. But the law comes into operation only at the end and it is practically impossible to undo what has already been done. Interestingly even the consumer protection act doesn't apply to films in the event of audiences having a complaint against the quality or content.
We cannot be mute spectators to the abuse of art and music any more than we can feign ignorance to the glorified anarchy set in the cinema industry. Accountability is an inseparable part of the right to freedom of expression. Internal bodies like the Film Federation of India, Producers Guild and trade unions in the industry do not seem to play an effective role in self-regulation. Much can be done in improving the state of affairs beyond and different from the sphere of the Censor Board. It is high time that a comprehensive policy is made for governing crucial aspects from manufacturing to marketing, spelling out the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders and providing for checks and balances. The scope of the policy should also encompass the digital entertainment industry as it provides a wider and more permanent market to films these days as compared to footfall. Independent regulatory bodies for various organs of the industry need to be set up with qualified artists, lawmakers, and government functionaries on board in order to ensure transparency and fair play. Similarly, there is also a need for grievance redressal mechanisms and exclusive tribunals for dispute resolutions and the administration of justice. One shouldn't hastily conclude that such policy initiatives aimed at reasonable control will lead to the bureaucratisation of the film industry. In a democracy, there has to be zero tolerance for undemocratic practices, mafias, cliques or lobbies. This is all the more important when it comes to art and music which are but finer expressions of human excellence.
The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal