Trapped in our homes on the outskirts of Bengaluru in the autumn of 2020, and desperate for a little festive cheer, my township decided to build a 30-foot Ravana from scratch and put up a production of the Ramleela. Rachna ji’s cook was a decent carpenter and his young daughter could blow on a conch-shell impressively. Brij ji’s driver’s baby girl had naughty eyes and monkey-like antics. Kamal ji’s ten-year-old grandson could pull off a booming, evil Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Armed with a bunch of yellow saris that could be swathed as either saris or dhotis, a playlist of traditional aartis and Bollywood bhajans, and a massive pile of donated cardboard cartons, bamboo poles and bright kite paper in every colour, we kickstarted our production.
I was the treasurer of this project. So, it is with full authority that I can report that the whole jamboree cost our resident welfare association less than Rs10,000. And, yet, as old Dr Sareen rued to me yesterday, “The sense of piety and wonder that it invoked in me, beta, was far greater than I got from watching Adipurush yesterday.”
Of course, he was comparing apples with oranges, but the point he was making—and I have to agree with him—is that in mostly all creative fields, not just the production of mythological epics, a big budget is the enemy of creativity. Because in order to have an out-of-the-box idea, it is very important to be in a box in the first place! The box can be limited monies, talent, time, equipment, stale ideas, state censorship or all the above. Working together feverishly to bust out of a restrictive box is a challenge that can unite and energise a creative team, and lead the way to all kinds of fresh breakthroughs.
Indie cinema and music are anyway amazing, but we are also seeing this kind of sharp, innovative brilliance in the work of content creators on social media every day. Teenagers and twenty somethings are writing, shooting, editing and sharing reels on Instagram on a shoestring budget and having them go viral in minutes. (By the way, put these same kids into a big studio set-up, hand them a big budget, cripple them with your great expectations, and watch them go from epic to paralysed in minutes.)
If a team is privileged enough to be not boxed in, then the only other hope is a grounded, passionate and empowered creative leader. This person (let us call him/her the director) and their creative vision could possibly lead the team to deliver an incredible product, even on a mammoth budget. But this can only happen if they’re allowed to lead properly, without a finance team breathing agonsiedly down their neck, weighing them down by telling them to pander to whatever trend happens to be trending, and to play safe and steer clear of anything that anybody could possibly take offence to, because there is crores and crores of rupees at stake. Because a creative vision is necessarily singular, there’s nothing called a collective creative vision, that way leads only to a graveyard full of diamond-encrusted, strangled-to-death-by-committee turds.
Steven Spielberg, who made amazing home films on a tiny budget and continues to make them on mammoth budgets today, does so because he is one such leader.
Lesser men (and women) go the way of poor Om Raut—a director who tried to please everyone, and ended up pleasing no one.
We live in times when a director, or even an actor, is no longer the reason why people go to see films in the hall. People go because, “It cost Rs500 crore, let’s go and see what they made with Rs500 crore!” Nine times out of 10, only a ghastly hotchpotch can be made in Rs500 crore.
Avoid ya, Sanju.