Even as the panel sat down, you realise that this is a discussion that would continue beyond the dais. For, the content, for the want of a better term, is everything that is right and wrong in a society. The kind of content churned during our time whether by filmmakers or writer is reflective of us as a society, and the parallel cinema movement of the 70s with Satyajit Ray and Amol Palekar, is a fine example, as filmmaker Kanu Bel puts it. But do we have a movement or stirrings of one as yet? “I do believe we have many individual voices at present but it is yet to become a collective,” Kanu, the maker of Titli said.
“I am really glad that a movie like Parched eventually got made. But for a very long time, no one wanted to put their money in it,” said director Leena Yadav who has made films like Shabd and Rajma Chawal. Parched, a story that explores female sexuality and queer relationships, was shown at the Toronto Film Festival when it released in 2015. “Producers and financiers only want to put money only in mainstream movies even today. And even now, when a script is written, one of the first questions asked is, kaun hoga isme? (who will star in it). So, eventually me and my husband had to pool in our savings for Parched and got a couple of financiers to put money on the table for it. But the struggle to put it on the map was long and real.”
“I try to make a document for the time and space and not for the characters in the movie,” said Kanu when asked about context and relevance of realistic cinema—cinema that was non-formulaic and restrained. But Miriam Joseph, an executive producer who has worked with Excel Entertainment, said, “The onus of accepting or rejecting a good film depends on the audience too. When you say that a Malayalam, Bengali or Marathi language film is well-received by its audience, it is because they are a socially aware audience who is in the know of good cinema. And that is why some regional movies tend to do better with subtitles and is received well by a literate audience and it does well at the local box office in comparison.”
The panel then went on to talk about content streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon where apart from some original content, the most commonly done thing seems to be adapting books into films or series. And that in Miriam’s opinion is “the work of a lazy executive and not the writer’s fault.” “But seldom do they realise that adapting or turning a book into a compelling script is far more challenging than writing original content.” But that being said, Kanu pointed out, that this is why there are writers rooms with showrunners that ensure a flow in the content being adapted and consistency in characters. “A writers room is where three writers develop a script together and ensure that the storyline has a flow. The show runner is someone who ensures that this is done smoothly and picks the tone or sets the direction the series or film should take; someone who ensures that the vision of the director and producer come together and meets that of the writer,” Kanu explained.
So what is the way forward for better content in the Hindi film industry? “Move beyond the star ecosystem,” said Miriam. Moving beyond this particular system will definitely take time because in Kanu’s words, everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie and like Leena rightly put, “it is not easy to break away from the star oriented system in the Hindi film industry as the audience is very wide—it has to appeal to the NRI crowd, to middle India as well as the south. Also, stars necessarily will not agree for a script to shine, because not only do they crave for a wider fan base, but they want to do universal stories, mouth same platitudes that will bring in the money before they can experiment with alternative cinema. So the star culture is not going anywhere for a very long time.” She also says that the responsibility of this again rests partially on the audience who did not accept a movie like Paheli from Shah Rukh Khan. “But gain it is heartening to see the same audience who chose Hollywood movies and better quality international films than choose films from the Khans' recent Thugs of Hindostan and Zero.
“Also there is yet hope for more movies with better content as avenues for watching movies have been splintered with sites, streaming services, televisions allowing you to chose the kind of films you want,” Miriam said. It opened up a platform for film makers with access to the tools, according to her. And on that note of hope, the talk dispersed, leaving a ray of hope in minds of the audience as well.