‘A Separation’ - The Iranian film nominated in the foreign language category for Oscars this year is a film that bowls you over with the simplicity in its plot. It is a subject whose one line can be translated to ‘Ponna pudichu thalli vittaya’ (like the famous ‘ponna kaiya pudichu izhuthiya’ Vadivel joke). In its simplicity, there is a lesson for films from our land. It made me think about the question on why such films with simple yet tasteful making are not dished out from an otherwise capable Tamil cine-industry. That question led me to a series of questions and a probable answer to the last question in the chain. That is what I have written about below.
Who are the various stakeholders in the movie industry here? What is that they focus on? How are films gauged and remembered by cine-pundits and audiences? A common tangent that I could see running across all these questions is the word ‘MONEY’!
Films that are commercially viable are the ones that the producers, distributors, theatre owners etc. are after. That is where the prospective newbie directors too are headed. After all, they see it as their secret potion to instant fame. Fair. But, a disturbing fact is that ‘quality’ of films takes a backseat in this approach. Even those directors who have an eye for creativity and a craving for quality, at some point, succumb to the desire for success and a climb up the progress ladder. Proof for this – When a 4 film old director of a commercial masala film that uncharacteristically lacked in taste and flavour compared to his previous 3 films was questioned on the reason behind opting for such a film, pat came his reply: “I needed to make some quick money; I wanted to test waters with commercial genre”. While the second half of the answer is diplomatic, the first half remains the true-to-self actual answer.
Other answers for such questions would be: ‘Popular actors aren’t ready for experimental scripts’; ‘Audiences aren’t mature enough’. This leads us to the ultimate questions which are: ‘When will they be mature enough?’; ‘Who will make the attempt to guide them there?’ The need of the hour is a model which lets quality of a film complement and not hinder the business potential of a film. One such model I could think of is what I am writing below.
The salary that a star actor commands is astronomically high at double-digit crores. At about 20% to 50% of that is what a popular director, music director, heroine etc. individually command. These add up to a financial commitment of at least over 20 crores. This is the point which needs to be dissected. For a realistic, simple film, if this number could be targeted for reduction, the answer for the riddle on how realistic stories played by top star actors can garner the attention of audience is obtainable thereby enabling a gradually increasing audience base for such films. Now, to something that is easier said than done.
How can the 20 crore number be reduced? The first baby steps (in fact giant steps) need to be taken by the top stars themselves. After all, the onus is on them to help the industry that made them matinee idols to re-invent themselves. Let them do their commercial films at will; they have a fan base they need to cater to. But, there is no point in doing such films one after the other and trying to sustain the massive following they have. Instead, they can choose to do one film per one and a half or two years which is tasteful, simple and good. This can inadvertently make them use their fan base to propel audiences taste to get more diverse. One film from each of the star actors (there are about 5-6 actors with a good fan base) working at about a tiny 2-3 crore salary can give us a handful of nice simple stories in 2 years time. With this low-cost approach, even a moderate audience base can turn the film profitable for distributors and theatres (if none chooses to be greedy in marketing the film wrongly as a MASSIVE BIG HERO STARRER; You can’t fool the audience with such marketing gimmicks, they showed that in Kuselan!)
The important thing is that moderate to big successes of films of this kind can get the audiences ready to accept more of them. If that impetus is provided by the big stars, the talented bunch of directors in Tamil cinema can take the game forward from there and such films will no longer be made by veteran actors and will no longer be tagged ‘award padam machan!’
Are the ‘mass heroes’ ready to give the kick-start to this stalled vehicle?