Bollywood Flops

For people who have lived long enough (like me) one has the advantages of history and noticing patterns.

There was a time when we were young and stars old. Then came a time, when we were young and stars young. So we can catch the time when we transitioned from the old to the contemporary. There was an age when we ceased to identify with Amitabh, Dharmendra, and Jeetendra and moved over to many Khans.

We know the effects of identification. Say, at age 20, Aamir’s romance made more meaning than the same by Dharam or Jeetendra, who were still very active in 1988. By the onset of 1990, the Hindi film industry had established hit stars who were in their early or mid-twenties. The mass audience, mainly the young guys, moved over to the young stars, but the old stars were still there doing their work, but they had a select audience. I still remember the day when I saw Bachchan’s romance in ‘Suryavansham,'(1999) and oh, what a pain it is to watch that.

Life is repeating, but not resonating. Those fresh-faced 20-something stars 30 years ago are now 50 plus. When I was 20, my stars were 20 plus. Just imagine, folks born, say in 1988, are today 34 years old. These poor chaps are watching the old hags for the last 2 decades at least. No wonder they don’t even bother to visit the theatres – Covid or no-covid.

This is the problem of business, and not of stars.

Before there were single-screen and after the year 2000, gradually, most of the theatres turned to multi screens. In the pre-streaming era (before Netflix, Prime etc.) the business booked all screens for a new movie for at least a week across India. This means the audience has no option but to buy the ticket and get forcibly entertained – spend time. The business is just concerned with money. No quality, no taste, no esthetics – only money for tickets, and yes, popcorn. (MNS party in Maharashtra took objections to this, so they kept 1 screen available for regional films.)

The movie business settled for this model for decades. It’s a dumb model, but effective. It got the money, what in movie parlance is called – opening. So, no talent gets developed to write good stories because there is no need to attract the audience via a good, wholesome movie. All that is needed is to fix up some show. The business took care of the rest – put the movie in the theatres and block all screens for a week and collect the ‘ransom.’

With the movie business, they also focused the theatre business on maximizing how much each visitor spends rather than maximizing the audience attendance through making good movie products.

Improving the audience ‘Experience’ got limited to the look and feel and ambience of the theatre like plush seating, cozy restaurant and bars, etc., but the primary product, the Movies, got the back seat.

Instead of writers and directors, it seems, yield management experts are running the movie business.

Now, even when streaming (OTT) is available, they cannot exploit this medium in India. The people who are making for the screen are also making for the OTT. They are the same old guys. There are no new talents to exploit, face-wise, acting-wise, writing-wise, and direction-wise. The business model of blocking the screen for weeks and sucking money out of the system has left the film ecosystem talentless.

The business model of blocking the screen for weeks and sucking money out of the system has left the film ecosystem talentless.

There are almost two generations of the young crowd with no motivational bonds with the Hindi Film Industry – no actor to root for, no actress to fall for, and no songs to sing. This is really an awful state of affairs.

The recent failures of Hindi films have nothing to do with star children, nepotism, and so on. They are just plain dreadful stories. To top it all off, the stars are not in phase with time. The median age of Indians is 24 years, the stars are more than double that age. Imagine a 60-year-old romancing a 40-year-old and both dressed and trying to appear as a 20-year-old. It’s pretty nauseating.

Imagine a 60-year-old romancing a 40-year-old and both dressed and trying to appear as a 20-year-old. It’s pretty nauseating.

The stars are not to blame because the business comes to them. No money is moving to a new face. The old still command huge fees. The old (and experienced) stars will not turn the other way when someone puts huge money on the table. And if one turns away, there are others to step in, so no one wants to lose.

The only corrective to any business is disruption. A string of failures will alert the business toward more prudent decisions on filmmaking. We need fresh talent, in writing, direction and acting. And the recent flops and audience apathy have shown that the time has come for a change. It will surprise one if Aamir Khan can make another movie soon.

Film stars are a social necessity. Like sports celebs, they motivate, encourage. There must exist characters with beauty, a style akin to the age, for the youth to aspire.


Matching the Flags

Just as Indian Flag is interesting (at least to an Indian) so are the Indian political party flags. Most of the northern parties have a common theme – saffron, white and green. Only the difference is “emblematic,” – typical to the party, like broom, leaf, hand, spinning wheel. The south has struck a difference – choosing darker hues – and shunning the two of the three national colors – saffron and green.

Probably saffron and green matters more in the north of India, where the two colors are representative. Saffron is claimed by the Hindus and Green by the Muslims. One can gauge the balancing act of the parties of the north by the choice of colours.

The ‘BJP’ has added one more complexity in the mix. To identify their party flag with the National Flag. But no party has as much legacy claims on the National Flag as the Congress. This 75th year of India’s independence, and also the day, could have been the Congress’s. Even out of power, they could have made this year, or at least, this day, as a day to assert some visibility.

It is amazing that they let this opportunity go to waste. On the eve of India’s Diamond Jubilee, we find Rahul Gandhi making inane comments which show that he has no sense of his own legacy. Congress had been in the forefront of the Independence struggle and even after Independence, their contribution has been immense. In 75 years, Congress can lay claim to at least 60. This is not a bad achievement.

The BJP has skillfully launched a narrative trap. If you are the supporter of the National Flag, which every Indian should be, then you are the supporter of the BJP. And (this will be interesting) if you are not the supporter of the BJP, then you are not the supporter of the National flag.

Indians should be worried, not about the BJP, and not about their narratives, but who will counter their game. It’s pretty obvious the Rahul Gandhi is a tyro. But this centrist pull by the BJP will have a fallout.

For nature may abhor a vacuum, but politics abhors no space. This centripetal will give rise to centrifugal. Flags also portray history and sentiments. See the flags of political parties of the south – the remnants of the centrifugal.

So, how long will ‘Saffron, white and green,’ represent the National and also the political. Because if one party identifies in toto with the national colours, the survival of the remaining political party will depend on moving the other way – not breaking of India, but in the choosing of the colors of their political flags. Here, colour is a proxy for space, a differentiation, an essential ingredient of politics.

BJP may not survive this narrowness in political space for long. Political parties aside, even the people of India will feel the constraint. It is not without reason that India has diversity, for people love to have their own personal space, including their politics. For when people feel they are being hemmed in – even Rahul Gandhi will do.

When a political leader puts a face on the flag, the flag then belongs to the face. Let us not do the same to our National Flag.

On China

From the viewpoint of India, the US-China ‘boxing’ will cause an Indian broad smile. We, as Indians, are so glad to look at “our rival” to be “adequately taken care of.” I have not still come upon any addressing where – just for the heck of it – someone had contemplated an identical plot with India in the notoriety instead of China.

Pearl S. Buck’s book on China – the Good Earth – set in the 1930s, characterizes the Chinese and their state as abysmal.

Around the same time (1927), another American author, Katherine Mayo, wrote a book on India – Mother India, for which Gandhi had concluded as “Drain Inspector’s Report.” Readers (and nearly all non-readers) trashed the “fiction.” The book possesses many valid estimates of India and Indians. (Here)

The aim here is to draw out parallels between China and India. Both countries had launched with a nearly low base. It’s not that India squandered its opportunity, unlike China. It’s that, wherever China is now, India will be there in the future.

The point is not why India is slow vis-à-vis China’s accomplishment. Or what India should look at to get where China is now. The point is – what transpires when we become like China? How will the world counter India, next? What will India require gaining as it inches up the world prosperity ladder?

Recognizing the nasty-China narrative these days shows – power will counter. China, to the world these days, are rogue upstart that the powerful portion of the world has taken up the cudgels to control. It is a playbook. It is the power’s methods and strategies to counter, contain and thwart the claimants. Had India been in China’s place today, the reactions would have been similar. And when India will reach the top one day, the powers will repeat the same playbook.

China has arrived in power with most of the essential sectors achieved. It includes its military industrials, tech, hi-tech (read 5 nm chips) and pharma. The picture of China is not of rows and rows of workers sitting with sewing machines and spewing sweatshirts. It is a picture of a healthy population involved with future technologies.

There may have been a time when the world needed China for its cheap manufacturing. It is the demonstration of Chinese acumen and planning that they did not waste time turning into a “fulfilling centre.” It is quite noticeable that they used the money which they got from the world to create their modernization.

The attention of India should not be towards the West, but the North. That is where great things are happening. Indians are too pro-west, pro-English. We also adopt pro-west (thus anti-east) quotes and epithets for China. Indians mimic the west and mirror the envy and angst which they have towards the Chinese.

In fact, the west has a similar stance towards India too when they push their agenda that the Indian press is not free and our democracy is imperfect. And Indians have no Human-Rights. But, do we Indian really believe that?

But Indians believe the same for the Chinese – that their media is not free and their people don’t have human rights. This cannot be workable – that a country with 2nd largest economy is tyrannical. It’s got to have what it takes to be up there, isn’t it?

It’s time for India (and for the East) to do away with anti-China tilt. That does not mean becoming pro-China. It means becoming ‘with-China.’ A “with-China” stance will help Indian gain indigenous attitudes and not look towards the west for developing technologies. Modi’s “Make is India” is not that a success because the prevailing attitude induces Indians to look towards the West, either for new things and also for their certification.

To every App, China has an App. With every technology, China has an answer – better and cheaper. The West has made everyone believe that the Chinese have stolen substandard technology. We devote Indians love this narrative. It’s time we should call out these lies – for our own sake.