Where are all the good directors?

By SquareOne 2 years agoNo Comments
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Has your heart been torn out by Housefull 3 and Student Of The Year? Did Fitoor tug at your purse strings more than it did your heart strings? Did Ki and Ka make you lose faith in humanity? Are you ready to murder anyone who starts singing Sanam Re in public? Were you frustrated that you had to watch a 180 second preview of Shivaay before you could watch Parched? Did The Blueberry Hunt raise your hopes like Mt. Everest and then bring it crashing down like Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions (groaning while reading the movie names also counts as a yes) then you must have asked yourself, “Where the hell are all the good directors?” Well, I did too, and then went on a journey to find the Wes Andersons and the Nolans and the Scorseses in India.

I found them, but it set me thinking. Why aren’t these movies being made more regularly in India? What’s stopping them? I have the answers, but it ain’t pretty. There is a shitload of reasons why we don’t churn out movies like A Wednesday and Gangs of Wasseypur very often. Err. Only if you call five a shitload, that is.

1. Money

SquareOne Director

The Evil Producer King. Yeah, blame him.

Producers finance movies and they want a return on investment. It is hugely unprofitable to make Nolan- or Spielberg-esque movies in India, no matter the calibre of directors you have. That’s the simple fact. Considering the scale of finance required for such movies, producers might get a very marginal profit or, in most cases, probably a huge loss. Why, you ask? You love Nolan movies. You love Spielberg movies. Why shouldn’t the rest of India? Good question. That gets us to point 2.

2. Audience

This is the average Indian movie goer

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Not Deep Purple, you dolt! Bananas!

Remember when you scratched your head when you heard that Salman Khan’s latest, atrocious, useless movie has been declared a blockbuster? Yeah. Me too. I do this every time Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan release a movie (opposite, no doubt, Katrina Kaif). Their movies do miserably at multiplexes. Miserably. How then, are they blockbusters, you ask? Most of India still goes to two-penny single screens. That’s why. These people will never connect to Nolan. Or Spielberg. Or Scorsese. They will, however connect to the senseless violence, the overacting, and most of all, the songs. Most of India still gets off their seats and dances along with their favourite stars at their nearest single screen cinema. When the villain is ridiculously thrown 30 feet away by a single kick, their heart races. There’s no grey area. There’s black and white. The Hero and the Villain. And the Hero always wins. Always. They want the hero to get the girl. It’s ridiculous to assume he won’t. They will never get this satisfaction from the likes of Nolan and Scorsese.

According to statistics, multiplexes and single screens split the box office take nearly 50-50. Since multiplex tickets are costlier,  viewership in single screens is easily three to four times that in a multiplex. Thus 60-80% of India goes to single screens, and you make movies that sell. Simple logic.

3. Themes and Reception

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Your expectations are unrealistic.

Indian movies that do well have one theme, and one theme only. Romantic Musicals. That’s the only thing that sells. You occasionally get the rare gem like Special 26 (adapted from about 50 Hollywood movies, btw) and even then the directors and the scripts pander to the audience and put in a completely pointless love story in the middle. Very few movies tend to rise about the menagerie that is Bollywood/Tollywood. Well, at least we produce a good love story (or two) every decade or so, eh? Movies with other themes are shot down like henchmen in a Rajinikanth film. With extreme, and tragic, prejudice.

4. Original scripts (or the lack thereof)

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I just have to change the names, right?

Adapted screenplays and scripts are the bane of the Indian movie industry. Finding an original screenplay worth its weight in gold is as tough as finding an honest politician (yes, I used a cliched comparison; get over it). And the basic problem is that even if someone comes up with something new and innovative, points 1-3 work against it and it’s lost to the void. We can complain all we want, but why would producers want to fix something that ain’t broke? It’s the same story all over India, and there’s literally nothing we can do about it. I’m not saying that all adapted work is bad. A lot of amazing Hollywood movies and international movies have adapted scripts and screenplays, but we need to rise above the menagerie once in a while, right?

5. Indian Laws

SquareOne Director

That doesn’t scare anyone.

Accept it. We’re not shy of imprisoning cartoonists on bogus charges. This is nothing. The Law (capital ‘l’, note) exercises its curiously long arms once too often for the “freedom of speech” to be just words on an old, old, piece of paper. Okay wait, that isn’t exactly true. The Law does not halt or harm film-makers, its misuse does. I had always called the CBFC the “censor board”, and only after the recent hullabaloo around Udta Punjab did I discover that it is supposed to function solely as a certification board and not as a censor. The stench of misuse is all-pervasive. The freedom that quality movies require is lacking in India. Producers squirm at even a PG-13 release, forget an A rating, and desperately try to get the U or U/A certification. Aesthetically shot lovemaking scenes are viciously cut, and so are character building scenes where the character has to swear, seriously neutering the script and director’s options.

It will be a long, long time till we see a Brokeback Mountain or a Milk adorning the silver screen at home. Fun fact: My Brother… Nikhil had the standard “resemblance to any person is coincidence” and “fictitious content” disclaimer at the beginning of the movie. The director, Onir, later said that even though the movie was based on historical fact, he had to put that in so that he could release the movie in India. Let the numbers speak for themselves:
1: Category:Indian LGBT-related films -> 47 movies
2: Category:American LGBT-related films -> 6 categories, 950++ movies

That said, India has its fair share of “new-age” directors. Anurag Kashyap is foremost on this list, daring to direct offbeat and niche movies. He makes up for it by producing commercial ones, though. It’s a shame Paanch, his directorial debut, never released because it was dark and violent and couldn’t get a certification from the prudish “censor” board. He still hasn’t won a Filmfare for best director, so I daresay he’s doing something right. He showed glimpses of Quentin Tarantino in his epic Gangs of Wasseypur (where he convinced Viacom18 to let the movie retain an ‘A’ certification; wow). Great things are expected from him.

Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus showed promise, but unfortunately struggled under the burden of a limited release, even with Kiran Rao/UTV’s role as distributors. Something similar has happened to Parched as well. Dibakar Banerjee also deserves a mention in this list.

Surprisingly, the smaller industries like the Bengali and Malayali industries churn out more quality movies than their bigger counterparts in Hindi and Tamil. A smaller profit margin for these movies means that producers can be convinced to back esoteric movies once-in-a-while. Satyajit Ray was an inspiration to many directors in Hollywood and elsewhere. But even his celebrated Apu Trilogy had an adapted screenplay.

There is still hope for the movie industry in India. Younger, motivated, directors have taken to alternative mediums to express their art. Youtube is replete with short films by Indians in a slew of languages, showing promise. Humour, film noir, even good old romance vie for a piece of the pie. I’m sure Bollywood will grow up soon, but I seriously doubt if it will be during our lifetimes.

This originally appeared in Quora as an answer to “Why are there no directors like Nolan, Spielberg, Wes Anderson and Scorsese in the Indian film industry?” and has been modified for presentation here.

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