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Go East, not West

March 17, 2003 19:22 IST

Frames 2003, the convention on the business of entertainment in Asia hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, concluded on March 16.

One of the notShekhar Kapureworthy speakers at the convention was India's Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth, Four Feathers), founder of the Digital Talkies Film Festival (a platform for independent filmmakers telling stories in the digital format), acclaimed Bollywood director, and now a Hollywood director.

And though actor-producer Aamir Khan (Lagaan) was expected to share his vision he seemed unprepared, limiting his thoughts to: "This is the field where Saraswati rules, not Laxmi," adding that Indian filmmakers must understand the world audience before they make international films.

Khan shared three ways to "strengthen our base in India before addressing audiences abroad. The first is education. There is a lot of talent here. We must guide and teach young minds how to tell stories. Language is another important aspect. Besides, filmmakers have never looked outside the Indian audience. A lot of films are coming out now which attempt to understand them. I am also involved in one, which will be in the English language."

This is what Shekhar Kapur said:

Let's think big. Let's see how we can be a part of the global economy.

The US has dominated the entertainment business since World War II. Its second largest export is entertainment. When we export entertainment, we export culture, lifestyle and a host of other things… including an image. So when we talk about Brand India, the importance of the entertainment business is that we get those things. I think we could reach a stage when we pit Brand India against Brand US.

Actually, we should be looking at Brand Asia. My biggest disappointment with FRAMES this year is that there is no delegate from China or Japan here. I would say ultimately, the way for us is not to go West but to go East.

Let us examine the winds of change. Is there a problem with our entertainment business? No! We make more films like any other film industry in the world, in conditions of censorship, punitive rates of taxation, entertainment rights and interest. Sixty per cent of our costs is interest, and yet we make almost 600 films a year.

It is the one business Hollywood has not been able to take over like it has taken over the Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Spanish film industries. We have to understand why.

Ours is a cottage industry. Now we realise we must move on to become a major industry.

But what is this cottage industry and why is it so popular? It is because of the independent spirit of Indian filmmakers. Yash Chopra will tell you this too.

Indian filmmakers have sold their houses, made fortunes, lost fortunes, bought studios and mortgaged them to make the next film. But they made films despite everything.

Let me narrate an incident. Harvey Weinstein [who runs the Hollywood studio Miramax] told me once, "The good thing about me [Harvey] is that I make films while the rest of Hollywood just talks about them."

I answered all I have to do [in India] is pick up the phone and within a week I'll have a film set and will be shooting a week-and-a-half later. My financer will not ask me any questions; the cheque will be in the bank.

Whereas in Hollywood I will have to talk to the president, vice president of the company, the associate vice president and many, many more. Corporate bureaucracy [there] is huge!

By the time everyone gets around to it, where's the movie? Where is the idea?

But then they say don't worry about that, we'll throw in enough money. So the film is there, but the soul is gone.

It is like a composer who has lost his melody. But hey, we are in the digital age. We can add percussion, sound and put it on stage and everyone's satisfied. But the soul is gone.

So as we face the winds of change, let us not go for models imposed on us by a culture that is totally different from ours.

Let us grow. But let us not disassociate ourselves from the culture that has brought us where we are: the culture of enterprise and individuality. As the corporates come in, we must remember that entertainment is managed by our individuality and we must not let that spirit be crushed.

Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham made about Rs 500 million to Rs 600 million. Let us talk about the film in terms of people who heard about it, were affected by the hype around the film, those who wanted to see the film and those who had the money and accessibility to the film. Shekhar Kapur

I say the film should have made at least Rs 3 billion.

So where did Rs 2.5 billion go? Piracy.

If we cannot get our product to the people on time after creating all the hype, if the ticket is over-priced or the theatres inaccessible, people will look for other ways to see the film.

Here is a dream. A print [of a film] costs almost Rs 130,000. To curb piracy, we need to put out around 5,000 prints across the country. But we cannot afford so many prints.

The best remedy would be to have digital theatres all over India. Why digital? Because a digital print only costs Rs 1,200 and digital projectors are getting cheaper. This is for the domestic market.

Let's look internationally. The country which has the biggest and most profitable home market has traditionally been the country which dominates the world market.

In the future, the absolute revenue from the entertainment business is going to be higher in Asia than in North America. The Harry Potter films were a big hit in the US, but only one-third of its earnings came from the US. The rest was from other countries, which mostly includes Asia because it constitutes almost 80 per cent of the world population.

Let's take a look at ticket prices. In two years, the average ticket price in the US has gone up by $2 (approximately Rs 95). When I left Mumbai six years ago, the balcony price was about Rs 40. Now, it is Rs 200. The growth is huge! All this combined will give us much larger revenue from Asia.

Spider-Man made about $150 million in the US in the first week. I think the fifth sequel of Spider-Man will make $1 billion in the first week. And $700 million will come from Asia. What is more, he will be swinging from the roofs of Shanghai and when he takes off his mask, he will be Chinese! Because the Asians will want to see their own stars.

The East has a culture that is fundamentally different from that in the West because we believe in different philosophies. I feel the East sees storytelling as an empowerment of destiny. You become larger when you embrace your destiny.

We show stories about people fighting their destiny and succumbing to it, thereby becoming huge. Films about families, revenge, two boys and one girl are traditional themes.

This is why films like Harry Potter and Braveheart did well in Asia.

I am making a film on a video game called Maze Might. Has anyone heard about it? Yet, it has 50 million online subscribers!

Soon, technology will come to a head when you see a family in a car -- the father is driving the car, mother is wearing sunglasses and trying not to cry as she watches K3G through her sunglasses, which is a theatre system connected to the Internet.

The children in the backset also have sunglasses and their hands are floating in the air. Why? They are playing video games through the Internet, which is attached to their sunglasses. This is what technology can do.

India has the highest number of IT professionals, film technicians, carpenters, storytellers, actors. Put them together, and the convergence of technology and entertainment can beat the US.

Ronjita Kulkarni