August 24, 2008

When Cinema Becomes Software

In the last ten days of August, nine new films - Phoonk, Mukhbir, Maan Gaye Mughal-e-Azam, Rock On, Mumbai Meri Jaan, C Kompany, Hijack, Chamku and Wanted-will hit the marquee. Some could be interesting, most are likely to be ridiculous. But it's the number rather than the films themselves that's significant.

The tornado of releases signifies one thing for sure: thanks to the new order in Bollywood, where cinema has been reduced to mere 'software' to fill multiplex screens/TV channels and fulfill the requirements of corporate houses who have to show their investors numbers, viewers will continue to be bombarded with mediocre fare. Of course, good cinema has also come out of this but that's another story.

Indeed, many of the films made don't seem to make it to the screen at all, and pop up on television instead. "Films that are buried after three shows surface on the idiot box," says a caustic trade analyst. "Sometimes you wonder whether Bollywood is making indifferent films only because producers are sure of getting some return on investment even for the most shoddy work. Whether it Kahaani Gudiya Ki, Sirf or Rama Rama Kya Hai Drama they all end up on TV in no time."

The channel wallahs don't agree. Shantonu Aditya, executive director, UTV Global Broadcasting Ltd, insists that films that have not done well in theatres are not snapped up by TV channels, and refutes talk that channels are on a crazy buying spree just to add to their libraries. "Several flop films released in the last couple of years are still to find buyers," he says. A marketing source in Bollywood, however, insists that 80 per cent of good/bad/ indifferent films made are always picked up general entertainment and movie channels. "And the rush will only increase because once the numerous channels start 24-hour programming, they're bound to need software," he says. "Just surf for a couple of weeks and you'll get acquainted with the most ridiculous films ever made."

With a proposed 30 channels vying for software by 2010, B-town negatives are being bought at black market rates. "Every general entertainment channel like Zoom, NDTV Lumiere, Star Gold, 9x, Sahara Filmy, Colors, SAB, Sony, Star Plus, UTV Bindaas Movies and Big Entertainment are all attacking the same flesh like a pack of hungry hyenas," says a source. So dire is the software shortage at this point that even dead films like a 1981 Shabana Azmi-Kader Khan flick or a disaster like Shatrughan Sinha-Mumtaz's Aandhiyaan are being exhumed and given software status.

Pahlaj Nihalani, who made Aandhiyaan for Rs 70 lakh in 1990, confirms that he has earned Rs 18 lakh by leasing out the rights to Doordarshan; subsequently this dud has been fetching decent money from reissue rights. Nihalani's library of 22 films, which has blockbusters like Aankhen, Shola Aur Shabnam and disasters like Talaash and Khushboo, are his lifeline. "Hit or flop, every five to seven years, these films fetch me good money," he says. "With new television channels knocking at our doors every other day, we're able to up the ante."

Indeed, television has become a gold mine for all kinds of producers. Bollywood's biggest showman Raj Kapoor died in 1987. And though his banner RK Films fell silent after Aa Ab Laut Chalein (1994), the legend's collection of 20-odd films is much sought- after when the reissue rights go up for sale every five years. By a conservative estimate, Kapoor's sons can raise Rs 5 crore at least from

television/satellite/DVD rights at regular intervals. Producers Romu and Raj Sippy's father, N C Sippy, has left behind a bouquet of 30-odd films, including the best classics of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. "Even if Romu doesn't lift a finger for the rest of his lifetime, he will continue to be a millionaire," says a trade source.

Ironically, while old-timers like Mohan Kumar and J Omprakash are still striking platinum with their collection of evergreen hits like Anpadh, Aayee Milan Ki Bela, Aamir Garib and Aap Ki Kasam, there are new age paupers like Ram Gopal Varma and Boney Kapoor. "RGV has made 20 films in 19 years but he doesn't own any of the negatives," says an insider. "Guys like Sahara and K Sera Sera have his entire collection." As for Boney Kapoor he sold his entire library, from Hum Paanch to No Entry, to Sahara a few years ago to bail himself out of a tight spot. So it's Sahara who's reaping the benefits, not Kapoor.

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