While all this may sound like a semantic argument, it is actually not. The Indian film industry and its progenies – the Hindi film industry, the Tamil and Telugu film industries, the Bengali film industry, the Malayalam and Marathi film industries, and many other regional cinemas – are widely respected while Bollywood is seen as just a cosy little clique of vested interests that feeds off nepotism, bullying, and incestuous media manipulation. Its awards are questionable. Its claims are often dubious. And its business practices have stayed opaque over the years. When the corporates came, one thought things would improve, but
That is why gifted young people like Sushant suffer. So do many others, but they seldom raise their voice out of fear of what Kangana Ranaut describes as “the mafia”. Not many, of course, took a step as drastic as Sushant, assuming here that his death was self-inflicted, but many were irreparably damaged by the way they were treated. Kangana braved it out and built a successful career, despite all impediments that came her way. One of her tormenters openly stated in an international forum that she should quit Bollywood and go. While I may not agree with all that she says, I admire her courage in speaking out. It has encouraged others to do the same.
Urban legend has it that even though Bachchan came to Bollywood armed with a letter from
But what surprised us all was when the usually shy and reticent AR Rahman picked up the gauntlet last week. The renowned music composer, an Oscar winner, described how “a whole gang” in Bollywood prevents him from getting work by spreading rumours. A day later, another Oscar winner, sound designer Resul Pookutty said that ever since he won an Oscar, he has got no work here. Shekhar Kapur, whose film Elizabeth was nominated for eight Oscars, summed it up succinctly in a tweet to Rahman: “An Oscar is the kiss of death in Bollywood – it proves that you have more talent than Bollywood can handle.”
This is exactly the problem. Bollywood shuns excellence, endorses mediocrity. Party with the right crowd and you are in. You have to play a fool (or be one actually) if you want entry into this exclusive club of the entirely talentless. Run-ins with the club’s bosses can cause you damage, serious damage. I observed this from a distance as the editor of Filmfare and had to deal with it hands on when I took charge of Filmfare Awards, which, in those days, were the only awards of any importance.
Years later, when we started an awards show of our own, sponsored by a major TV brand, I realised how things work. A self-declared superstar who was the brand’s ambassador kept demanding the best actor award every year he had a film out. The constant conflict with the sponsors was so frustrating that we eventually stopped the awards after seven years, even though it was the second-most watched show on television. The brand turned to another film awards but soon got dropped from there as well. Currently the brand is out of business.
Sushant’s tragic death has had one impact. No young actor like him will ever be bullied and humiliated again in public. Bollywood’s ugly gangs have been exposed and those like “the flagbearer of nepotism” – in Kangana’s famous words – will find it tougher to unabashedly promote their favourites on their own shows. It’s now time to return to being what we once were, the Indian film industry – one of the finest soft powers of the world. Fifty-five years on, Pather Panchali still remains in everybody’s checklist of the ten greatest films of all time.