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Saturday, January 13, 2007

vajrotsavam aricle on idlebrain



It is a reason to celebrate, alright. For, alive and kicking well, even after 75 years, is no mean task. Ask any septuagenarian around and see how difficult it is to maintain all the faculties in tact at 75. And it is showing no signs of letting up even in, either near or distant future. When H.M.Reddy made the first telugu talkie "Bhakta Prahlada" in 1931, he would have never envisioned that the seeds he had sown 75 years ago would amount to this gigantic formation, which looks after the well-being of thousands and thousands of families.
Entertainment has truly grown into an industry, in all senses of the word. Right from the main players running the show - producers, directors and actors, down to the fringe players running the auxiliary and the ancillary industries, telugu film industry ranks next to none in terms of job creation, job opportunities, and to a certain extent job guarantee and to a large extent job satisfaction. Hundreds of movies every year, expansion of the markets to every nook and corner to where the bright sun can lay its eyes upon, sky-rocketing of the salaries, particularly if one is touched by the golden hand of the Celluloid God, the industry seems to have better growth prospects than any other hottest trend currently ruling the roost. And for nay-sayers who worry about saturation and overkill, the industry hasn't yet scratched the surface on untapped segments like content distribution over a variety of media - DVD, streaming, satellite, branding the movies, tie-ins with other industries, like toys, and many such. It seems as though that the industry has it all - a glorious past, an exciting present and a promising future. What more can any industry ask for? And it certainly calls for setting aside 8-9 crores to congratulate each other about the crowning achievement. It is time to regale and rejoice....Or is it? Didn't every success story start this way? A humble beginning that started off with good intentions and noble ideas, not to forget great minds carefully guiding even greater talent. The strong foundations slowly allowing fault lines to creep through, either due to excessiveness or through sheer negligence. The fault lines causing enough cracks in the final behemoth, collapsing the entire structure and taking down along with it dreams, hopes and aspirations of thousands, if not millions, for the simple reason that nobody accounted for the fault lines in the first place. Is telugu industry currently heading in the direction of a great demise?Content is the most contentious issue plaguing the industry. After successfully segregating the markets (for its own selfish reasons and to mask its own incompetence) into youth, family, ladies, class, mass and many such, the question remained what content endears to each of those segments? If it is a youth movie, should it be a run of the mill love story, or an action-laced, sentiment-laden story that sings paeans about the power of the youth? If a family oriented movie, does it have to be a tear-jerker, heaping one trouble over another and dragging the family through every cinematic barb wire possible? Back in the day when movies around stories and not stars, there was never this problem of scripting by numbers. Stories made stars and not the other way around. If a story demanded that ANR play second fiddle, as a bumbling slow-witted detective, coming right on the heels of the stupendous success of "Devadasu", the actor had no problem suiting up for Detective Raju in "Missamma". There was no image issue nor there were starry demands on the rewriting of the role. Similarly, if the story called for the husband to develop an inferiority complex towards his talented wife baring his dark side, NTR would gladly take up the role without apprehensions about his "image" for "guDiganTalu".From that situation to the current deplorable condition, where stars foolishly assume that they can make/break the movie, that everything in the movie needs to revolve around their character and that their sensibilities are certainly much better than the other wise, thinking heading helming the production, is definitely progress in the reverse direction, particularly when it comes to the content.

If the so called stars (they in fact should be called planets (grahaalu, not taaralu), for, they cannot shine on their own) are pulling the structure down with their egotistical wrecking balls from the outside, the system is getting eaten inside out, through a serious lack of infrastructure that fosters and promotes the nucleus of the industry - the content. For an industry that boasts about hundreds of crores of throughput every year, how many film schools are established in the state, how many acting schools have taken root, especially when there is a serious dearth of good actors, how many script-writing courses are initiated either in the mainstream educational system or on the outside, through workshops and seminars? Is this how the industry protects its most vital and valuable resource - the intellectual property - from being frittered away into ignominy? In the last seven decades of telugu cinema, if one were to chart the original output in numbers by the decade, it would be clearly evident that the industry has flat-lined in the last couple of decades and that it has been surviving solely on the hardwork of other industries, either for technological innovation or innovative narration - Hollywood, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and to a certain extent Kannada.
Take any of the industries above, each one has a strong theatrical or a literary foundation that serves as a constant source of good input to the respective industries. Unfortunately with the telugu industry, there neither is a concerted patronage to the art on stage, nor there is any genuine interest in the printed word. Having successfully dried up both those creative wells in the constant glare of bright blinding arc lights, telugu industry is found gasping for good material to quench its thirst. Every year, come the national awards time, when all the important awards (script, direction, movie) seem to adorn the mantles of the neighbors, telugu industry suddenly wakes up in a fit ("aarambha Sooratvamu") and criticizes everyone, but itself, for its current sad state. Is there any practical situation to end the current imbroglio?
Yes, there is. And as always, like in matters relating to charity, it has to come from people with deep pockets - the prestigious production houses - Suresh, Usha Kiron, Vyjayanthi, Annapoorna et al. Set up a separate wing that deals exclusively with innovative intelligent movies that do not need great budgets. In fact, discourage any project that costs more than a crore just for the content and the presentation. The crores and crores that are thrown at risky projects involving top stars and item numbers, are enough seed money to spawn a new silent revolution, which would further the cause of telugu cinema. Even if one movie strikes the right chord with the audience, the impetus and the momentum generated are enough to kick start 10 other movies of such kind. May be they would not pull enough crowds on the first day for the first shows, but history has shown time and again, that good movies seldom fail. When the current audience is currently split among TV serials, game shows, internet etc and their interest has been splintered by the divisive policy of the industry, that such and such is a mass movie and such and such is a ladies fare, the time is right and ripe for good movies to make a comeback and reclaim their spot on the top, one, they have been forced to relinquish a few decades ago.
Content is what that has been keeping the industry ticking. Content is what that makes the industry work. When the whole industry can come together to celebrate the 75th year of its inception with such fervour, it certainly can do more than that, when its own survival and its own existence is on the line. It is never too late to wake up, take stock, and start working immediately on a survival strategy. Otherwise, by the time centennial celebrations come around, telugu film industry would be taken in the same breath as the might Mughal Empire, the golden reign of Krishna Devaraya, and the exciting age of stage dramas.

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