India, land of beautiful locales and great talents, has reopened its doors for filming in India for global producers and studios. Film Facilitation Office (FFO), set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), is currently accepting online applications for foreign producers to shoot in India
At the recent India Global Week 2020 address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence here. Very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities that India does today. India has opened doors for filming in the country, easing the permission process, a single film visa and facilitate single window clearance systems.
India is committed to welcome the global film community to come and do business in the country and work closely with the domestic media and entertainment industry.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting views cinema as the ‘soft power’ of India, and is working towards making India as film shooting and film friendly destination for the audiovisual sector.
“Our Film Facilitation Office has facilitated over 80 foreign film shootings. Now, it will function as a single window for all Central and State government permissions. I appeal to the global film fraternity, to come invest and shoot in India,” said Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar in a recent interactive session.
At the recent India Global Week 2020 address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence here. Very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities that India does today. India has opened doors for filming in the country, easing the permission process, a single film visa and facilitate single window clearance systems.
The M&E industry is one of the champion sectors, enabling the vision of the Prime Minister to achieve a $5 trillion economy. India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional M&E business.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian film locales have captured the attention of global producers and viewers.
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ (Produced by Warner Bros’) for filming portions of the movie in Mumbai. Mira Nair’s TV series ‘A Suitable Boy’, a six-episode, 349-minute long series, adapted from Vikram Seth’s classic novel, was extensively shot in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, India. It is currently streamed on Netflix across the world and BBC One (in UK and Ireland). Netlflix’s action thriller ‘Extraction’ starring Chris Hemsworth was filmed in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Netflix has revealed that ‘Extraction’ tops the list in its 10 most-watched original movies of all time, as of today.
Now that the Government of India has opened business visas for overseas companies to travel into the country, global film producers and studios with Film Visa are exploring options to come and film in India. The aviation restrictions have been lifted for foreign business travellers and companies into India.
Already, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has announced guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for film shooting and media production in the country. Various State governments have also issued SOPs for film shooting in their respective States detailing dos and don’ts aligning with prevailing local Covid conditions.
Italian filmmaker and producer Sergio Scapagnini is soon set to shoot in India for the new India-Italy co-produced film directed by Goutham Ghose. UK-based Collin Burrows of Film Treats Production is looking to film in India for forthcoming project. Late last year, Paramount Pictures had announced producing web series ‘The Bear’ for Apple TV to be shot in Madhya Pradesh. The Hollywood project was based on a bestseller novel by Gregory David Roberts ‘Shantaram’.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian film locales have captured the attention of global producers and viewers.
“Opportunities exist for great visuals, well written scripts and award worthy acting, but what the Internet has taught us is that consumers want every type of story. The government has allowed hundred per cent foreign direct investment in the filmic content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the unskilled and semi skilled workforce. The incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open not only to film shooting, but also for TV web series filming and foreign filming,” said TCA Kalyani, Joint Secretary (Films), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, participating in a recent interactive session.
“I’m very fond of saying that my country has as diverse locations, whatever you want to see in a film, whether it is the mountain, the river, the sea, the island, the desert the crowds and post production facilities, you name it, we have it and you need only one visa to see it all for tourism and one visa for shooting.” said Kalyani.
Speaking about the internet revolutionising the entertainment sector, Kalyani said that India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional Media and Entertainment businesses to operate. They are also nudging the industry for a better quality of service. The best example for this is that the OTT segment has grown phenomenally during the pandemic, she added.
The Media and Entertainment sector through innovation consistently has the potential to create jobs, especially in new areas of animation, gaming, etc. “The government has allowed 100 per cent FDI in film content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the skilled and semiskilled workers,” she said.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, India has announced Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for media production and film and TV shooting.
Soon, incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open to films, TV and web series filming. The guidelines are currently being finalised by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
Film Facilitation Office (FFO), set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, acts as a single point of contact for filmmakers to get all the relevant information about India’s film industry ecosystem, and help them navigate through filming guidelines of key Central government Ministries and State governments.
To bring more transparency, coherence and convenience, FFO’s web portal www.ffo.gov.in equips filmmakers to submit their applications online.
FFO acts as a facilitation point for the foreign producers and production companies along with their Indian Producer/Line Producer in assisting them to get requisite permissions, disseminate information on shooting locations and the facilities available with the Indian film Industry for production/post production. FFO also works closely with State governments in assisting them set up similar facilities. Visa facilitation is available in over 120 Indian Embassies and Consulates across the world.
Global producers and crews with Film Visa can get to shoot in India and this Visa facilitation is available in over 120 Indian Embassies and Consulates across the world
FFO is currently accepting online applications for foreign producers to shoot in India. FFO which was set up with a view to promote and facilitate film shootings by foreign filmmakers in India has also been extended to Indian filmmakers as well.
Alan McAlex of Jar Pictures and Production Scope, whose services started off with A Suitable Boy, a BBC mini-series adapted from author Vikram Seth’s eponymous book, directed by Mira Nair, says, “India now offers an entire ecosystem for foreign productions. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. We are able to recreate say a rural South African exterior, or urban London office interior right here.”
According to Pravesh Sahni, Co-founder of 25-year-old ITOP Film Productions Pvt Ltd and worked on projects including the sensational Extraction, “We have amazing locations in India, with professional technical crew to meet up with International Standards. The cost of shooting is far cheaper here than other countries like the US, the UK and Europe.”
Dileep Singh Rathore, CEO and Co-founder of On The Road Production, says when he got in touch with the FFO office for scouting filming locations in India, they were very happy to help him in connecting with a lot of people. He said they are making a coordinated effort to ensure that everybody is together on the same page.
Rathore, India’s most successful Line Producer for leading Hollywood Studios and European filmmakers, confirmed to Pickle that global producers are “expediting the process” to film in India in the new scenario of opening business to overseas companies.
Rathore’s On the Road India was the line producer for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (produced by Warner Bros) for filming portions of the movie in Mumbai.
“We are constantly getting calls over the last some days on filming in India,” says Rathore. “Interest to film in India is top in the radar of global producers. I am very optimistic that foreign film projects which were stalled in the beginning of the year will soon get activated.”
Another leading line producer stated that in recent times Film Visas have streamlined foreign film shooting in India. “Quick visa clearances for the foreign crew is one of the reasons why more foreign filmmakers are coming to shoot in India. For shooting in India, foreign filmmakers have to get clearance from the I&B Ministry. The Ministry officials coordinate with the Indian embassies abroad, and help in getting visa clearances faster.”
Over 118 international films have been shot in the last four years and the FFO has been offering all support to filmmakers to shoot in India. The country is now all set to emerge the favourite destination of foreign filmmakers post Covid.
Soon, incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open to films, TV and web series filming and post production services. The guidelines are currently being finalised by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India
India is sending right signals to foreign filmmakers. As a result, the country is witnessing warmth from Hollywood studios. Christopher Nolan’s experience in filming in India for Tenet has grabbed global attention. Dilip Singh Rathore, CEO and Co-founder of On The Road India was incharge of production services for Tenet in India. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office is currently wooing international studios and incentive package is on cards. Rathore says India is prepared for post-COVID shooting and expects a flurry of new projects. Excerpts from Rathore’s chat with Vivek Ratnakar
Pickle congratulates you on the completion of 25 years of On The Road India, which has undertaken many reputed international projects to keep us all entertained. Please tell us about your journey. It’s a good thing that we have now completed 25 years or more in the film production and production services and made many films with international filmmakers. Our journey started very differently. Back then it was a much different industry and production services were looked at in a very different way. I happen to be from a very popular filming destination State called Rajasthan. I was very fortunate to become a part of the productions coming to the State 25 years back. I worked with Mr Shashi Kapoor in the film Ajooba which was shot in India and Russia, among other projects. Eventually I decided to start On The Road India, and it has taken 25 years to reach where we are today. When we were starting, the production was quite different and government’s outlook towards production services and international filmmakers was quite different. Today, the things are much easier with government support. So it has been a long journey.
Founded by veteran producer Dileep Singh Rathore, since 1996, the work ethic and service of On The Road India has earned the trust of Hollywood studios, international filmmakers and production companies. Its team is based between Mumbai, Jaipur, Los Angeles, Sydney and Rome. This enables the firm to better understand project requirements and to deliver the best location and budgetary solutions for production in India.
On The Road India understands the challenges and risks of shooting abroad and the added complexity and diversity of shooting in India and South Asia. While there is no question India offers a wealth of opportunities to filmmakers, the challenges that face productions can prove daunting, even to the most experienced producer. On The Road India will help mitigate many of these challenges with honesty, integrity and transparency.
Do you think India’s outlook has changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
Some of the major changes include the ways the government supports the industry. There has been a significant change in the government mindset
and now they are more forthcoming in inviting international filmmakers to come and shoot in India. Earlier, government officials were quiet
skeptical and used to be very critical about film productions. Even the Information and Broadcasting Ministry permissions used to take
anywhere between 6 to 14 weeks and we had to make many rounds to Delhi. But now the production process has really eased off with the
government taking it very positively. Also, earlier we used to bring a lot of crew from abroad as the local crew was not very efficient. But now any
international company brings only the key members while the rest of the crew is sourced from India itself. Also, they used to come with a lot of equipment. There used to be a ‘J-Visa’ for filmakers and crew that was complicated and confusing because the J-Visa was mainly for journalistic work in India. Also, the visa process was time consuming. Now the government has introduced a new category of visa called Film Visa which is very easy to get and the process is quite transparent. On The Road India has executed some of the finest executive productions for Hollywood Studios including
Tenet and The Dark Knight. Tell us about your experience of working on the Tenet in Mumbai India.
How did it feel to be working with Christopher Nolan?
Interestingly, I have also worked with Mr Nolan’s brother. So I had a very long relationship with them. The Dark Knight was shot in Jodhpur and the film required a very different kind of location. So we had to prepare the backdrop of Mehrangarh because of the filming requirements. To shoot the film, we had to completely shut down the entire Fort. We had to make a special arrangement with the royal family of Jodhpur. We would shoot the film during day and open the fort for the public during night. We shot there for 6 to 7 days and then achieved what Mr Nolan wanted to.
Similarly, for Tenet it was very challenging to shoot here in Mumbai. Without the support of the Maharashtra government we could not have achieved what we did. The government got us all the permits for shooting at a landmark location like Gateway of India. We had a huge crew of over 1,500 people and a part of the Gateway of India was frozen. We cordoned off the area with the help of the transport department that diverted the traffic
and we finished the shooting without any issue. The building where we were shooting was a high rise and to light around 40 buildings around
for a fortnight to shoot an action sequence was a mammoth task that was accomplished with the help of the State government, local crew and
our international technicians. Mr Nolan left India on a very positive note.
Has filming in India eased after the formation of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office?
The government set up the Film Facilitation Office as an example to give foreign filmmakers confidence that they can come and shoot in India. The role of Film Facilitation Office has been very important as they did all the heavy lifting and worked as hard as us when we were shooting for Tenet. The FFO helped us get all the permissions, whether it was from the Aviation Ministry, Defence Ministry or Information and Broadcasting Ministry. They were working very closely with us shoulder to shoulder. They also played a key role in making all the right introductions and coordinated
with the State government to get all the clearances.
Could you list out some of the challenges that you faced?
The message has to be transmitted efficiently to the very local level when it comes to allowing film shootings. Tenet was a big project and an
important film. But if you don’t take any project seriously it brings bad publicity to the country. There has to be a total transparency between the agencies which are involved in the commissioning so that all the permissions granted in Delhi are also transmitted at the local level. A lot of people do not understand the urgency of the filmmakers to complete the shooting in a limited number of days. Anybody coming from abroad does not have an infinite time. He might be coming for a month or a few days and he needs to do the preparation and shoot within a tight schedule. All the agencies need to go an extra mile to make things happen at the right pace. If that doesn’t happen filmmakers will keep on going to other countries or they may
not choose India as there shooting destination. Any permission that needs to be granted should be given within a fixed timeline as filmmakers
are ready to pay for that.
What according to you are the three things that attract global productions to look at India now?
The first is story, the second is locations and the third most important thing is the dollar value, as the skill set in India is a lot cheaper than many other countries. We can build a lot of sets at cheaper rates. The day India becomes as expensive as any other place, fewer people would come to shoot here. They will only come if the story is related with India or for an interesting location.
The government is planning to incentivize filming in India as well for co-production treaties? Will this be an advantage?
The incentive plan is not there yet but talks are going on. A lot of states like UP, Gujarat and Goa are doing it at the local level but major Incentive from the Government of India is talked about and yet to be finalized.
How are various State agencies coordinating with the Centre to promote film shooting in their respective States?
Every State now is connected to the FFO office in Delhi, which has placed nodal officer in every State. I think they are all coordinating. Recently, I got in touch with the FFO office for scouting filming locations and they were very happy to help me in connecting with a lot of people. They are making a coordinated effort to ensure that everybody is together on the same page.
Popular filming destinations in India are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat. Some States are not that popular due to information gap as very few filmmakers know about their filming policies. There are also infrastructure and connectivity issues, and little awareness about how to reach those States.
What impact has the COVID-19 lockdown had on the industry, especially for people who were on ground?
The pandemic has put everybody one or two years behind their growth targets. It has been very tough for the industry not only in India but across the world. The sectors that have been most affected are entertainment, aviation and tourism. Filmmaking is a collective effort and the crew needs to be together to pull off a project, but the pandemic has prohibited them to do so. The governments have opened film shootings but people are still skeptical. Besides, there are a lot of protocols to follow which is not easy. The people are afraid, cautious, and they are not very comfortable which has made a huge negative impact on the industry.
Now that India has given permission to shooting (to those who have film visas), what kind of calls you are getting? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
It is very early to say that things have improved. Although India has opened up, ours is mainly international film production. America has the highest
number of cases and the Europe has been shut down again. We were supposed to do 2-3 projects but they have all been put on hold. We are just waiting for the world to get rid of the disease. People are talking about going back to work but everybody is very cautious. Hopefully things may change in the next couple of months and some vaccine comes out. The safety protocols are good as we are required to keep a safe distance from each other, wear a mask and carry out periodic sanitization of sets and crew. A couple of my friends who are shooting in Germany have said that it had been very difficult to shoot with all these protocols in place, but people are still doing it. They are following it and it has been successful so far.
How do you explain the on ground situation in India as we speak now to a potential global producer looking to film in India?
There are different ways of doing things now. We have to do most of the work online as the number of people travelling has reduced drastically. We are still waiting and watching. There have been a lot of talks that happened in the last 4-5 months, and now we are scouting and sending pictures of locations and also looking for some scripts.
Earlier, we would do location scouting and the key filming crew from abroad would come to India for a physical visit. But now we are doing local scouting with the help of movie cameras and Go-pro to give a virtual tour of the location. We upload the 3D shots online so that the director and producers can have a look at it. I want to get back into action and I know that people are dying to get back on the location. But even if we start working on a certain project the shooting will happen only next year. So, people are working on script level or location level. So it’s looking very positive and I hope situation remains under control. I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything moves in the right direction.
What are the new facilities that you have added to your production services especially in pandemic times? What safety measures are being undertaken by your production?
We conduct more virtual discussions rather than physical interactions. For example, I was supposed to be in the US but I have not travelled for the last nine months. We are working from home and computers have become our important assets. We spend a lot more time in conducting virtual scouting. We have opted to use just one person for scouting as it is easier to manage that one person with gloves, proper mask and sanitizer. Our crew would never leave without taking proper safety measures.
Are you thrilled to going back to work?
I can’t wait to resume work. Like I said I have not been on the set and have not travelled in the last nine months, not making a film is the biggest depression for me. So I am looking forward to get back on the set again.
India now offers a high quality, end to end solution to foreign productions. An entire ecosystem awaits foreign productions in India, thanks to proactive measures by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. A rural South African exterior or urban London office interior can be recreated right here with equal expertise and ease. Alan McAlex of Production Scope shares his experience of filming Mira Nair’s Suitable Boy. He chats with Pickle and wants nothing but to go back to making movies
In visualization to match the script, Suitable Boy transports us to fifties of India. What are the behind the scene experiences?
It is great to know every single shot of Mira Nair’s TV series was filmed in India… That’s right; every single shot was filmed in India on location. We didn’t create any period sets in studios. That was Mira’s vision- she wanted the look to be as authentic as possible, depicting post-independence India in the series. As a co-producer, I strive to ensure that the Director’s vision is implemented on screen. For A Suitable Boy, we scouted every nook and corner of the historic cities of Lucknow, Kanpur and Maheshwar. We also shot in smaller towns and villages in and around these cities such as Kakori, Mahmudabad etc. It was amazing to experience the rich heritage of India while shooting at these locations. We shot in several interesting places – tanneries in Kanpur, palaces in Lucknow, forts in Maheshwar. I was quite mesmerized by the beauty of these locations. Every location we shot in had such an interesting history and story attached to it.
With diverse experience in film production, Alan McAlex formed Jar Pictures in 2011 with Ajay G Rai. Together they have been producing commercial and arthouse films. Killa, that opened at the 64th Berlinale in 2015, winning the Crystal Bear; Liar’s Dice, that opened at Sundance and was India’s official submission to the 87th Academy Awards in 2015; and Moothon that opened at TIFF in 2019, are a few titles from their oeuvre. As a part of Alan’s several individual projects as an Executive Producer, he has worked on Dangal, which was the highest grossing Indian film, as well as the Amazon series Made in Heaven. In 2019, Alan initiated Production Scope, a company focusing only on production services that started off with A Suitable Boy, a BBC mini-series adapted from author Vikram Seth’s eponymous book, directed by Mira Nair, for which Alan was the co-producer.
Lucknow also had a rich collection of vintage cars that were an extremely important part of creating the 1950s’ visual experience on screen. We didn’t realize it at first, but these cars were very popular. On days when we shot with the cars, we had huge crowds gather just to see these cars. Our crew also enjoyed posing with these cars when they weren’t filming.
How has India and its outlook changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
In recent times, when foreign producers look at India, they see much more than a country where they shoot one offs such as a Gandhi or a Slumdog Millionaire, in which the script requires a film to be shot here. India now offers an entire ecosystem for foreign productions. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. We are able to recreate say a rural South African exterior, or urban London office interior right here.
Productions are also more attracted to India because the overall risk of filming here has gone down significantly. With the formation of the FFO, we have a one-stop-shop to obtain clearances and support. We’ve always been a cost-effective destination for production and now there’s an abundance of talent and skilled professionals in our industry as well. We also have superb postproduction and VFX capabilities.
India now offers a high quality, end to end solution to foreign productions. Over the last one decade, the diversity of films that you have (co-produced/executive produced) is amazing. Some of the Indian films have travelled globally and won awards. What fascinates you in an Indian location?
Yes, over the last decade, we were lucky to find the right scripts and work with amazing filmmakers. Our films went on to garner critical acclaim, Killa that went on to open at the 64th Berlinale in 2015 won the Crystal Bear, Liar’s Dice which opened at Sundance and was India’s official submission to the 87th Academy Awards in 2015 and Moothon that opened at TIFF and MAMI in 2019, would be to name a few from our oeuvre.
Do you see Advantage India in the aftermath of pandemic for filming? What’s possible and what’s not?
In terms of the number of cases, unfortunately, we’ve been one of the worst affected countries in the world and this is likely due to our sizeable population. Efforts of the government and vigilance of the people have helped keep fatality rate relatively low. Productions in India have slowly
restarted with extreme precautions and strict health and safety protocols on sets. Some had to shut down again if a crew member tested positive but
overall there’s definitely progress. Things will slowly but surely get back to pre-pandemic levels. As long as we’re vigilant and keep flattening
the curve, filmmakers will be more confident about shooting in India. We have a cost advantage which definitely gives us an upper hand in these difficult financial times. In the long term, India will certainly be back as one of the top destinations of choice for filmmakers.
Now that India has opened up shooting (to those who have film visas) and business for overseas businesses do you see positive momentum? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
Yes, there’s definitely positive momentum. We’re already planning several projects, for next year and beyond. These are a mix of international and domestic projects. There are several companies that offer COVID safety protocols that are at par or even exceed global practices. It’s quite amazing to see the market react such quickly to offer these solutions.
Your reflections on how tough it has been during the lockdown times…
The pandemic has been personally, professionally and financially devastating for everyone and there’s no question that the people on the ground have been the hardest hit. It was very unfortunate to see so many productions come to a grinding halt due to which the livelihood of so many people, especially the daily wagers were several affected.
What are the lessons learned during lockdown?
The biggest lesson has definitely been that we’re all in this together. This pandemic has touched everyone’s lives, irrespective of boundaries. And we need to be cautious together to fight the spread of the virus to protect everyone around us. Another lesson we’ve learnt is that we need to be better prepared for downturns. When an industry such as ours is growing, one doesn’t expect such a bad thing to happen and that too so quickly. But, this
pandemic has taught us that black swan events can happen, so we need to be better equipped to manage them. Ultimately, tough times teach us to be more resilient and stronger for the future.
Do you see visible changes after the formation of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office? Is filming in India eased now for facilitation?
When it comes to international productions helmed by companies here in India, the onus to deliver all expectations smoothly is on us and that includes visas for the foreign crew, shoot permissions, initial project clearance formalities with Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to name a few. FFO has been the singular point for all these crucial parts and speed up the process, right from liaising with the visa office to sanctioning permissions for filming in desired regions of the country. Once we have these clearances we can seek local authorities’ permissions for the respective locations.
The government plans to incentivize filming in India as well for co-production Treaties? Will this be advantage India?
Co-production treaties are extremely helpful in creating the right incentives for filmmakers to shoot in India. Having foreign films made in India helps promote the local economy and tourism in the country. It’s a win-win situation. We already have treaties with 15 countries, but it would be nicer to
have more, because nowadays, film making is an exceedingly global endeavor. As an example, Canada has treaties with over 50 countries. In addition to co-productions, production services is also an area that the government can look at for incentivization. In my experience, sometimes the incentives, especially the State/local ones, are limited to feature films. With the advent of digital platforms, there is an opportunity to expand those incentives to web series as well. All in all, we’re on the right track and I am confident we’ll get better and it will definitely be advantage India!
What are the new facilities that you have added to your production especially in pandemic times? What are the best practices followed by Production Scope?
Even before COVID, safety of our cast and crew was of utmost importance to our productions. We followed international safety protocols and standards during the shoot of A Suitable Boy. An ambulance and a doctor were on standby on every shoot day for emergencies. Fire safety is also very important – we had several scenes in which we depicted props being set on fire. So, we had a Fire Brigade on standby at all times. We also had a dedicated safety officer on set that assessed safety risks prior to shooting at any new location. We were pro-active in addressing any safety concerns. In fact, we were ready to stop shoot if we thought that there was risk to the safety or wellbeing of our crew. The lessons we learnt during A Suitable Boy, we’ve incorporated in our Indian shoots as well. These are now a part of our standard operating procedures of our new exclusive Production Services company – Production Scope. Specifically for COVID, our productions have added additional safety measures such as masks, shields, UV tunnels, sanitizers for all crew members. We also have a task force that ensures social distancing protocols are followed at all times on set. We monitor, track and record compliance to all safety protocols as well.
How thrilled are you to going back to shoot…
It’s been almost a year since we finished shooting A Suitable Boy. I’m honestly quite eager to get back to shoot. But COVID is still a risk and we have to be cautious. I am hopeful that things are improving, and that we’ll be back to doing what we love most – making movies!
Films / Series produced by Alan McAlex
A Suitable Boy (TV Series) (coproducer – 6 episodes) 2020
Children of the Sun (producer) 2019
The Elder One (producer) 2019
Made in Heaven (TV Series) (supervising producer – 9 episodes) 2019
Pravesh Sahni Co-founder of 25-year-old ITOP Film Productions Pvt Ltd has executed production services for Oscar winners like Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and Lion in India. ITOP did production services in India for Netflix’s action thriller Extraction . In a chat with Pickle, Pravesh Sahni expects 2021 to be great year for filming in India
The year 2020 marks the silver jubilee celebration for India Take One Productions. It is a landmark occasion. Congratulations from Pickle. How has been the journey?
Yes indeed, we have accomplished 25 successful years of Foreign Line Service Production in India and we would mark many more milestones. In our journey of film production we have worked with top studios globally. We have been extremely proud of the fact that our company handled the production of Oscar nominated films like Slumdog Millionaire, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pie , Lion, and many more which were well acclaimed and
well rewarded. I being the co- founder of this company appreciate the hard work of each member of our team who work 24×7 to streamline and
make the impossible possible for us. This is 100% teamwork and I would like to thank each member who has contributed to help us achieve this.
India Take One Productions comes with experience and professionalism. It helps its clients plan entire production process and execute it with ‘full perfection’. Since the company’s inception, it has been working on fulfilling its clients pre-production and production needs which include arranging a skillful crew, finding the best locations, obtaining permissions, constructing magnificent movie sets and overcoming all sorts of governmental restrictions.
With offices in Los Angeles, New Delhi and Bombay, it is a one-stop shop for all production needs before the crucial “Lights, Camera, Action!” is called.
Has India and its outlook changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
In our journey of film production one has seen a complete change in production. It has no doubt improved tremendously from shooting on film and then processing to the world of digital and special effects and the fun of post production.
It’s fantastic that India Take One has accomplished some of the finest executive productions for global productions including four Oscar winning films (Slumdog…, Life of Pi, Lion that we’re shot in India)… Thank you so much. Things actually changed after Slumdog Millionaire, when the world cinema realised that we in India could deliver the finest production services as our professional technical crew is as competent and efficient and at par
with the international crew.
Tell us about the Extraction shooting in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It is now the all-time number one movie in Netflix?
Extraction was one of the first international films, full of stunts and action. The Gujarat government helped us to a great extent and made Netflix USA and our director Sam Hargrave’s dream come true. We are thankful to Netflix US in trusting us with their first project in India. It is only because we could deliver and make things happen that they trusted us for facilitating the production of their next film called White Tiger which is due for release in December 2020.
Are you able to see visible changes after the formation of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office? Is filming in India eased now for facilitation?
Yes, things have really changed a lot. FFO, housed in NFDC is a big support and backs the Indian producers. We now have a government organization
which understands the problems we face, we have solved a many problems but honestly a lot needs to be still done to a goal we want to achieve.
What according to you are the three things that attract global productions to look at India now?
We have amazing locations in India, with professional technical crew to meet up with International Standards. The cost of shooting is far cheaper here than other countries like US, UK and Europe. If we have an Incentive in place we would be even more competitive.
Will the government’s plans to incentivize filming in the country as well for coproduction treaties be an advantage to India?
We have been waiting for the incentive scheme for very long. I have been a key member in helping draft this policy with the government and hope this can come out soon as we will need this incentive to get productions rolling smoothly. This is needed to compete with other countries. All the productions have been hit with COVID, this will help boost the Indian industry 100 per cent.
Do you see positive intent among various State governments in India for film shooting in their respective States?
All States will have to observe strict safety protocols to ensure safe shooting. All States are taking out rules and regulations, we at ITOP would have to follow the guidelines of the foreign studios which are far more strict. The success will lie only if we ensure all the rules and regulations are maintained for the safety of the crew, which will give other producers the comfort to come and shoot in India.
What has been impact of COVID-19?
We were in the phase of handling two projects parallel with each other. We were doing production of the TV Series The Bear based on the novel Shantaram which we closed on 14 March and Tarus which we shut down on 22 March. Because of the lockdown, India like the entire world has been also affected due to COVID. We were hoping that things get better in India in a few months and we would have been on the floor by September, but things got worse. Today we are positive that foreign production houses will resume production in India like pre-COVID times in mid of 2021.
Now that India is allowing shootings, do you see positive momentum? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
We are all hopeful that by March 2021, we will be in a better frame to handle things. Our company has always taken the health and safety of our team and the foreign crew as a priority. We want to ensure that we can create a bubble for our team and provide safety for all. We may lose a job or two to other countries which is beyond our control but we are 100 per cent sure that things will be streamlined and we will do our best to make things happen like before.
Tell us some of the few positives and some challenges for overseas people to shoot…
The number count in India may be high but our mortality rate is much lesser. So sure enough like Bollywood has resumed its production gradually, our production team is working on various ways to ensure safety to keep the crew confident that they are safe in India. We will bounce back like pre-COVID times and handle 2 to 3 big productions starting mid-2021. This is our goal and we are positive that we will achieve it.
How do you explain the on ground situation in India as we speak now to a potential global producer looking to film in India?
For International Producers we are advising to start Pre-Production in the summer and shoot in winter. Hopefully we will have a vaccine by then and a full safety guide line to follow to give all a comfort to all. We are in touch with three production houses with these time lines.
What are the safety measures undertaken by your production house?
We have always had an ambulance and doctor on our sets even in pre- COVID times. Now we plan to set up a full COVID testing lab on our set in one of the vanity vans, and see that all crew is tested twice a week, maintain three rings of crew on set with colored bands, sanitize the set before use and also during all breaks and see all the crew members maintain proper distancing possible and sanitize at regular intervals. No one will be spared from main cast to crew, drivers, spot boys. We have also planned to keep all crew in one hotel to maintain a bubble.
How thrilled are you to going back to shoot?
We are looking forward to get on the sets again. We all are passionate about filming and implementing our foreign producers’ vision to reality. For this we are planning a full plan to make our sets COVID free. On sets we plan to have enough infrastructure created to keep our members safe with tests at regular intervals. We will ensure all safety measures possible in our production. We have been known for our safety standards even before COVID. We would sanitise and disinfect the sets and all the offices on regular intervals. The list may seem complex in long but along with production we want to ensure the safety of each and every member. Our production house is ready to take the baton and charge on to implement everything very efficiently. Our key production team is already handling production in Indonesia and we would not leave any stone unturned to lift the curtain in India and generate the same kind of job opportunities and revenue for our country. COVID has come as an intermission but it is not the end of the film. The show has to go on, and will go on; we need to adjust our wings to sail through 2020 and fly even higher in 2021
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, a 2019 period film on the 1857 Indian rebellion against the British East India Company, is at AFM for buyers’ screening at the AFM on Demand platform. The film was co-written, produced and directed by Swati Bhise through her production company, Cayenne Pepper Productions. Devika Bhise, who also co-wrote the script, plays the lead role of Rani Lakshmibai. Pure Filx/Quality Film is the sales agent of the film.
The film is a historical story of the Rani of Jhansi, a feminist icon in India and a fearless freedom fighter. She earned a reputation as the Joan of Arc of the East when in 1857 India, as a 24-year old general, she led her people into battle against the British Empire. Her insurrection shifted the balance of power in the region and set in motion the demise of the British East India Company and the beginning of the resistance against the ensuing British Raj under Queen Victoria.
“Just 25, Laxmibai trained a regiment to protect the kingdom of Jhansi from annexation by the powerful British East India Company. Her bravery and convention-flouting spirit are undeniably inspirational,” says The New York Times in its review of the film.
Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi, Ben Lamb, Jodhi May and Hindi actors Yatin Karyekar, Milind Gunaji, Ajinkya Deo and Arif Zakaria are part of the movie’s cast.
“The film is the directorial debut of Swati Bhise, a Mumbai-born, New York-based dancer and choreographer. Her principal collaborator is her daughter, Devika Bhise, who helped mom and Olivia Emden write the script and who plays the rani (or queen). The younger woman even directed the last few days of shooting after her mother was hospitalized with pneumonia,” says The Washington Post in its review.
It adds: “The Bhises surrounded themselves with pros, including actors Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi and Jodhi May, as well as an experienced production team. The result is a film with striking locations and sumptuous visuals.”
Swati Bhise, who served as the executive producer and Indian cultural consultant for The Man Who Knew Infinity, which was on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, explains what mad her to make the movie on Rani Lakshmi Bai.
“After Ramanujan, I wanted to make a film on Rani Lakshmi Bai, primarily to have the world witness her story. I hope everyone realises that we need to make an effort and take our stories outside of their domestic boundaries. The West is not really dying to hear any of our stories, there’s a lot of resistance. They will say that Rani Lakshmi Bai is a myth, they’ll say she didn’t exist…or they will say that a film on her story is not really up to Hollywood standards, because you don’t have a budget of 100 million,” she says in an interview to First Post.
“Even some Indians will resist and question the need to take her story to Hollywood. I just tried to make a film about an amazing Indian woman and make everyone understand that she deserves to be a role model for every woman; irrespective of whether they are Indian or not. I hope more stories like this get out of India so Hollywood begins to pay attention to positive and affirmative stories about Indian characters instead of continuing to build an endless list of negative and stereotypical ones,” she adds.
The film was shot in 2017 in India and Morocco, with a small portion set in the UK. Recreating a bygone era was a challenge since Bhise wanted authenticity. That meant minimal make-up for the queen and silks in the Paithani, Kota and Chanderi weaves for the costumes, which Bhise created with Vidhi Singhania.
A combination of real locations and sets were used. Shoot happened in the palaces and forts of Jaipur and Jodhpur as well as Ouarzazate in Morocco, home to the Atlas Studios, where many Hollywood period productions were shot. Post-production was completed in 2018.
With this film, Bhise has made Rani Lakshmi Bai a global feminist icon and tells her story through an authentic, non-exotic narrative.
India is probably the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse nation. Its people speak 22 different languages, besides hundreds of dialects. No wonder then that India is a land of many cinematic traditions. The 1800-odd movies that the country annually produces are made in a number of languages, each with its own distinct literature, history, theatre and music.
Indian films are produced in several centres around the country. Each of these filmmaking cities serves as the hub of cinema in one prominent language.
Mumbai, regarded as India’s movie capital, hosts the Hindi film industry that has a pan-Indian footprint. Marathi-language films are also produced in the city (besides neighbouring Pune) that is inextricably intertwined with the history of Indian cinema.
Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati are the other major Indian cities where films are produced.
While the distribution of these so-called ‘regional’ films is largely limited within the territories for which they are made – they do not have the nationwide reach of Bollywood blockbusters – they add immensely to the depth and range of Indian cinema.
The centre-point of Indian film industry, Mumbai, popularly Bollywood, is a land of cinema. From commercial grandeur to arthouse movies, there is no short of cinema in the capital city of Maharashtra
The bustling western Indian metropolis is the heart of the Indian movie industry, producing nearly 200 films a year in the Hindi language. It also, along with the nearby city of Pune, produces Marathi-language films, which, in the silent era and beyond, thrived in the hands of pioneering stalwarts like V Shantaram and Bhalji Pendharkar, among others. A large chunk of the Hindi films produced in Mumbai constitute what is usually described as Bollywood, a label used for an old cinematic tradition built on a formulaic and crowd-pleasing mix of melodrama, romance, moral conflict and music. This extravagant form of storytelling is extremely popular in the other filmmaking centres as well. However, it is by no means the only kind of cinema that emerges from Mumbai.
The city has always had two distinct streams of filmmaking – one aimed at providing glitzy and emotionally satisfying entertainment to the masses; the other designed to appeal to a niche audience with a taste for more realistic movies. There have of course been occasions when these two separate approaches have merged in the same film and resulted in timeless classics such as Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Deewar and Lagaan. The A-list Mumbai cinema stars, objects of adulation around the country and by the Indian Diaspora, power the mainstream Bollywood industry. Mumbai played a key role in the evolution of parallel films in the late 1960s and 1970s,thanks to the efforts of directors like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. Its filmmakers also drove the global spread of the Bollywood narrative idiom in the aftermath of major commercial successes in the past decade and a half. A breed of younger Mumbai filmmakers, migrants to the city from different parts of the country, have scripted a new kind of popular cinema that blends social awareness, aesthetic clarity and stylistic accessibility. Several of these films have travelled to international festivals in recent years while finding takers on the domestic distribution circuit as well.
Located down south of India, Chennai is the birthplace of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada film industries. While the last three moved to their respective neighbouring states, Tamil movies continue to be made in this city, thus making it a sought after destination of movie making in the country
Chennai (formerly Madras) is home to the hugely successful and productive Tamil movie industry, which has, over the decades, given Indian cinema a few of its biggest and most abiding stars. The Tamil movie industry has seen film production since the mid 1910s. It has constantly kept pace with the growth of the rest of Indian cinema. In fact, at several junctures in its history, it even set the pace for others to follow, especially in matters of technology and film production practices. Tamil cinema has a following not only in the state of Tamil Nadu but also in the other southern states of India, besides among the Tamil expatriate community across the world. Hindi versions of Tamil box office hits as well as bilingual productions mounted in Chennai have been successful around India ever since 1948’s Chandralekha opened the sluice-gates for nationally distributed films from this part of India.
The dominant strain of Tamil movies, like that of Hindi popular cinema, hinges on the crowd-pulling power of its male superstars, notably veterans Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. A new generation of stars have continued the tradition. But in the past as well as in recent times, the industry has seen a steady output of films from young directors working outside the conventional star system with great success. For audiences around the country, Mani Ratnam, who also makes films in Hindi, is one of the better known Chennai directors.
Kolkata has given the world some of the best movies and filmmakers. Right from the black and white era, Bengali films carried the stamp of reality and social awareness, and the flag still flies high.
Bengali-language cinema, known the world over for the celebrated masterpieces of Satyajit Ray, is produced in Kolkata from studios located largely in Tollygunge in the city’s southern suburbs.
Many of the pioneers of early Indian cinema worked in this city in the silent era. In fact, Hiralal Sen is known to have made films here well before India’s officially recognized first full-fledged fiction film, D.G. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, was screened in Mumbai. Commercial Bengali cinema has thrived right since the silent era, barring a few troughs in the 1980s and 1990s caused by the death of its most luminous superstar Uttam Kumar and the retirement of his on-screen partner Suchitra Sen.But it is for the critically acclaimed works of three masters – Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen – that Kolkata enjoys global fame. Directors such as Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar built their careers around films that struck a fine balance between artistic merit and commercial potential.
More than their counterparts in any of the other film production centres of India, screenwriters and directors in Kolkata, especially those that work in the non-mainstream sphere, continue to draw inspiration primarily from literature. It is a tradition that dates back to the silent era, a period during which Bengali cinema, unlike other cinemas that were beginning to take roots in that period, produced social satires and dramas adapted from literary works rather than mythological epics.
Not just the land, but its films too are known for their spicy nature. It will be no exaggeration if we call Hyderabad the capital of commercial cinema. For, most of India’s colourful and costly movies are made here.
Hyderabad is the hub of Telugu cinema, which is one of the most prolific and commercially consistent of all the cinemas of India. Between Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, the two separate states that the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh has recently been split into, there are 2800 movie halls, the highest in any single region of India. On several occasions in the last decade, Telugu films accounted for more releases in a year than cinema in any other Indian language, including Hindi. Many big-budget Hindi and Tamil films are official remakes of Telugu hits, a sure measure of the mass appeal of movies made in Hyderabad. In terms of artistic quality and global recognition, Telugu cinema may lag behind films made in Malayalam and Tamil, but it continues to be the most robust of the southern industries.Hyderabad has some of India’s best film production studios. They have been set up by established names of the Telugu movie industry – men such as B. N. Reddy, L.V. Prasad, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and D. Rama Naidu. Until about three decades ago, large sections of the Telugu movie industry operated out of Chennai. But today, Hyderabad is where all the Telugu cinema action is focused. Filmmmaker S.S. Rajamouli and male stars such as Prabhas enjoy nationwide popularity thanks mainly to the super success of the period action drama Baahubali.
Known for producing award winning films, Thiruvananthapuram, the hub of Malayalam cinema, is lately carving a niche for itself for new-age content-rich and commercial movies. From Adoor Gopalakrishnan to Mohanlal-Mammootty to Vineeth-Nivin Pauly, the land has a rich legacy of cinema
Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) is the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. The city, along with Kochi, serves as the nerve-centre of cinema in Malayalam. Although films were made in the state in the silent era, cinema in Kerala was late to flourish and at the time of India’s Independence in 1947, only a handful of Malayalam filmshad been produced. But when the movie industry in this part of the country took off in the 1950s, it not only quickly caught up with the rest of Indian cinema, it also established itself at the forefront of the Indian parallel cinema movement. Malayalam movie superstars Mohanlal and Mammootty are known across the country and directors such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shaji N. Karun and the late G. Aravindan are feted at film festivals around the world.
When Malayalam cinema began to assume the proportions of a full-fledged industry post-Independence, it was headquartered in Chennai. It was only by the late 1980s that it moved completely to its current location in Thiruvananthapuram. Like the other cinemas of India, Malayalam movies are divided between a popular genre and a socially relevant strand. Cinema from Kerala gained national and international prominence, riding on the films made by Adoor and Aravindan in the 1970s and 1980s. The tradition of making realistic and meaningful cinema continues to this day.
The capital city of Karnataka is the home of Kannada film industry, popularly Sandalwood. It has produced some great talents, from actors to directors to technicians
In Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, films are made in the Kannada language. The first Kannada film was made in the talkie era, and the industry’s growth was steady until the late 1940s. The 1950s marked the advent of Dr.Rajkumar, whose popularity as a lead actor in mythological epics helped Kannada cinema achieve new heights. The 1970s and 1980s are generally regarded as the golden era of Kannada cinema, which was enriched by the work of directors like B.V.Karanth, Girish Karnad and Girish Kasaravalli. In 1970, Samskara, based on a novel by celebrated writer U.R. Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhi Rama Reddy, inaugurated the parallel cinema movement in Karnataka. While alternative cinema has continued to thrive in the state, commercial cinema, too, has sustained itself despite not quite enjoying the financial clout of Tamil and Telugu films.
LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh
Bhojpuri cinema, which also caters to third and fourth generation migrants in Surinam, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Guyana, has its own star system and a committed audience base
The central Indian city of Lucknow is one of the bases of Bhojpuri cinema, which is produced largely in and for eastern Uttar Pradesh, western Bihar and Jharkhand. The first-ever Bhojpuri-language film, Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadaibo (Mother Ganges, I Will Offer You a Yellow Sari), was released only in the early 1960s. But the industry grew steadily as the demand from people who speak the dialect in India and elsewhere increased. Bhojpuri cinema, which also caters to third and fourth generation migrants in Surinam, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Guyana, has its own star system and a committed audience base, but it has failed to build on the opportunities to break into the national mainstream. The last couple of decades have seen a major spurt in the production of Bhojpuri films, but these have all been run-of-the-mill potboilers designed for an audience that seems to be undemanding and easy to please. In parts of India where Bhojpuri speakers live and work, these films continue to be exceedingly popular. But since most of these films are made on tight budgets and follow rushed production timelines, they tend to be rather low on technical finesse.
The shift of Odia cinema from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar heralded a new era. Since then, Bhubaneswar continues to be the focus point of Odia films
In the eastern Indian state of Odisha, films are made in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
The first Odia-language film was made in 1936, but until the 1950s only a handful of more titles were produced. Back then, the Odia film industry did not have production facilities of its own. Films in the language had to depend on Kolkata, which made movie-making in Odisha difficult and unviable.
In the late 1950s, the first cooperative venture to produce, distribute and exhibit Odia films was set up by Krushna Chandra Tripathy. The organization was named Utkal Chalachitra Pratisthan, and it produced several films in the 1960s that gave Odia cinema a distinct identity.
In 1961, another production house, Pancha Sakha, was set up by amateur artiste Dhira Biswal, who produced four hugely popular films. His first production, Nua Bou, created a sensation all across the state of Odisha.
Odia cinema developed its own idiom in subsequent years thanks to the efforts of the husband-wife team of Gour Prasad Ghosh and Parbati Ghosh. The duo produced several National Award-winning films, including the epochal Kaa.
Other production houses took roots in the 1970s, including Diamond Valley Productions, set up by entrepreneur Sarat Pujari.
In 1975, the state government stepped in to promote cinema by setting up the Odisha Film Development Corporation. Five years later, the Kalinga Studio came up with the support of Chennai’s Prasad Studios. Odisha currently produces an average of 20 films a year.
Despite heavy influence from Bollywood, Assamese cinema, being made from Guwahati, has carved a niche for itself and its presence in National Awards every year stands testimony to the claim
Assamese films, produced in north-eastern city of Guwahati, are a constant presence in India’s National Awards. Yet the film industry in Assam remains commercially unviable.
Constantly under the shadow of Bollywood films, the state has not been able to develop a distribution and exhibition system that can prop up locally made films and make them viable.
At the turn of the millennium, a ray of hope had emerged in the form of a spurt in Bollywood-inspired Assamese melodrama that found takers among the mass audience in the state. But the trend was short-lived.
Despite the effort of the pioneers and the work of their successors in the 1950s and 1960s (Bhupen Hazarika, Nip Barua, Pudum Barua), Assamese cinema has been dragged down by the paucity of exhibition outlets.
Despite all the odds, the names of the late author and filmmaker Bhabendra Nath Saikia and the still-active Jahnu Barua shine bright. In recent years, Rima Das, working largely out of her native village near Guwahati, has made massive waves globally with her films Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing.
Filmmakers from the rest of Northeast India, notably Manipur and Meghalaya, are also increasingly making their presence felt on the national and international stage. Manipur’s Aribam Syam Sarma has for decades been a leading light of cinema from this region of India and his films have been lauded at festivals, including Cannes.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis necessitates a fast transformation of the global economy in order to build resilience against unprecedented challenges humankind faces today. With media & entertainment, edutainment and datertainment set to play a critical role in the new world, Blockchain, one of the frontier technologies embraced by India, will be the key to a decentralized and more transparent future of the world says Alexander Shulgin
Alexander Shulgin is a visionary, investor, composer, entrepreneur, futurist, and a Blockchain specialist, who has 20 years of investment and venture capital experience. He is a unique Russian composer who successfully combines creative work with business. He effectively manages GRUPPA KOMPANIY FAMILIA (www.familia.ru), which specializes in investment and venture capital in Blockchain, media, new media, publishing, and entertainment sectors (BitFury, Minery.io, dotBlockchainMedia, Clickky, Ticketland, AviaSales, QIWI post, SeoPult Group, Garpun, MFM Solution and others.) His personal investments are in sectors: Blockchain infrastructure, e-Sport, and Mixed Reality.
Alexander was for last five years a Member of Expert Council under the Prime Minister of Russian Federation (areas of responsibility are IT and digital economy). In an exclusive interview with Pickle , he provides deep and useful insights into how Blockchain will be a critical technology to reset the old form of global economy, and transform the way media and entertainment is consumed in a post-COVID-19 world. Excerpts…
How are you spending your time during Corona pandemic?
In this context, I recollect a verse from the Bible: “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” I used to travel around the world 330 of the 365 days in a year for my business, but the Corona pandemic in the last five months provided me a much needed break – time for me to reset.
I have been utilizing this time to reflect on new technologies. I have been thinking about the big crisis we would face beginning next February that would last for a few years and would necessitate the global great reset. We have to be strong and build resilience to face it. I have also been contemplating about the emerging new future of mankind. Because technology will change the way a person consumes media and multimedia. This will be the big future of video.
Media and information is set to become a part of the post industrial society. Entertainment, media, edutainment, and ‘datertainment’ will play an important role in the life of mankind. The new economy will switch from hardware to software, driven mainly by entertainment and lifestyle technologies. The media in multimedia entertainment will be in holograms. This will be a new form of entertainment. E-sport with holograms, e-sport with real sport and holograms, etc, will give birth to a new form of media, content, spectaculars and audience.
We will soon have a new generation of people and the creative productions will have to embrace this generation of decentralized natives, which may be called ‘Generation A01’. They will be completely different from the people of ‘Generation X’, ‘Generation Y’ and ‘Generation Z’ which are older generations now. Millennials formed the last generation of the old cycle of generations.
It will be difficult to explain the new generation as to why people use vinyl records or VHS tapes. It will also be difficult to explain them why there is a Senator or a Governor. They will not understand because they were updated from birth like new updated mobile applications . So it is very crucial for us to think about them.
India has endorsed Blockchain among other frontier technologies like 5G, Big Data, IoT…What are your thoughts on this?
I think there is a great opportunity for India. In the next three to four years, India will be among the world’s top three economies. India is innovating and adopting latest technologies. Indian Prime Minister has already mentioned few technologies like 5G, Big Data, Blockchain as frontier technologies. I have great appreciation and respect for him. He’s a very wise guy. Unlike many naive global leaders, he understands that Blockchain technology is not only about crypto currency. Blockchain is not crypto currency. Blockchain is a technology. Bitcoin was invented as part of the Blockchain technology. You won’t find any mention of the term crypto currency in the white paper of Satoshi Nakamoto (who deployed the first Blockchain database).
Bitcoin is electronic cash. But it is not similar to the cash that you can get in the market when someone buys a carpet or gold from you. It is an electronic asset. Bitcoin helps to identify your assets, stores and enables transactions quickly. It is not paper currency. Of course, many people tried to do business in the so called crypto currency. They traded on the exchange—buy, sell—and tried to make some crazier things. It is not related to the nature of this decentralized ledger technology.
Blockchain is a great technological opportunity to tap because our world is headed towards a reset. We need to reset capitalism, the old form of economy. We need to reset the old form of multi-agreements between governments and the people. Our society needs it. Russia is the country of greatest revolutions. Over 100 years ago, Lenin said that when revolution happens the people at the top don’t know what to do. And the people at the bottom don’t want to follow the people at the top who don’t know what to do. So, this is the time for revolution—the right time for
redistribution of capital. There’s so much gap between 26 people who control 51 percent of the global economy, and the millions of poor people who have nothing to eat. Blockchain has the potential to become a great balancer. It’s time to give a chance to decentralized economy which is only possible with the help of Blockchain technology. This asset can be of great value for media and entertainment industry or agriculture. It’s time to embrace this new technology.
How do you think India can benefit out of this and how do you visualize that India should move forward?
With Blockchain technology and decentralized processing, India would yield huge benefits in building Smart Cities and smart future. Media and data will spur a lot of SMEs to build Smart Cities, IoT, drones and industrial IoT.
By using data, India will be the producer of ‘new oil’. This will make India great again. I’m sure that in the decade beginning 2030, India will be ahead of China and will become number one economy of the world. The Indian middle class will be about 24 percent of the global middle class. Now it’s only four. So, it will be short but very productive.
India will become the world’s top economy because India’s huge population will create a lot of data and data is the new gold. India will need to generate a lot of energy to maintain that data. When I was in India for the first time in 2018, India’s energy consumption was equivalent to Argentina’s. However, by 2022, it will be equivalent to European Union’s consumption of electricity. So electricity will be the next equivalent of energy. Therefore India will need effective and low cost energy.
We will need new social pacts and agreements as well. Transparency will be necessary for the new pacts. There is trust deficiency among people. People see a lot of fake news, double standards, and so on. Many politicians say one thing and do another thing. Blockchain would help us build trust, Smart Cities, smart technologies and smart supply chains. It holds immense promise to improve life standards of people.
Fake news is one of the global menaces. Do you think Blockchain has a solution to contain fake news?
Of course yes, because in Blockchain everything is in written form that cannot be changed. In Blockchain you will be able to trace and find out who was the original person who spread the fake news. We can fight misinformation with Blockchain technology. News organizations can create Blockchain networks and track such news.
How do you think Blockchain is going to change the landscape for media and entertainment industry?
Blockchain is set to change everything. It will change how people access content; it will change industrial businesses and, of course, our lifestyle. Media and entertainment is one of the most important aspects of our lifestyle, which is already a two-trillion dollars industry. Blockchain will transform it dramatically. It will change the way the content is created and allow its decentralization. One will be able to create
content while streaming or accessing it. Blockchain is not going to be about distribution of content, rather it will be about accessing it.
Before the digital era arrived, there used to be a Mastertape, which could be used to create limited copies of cassettes, DVDs, CDs, etc. When the digital era came, the Mastertape disappeared because you could make unlimited copies of the same quality and distribute it. However, now distribution of unlimited copies of a film has become more and more expensive because you need to distribute the content in terms of Gigabytes and Terabytes.
Blockchain resolves this issue smartly. For instance, if a new series of ‘Games of Thrones’ is launched there will be only one copy of it which will be in the DotBC standard. This standard is comparable to standards like MPEG or MP3, but it allows unlimited access to smart content. So instead of distributing that one copy of ‘Games of Thrones’ to 100 million fans, Blockchain allows you to give them access to this content. It will significantly reduce the cost of distribution and help the creator monetize every view by the users.
For instance, if you have distributed the copy of the content there may be people who will watch it for just five minutes and don’t like it. But in this case you have already spent heavily on distributed Terabytes.
However, if you give access of the content to the people even if they don’t like it you will save lot of bytes. Also, the data used can immediately give you statistics. It is much like pay for what you watch.
Today, if you put your content on YouTube you”ll be paid by advertisers only if I you have more than, say, 10,000 views. If only 300 people watch the content, they don’t pay you. But the Blockchain will allow you to get paid for even one view that too immediately.
Why are people not able to understand Blockchain?
When you are flying in a plane, do you try to understand how it is flying and the parts it has. I know the rules of aerodynamics, but I still don’t understand the aeroplane. Many people don’t understand how electricity works, but understand its benefits. So you don’t have to understand how Blockchain works. Get to know the benefits.
Blockchain is like Internet. Internet doesn’t make money. What makes money is the applications. The global standards are being formulated. G20 countries are working on the standardization and expected in a year. For Internet, TCIP was chosen as a standard. Then, institutional money came. Similarly, it will be the same here. You will have platforms like IoS or Android. It is in these applications, people will make money.
Can you give certain examples to understanding the benefits of Blockchain when deployed?
Can you imagine famous musician like Taylor Swift, Beatles or any Bollywood singer, when a new single comes 300 million copies have to be distributed. There is so much traffic. Everyone has to own a copy. With Blockchain deployment, there is only one Master and instead of distribution, you will give access. So 300 million people will come to your capsule and they will have access, which smart contract will regulate. Access, territory, free, monetization, advertisement, barter — will be regulated by a smart contract in this capsule.
With this, the singer will be able to understand his/her audience. There are no middlemen. He will understand who likes chorus or who doesn’t. He can create special songs to his fans. The creator can also raise money directly from fans. If you want to make a new series or an album, you can ask 10 million fans to pay 10 cents. You get $1 million to start your work.
A decade ago, a creator would get 5 per cent royalty from music from DVDs. Sometimes, he may not get at all. Today, creator get majority share. In the next decade, the creator will get all.
Take cinema. The producer or the production company has no idea of who their customers and audiences are. Netflix, YouTube, Amazon will never give data to creators. They have centralized data. The content creator will never know who their audiences are. Blockchain is decentralization. This will change.
If you have data then you can barter it with other things. Blockchain will allow this to happen. Let’s say if I need fruit from India, you can give me fruit and I can give you my music. Money is something just to be equal to exchange.
If you are watching a new TV series or a film and you don’t like it, and you watched for five minutes. You just pay for those five minutes. You can also pay for just 30 seconds or three seconds. Now it’s not possible, but that’s the way forward. In Telecom, you pay for the number of call minutes or seconds.
You can co-create in real time, adaptive media will be adapt for your behavior. You will listen to the same song, but with different mixing. With holograms, you don’t need real actors, anymore. You can create a perfect actor, with no ego.
Will Blockchain kill piracy?
Yes of course, because now you will have one Mastertape. No one will have another copy.
How did you get into the world of Blockchain?
I am from music, media and entertainment industry. Blockchain started as a peer-to-peer project in 1999. The first peer-to-peer project was Kazaa. I know the founders of Kazaa and I tried to find more about this technology because I was very angry about piracy. But it was not piracy; it was a peer-to-peer sharing. Later, the US government shut down Kazaa.
What will be the new normal? What happens to Indian Media and Entertainment and other pastimes? Writer, filmmaker & media guru Amit Khanna find answers to these questions, as he spells out how M&E sector will fare in a post-Covid-19 world
By Amit Khanna
In the past 5000 years, there have been perhaps less than 50 watershed events which have changed human history and life on the planet. Every mythology has its own definition of such epic events. Arguably in the 20th century, the most cataclysmic changes were triggered by the two World Wars. In retrospect, it is the Great War of 1914-18 (together with the Spanish Flu which was co-terminus with its end) perhaps is the most moment which changed the way we had lived earlier. Let’s not forget there are several modern inventions which came into use around the same time. Wireless and railways (a little earlier), Electricity, Telephone, Penicillin, Insulin, Processed food, Automobiles, Planes, Recorded music, Films, Radio, Television, Home appliances etc. It was also the first time when almost the entire world was impacted by the war in a far-reaching manner. Life changed forever. But, this was only expedited by rapid changing geopolitics economy and technology, which followed in the next few years until Second World War.
It was during the same time mass media enabled mass entertainment for the first time ever. The spectacular rise of newspapers, radio, films and — a little later — TV is virtually how humans continue to amuse themselves. In the last three decades, rapid digitalisation has not only changed media formats but given birth to the Internet, the present-day fountain head of information and entertainment. A 100 years later, a simple virus, COVID-19 or Coronavirus is about to change much of this. Let me stick my head out and say nothing in our past has altered our lives as much as the present pandemic. Germaine to this article is the way entertainment will emerge in the post Coronavirus world. If the last month, where almost the entire world is under lockdown, is any indication, the change will be much more than what we can even imagine at this stage. Existing occupations, jobs, habits, pastimes in fact from economy to lifestyle will change. It’s like looking into space and not blue skies. How does one predict what will happen?
LIFELINE FOR THE NATION
Media & Entertainment is a $2 trillion industry worldwide and $35 billion in India. Here, it is also one of the largest employers providing jobs to around 5 million people besides offering indirect employment to another 5 million. However, more than the financial aspect, while media is the news and information lifeline for the nation, entertainment keeps people engaged for over 5-6 hours a day. Entertainment is the safety valve of an overstressed society. A billion-plus people are hooked on to various devices, from a mobile phone to TV set, watching some programming. Over a crore of people visit a cinema theatre every day. Millions of others listen to the radio, attend live performances or play an online game. Countless folk artistes, classical musicians and dancers, puppeteers, acrobats drama troupes keep us entertained every day. From the beginnings of history, entertainment is one of humans’ great obsession. From creativity to commerce it’s an all-embracing activity.
Or they did till the coronavirus triggered a lockdown. What will happen when this Armageddon is over? How will people live after the 21st century Mahabharata ends? What will be the new normal? What happens to Media and Entertainment and other pastimes?
Let’s look at Cinema. I think visiting cinemas will now be an event rather than a casual outing. India has too few screens, only 9000 for such a large country, so they won’t shut down. However, new social distancing norms, for example, leaving every alternate seat blank, wearing masks may be mandatory, thermal checks, sanitisation and deep cleaning between shows will help in instilling confidence among cinema goers. Ticket booking and Food & Beverage sales will become online rather than physical sales to avoid crowding. Similarly, show timings will be staggered to avoid large gathering of people in and around the cinemas. Cinemas will be the weekly out of home experience for most Indians.
SCREEN & STREAM
What about films themselves? India presently makes 2000 films annually, of which less than half are released theatrically. This number is not sustainable. Going forward, not more than 200 to 300 films across languages will release in cinemas. The rest will have to rework their economics and work on a non-theatrical model. Increasingly, the number of films online through streaming services will increase dramatically. However, there is a limit to how much programming can one consume in a day. Some estimates suggest that 6 hours of engagement via multiple screens is the optimum for most people in a day. This engagement includes everything from social media, news, TV, gaming and films. While the pie will keep growing, the slices will become smaller. Talent and others in the value chain across various stakeholders have to rework their numbers.
Coming to television. Linear broadcasting already had an expiry date looming large. In India, it was still a decade away. This equation will change. I am not saying that TV channels will shut down. But, it’s time the broadcasters concentrate on lesser channels and more on compelling content. Competing programming, for example, talent contests by the dozen cannot survive. The same endless family sagas will disappear with audience fatigue faster. Attention deficit will yield to new social pressures. Most TV programmers in India have failed to innovate and will suffer consequently. Lazy creativity will just not work.
Driven by the false security of TV ratings, advertisers and their media buyers have been recklessly pumping money in mediocre content. In the new post-Corona world, lifestyle choices will drive up eyeballs but monetizing of these eyeballs will share and far more divided. The total number of hours of traditional broadcasting will increase in the immediate term but then, very quickly, the slide will begin.
For news, topicality is what determines viewership. The loss of credibility of TV news is directly linked to the personal biases of the channel and its anchors. I see the tendency of getting a dozen talking heads (all half-baked experts) night after night as a recipe for disaster in the time to come. With curated news available on the fly, apps like Google News and Daily Hunt will become the primary source of news.
Viewing habits are already changing among certain segments of the audience. The younger demographic is tuning on TV sets. More people will switch to on-demand viewing much quicker than before in the post-pandemic world. Increased bandwidth is just a matter of a year or so and data prices will continue to be among the cheapest in the world. In spite of an increase in data prices at least half the audience will engage with online content most of the time.
Digital entertainment so far in India has been dominated by short-form video and music. In recent months especially since the lockdown, there has been a sharp rise in streaming subscribers as well as time spent on such services. One of the reasons for the slow offtake of streaming video in India has been the wrong content. A minute section of the audience, the early adopters of Netflix, Amazon etc may be hooked on to dark content both foreign and Indian. However, the mainstream audience is still looking for entertainment they are used too.
FOR THE ATTN OF BOSSES
Of course one can move beyond banal overproduced and gauche soaps, but drama and romantic comedies are what will drive viewership in India. It is a matter of months before bosses at Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple, Sony and a handful of Indian platforms like MX Player, Zee 5 and Alt realise this and revamp their programming. Whether they have the financial muscle to scale up is another question. India is too big a market to dump elitist programming.
Even the stand-up comedy shows on a few of these platforms are too tangential for the large family audience in India. Gratuitous violence and profanity don’t make the programming appealing or engaging for a vast majority of Indians. A section of younger demographic especially the non-English speaking elite rather watch Savita Bhabhi clones on YouTube on their mobile phones than some of the zombie and dark content on streaming platforms. While online gaming globally is a huge business over USD 150 billion, in India it is relatively small. It will expand exponentially in the years to come. My prediction is it will be a USD 5 billion Industry in 3 to 5 years. Social media is spawning not only junk but more of the same. Ennui is a matter of time. How much of short-form video and trolling are self-destructing themselves to boredom?
One segment which will suffer a lot is Live entertainment and Live sport. For months they may remain an embargo in any event which requires large gatherings in closed spaces. Social distancing, masks, health checks and sanitisation are here to stay. The more worrying thing is that people, by and large, will be reluctant to venture out for live events in the years to come. A weak global economy with substantial job losses and wage cuts will not only lead to the tightening of belts but a change in discretionary spending habits. The silver lining for Event managers is the recent attempts at virtual concerts, performances and events. These may miss the vibe of live events but if executed well they can for a lot of people become a healthy alternative. The recent concerts- Sangeet Setu- organised by the Indian Singers Association (ISA) is one example of how virtual concerts may evolve.
NOT A PLAY THING
One of the biggest revenue earners entertainment is Live sports. From the Olympics to IPL, soccer and basketball almost every sport has both National and International tournaments and matches. In future, these will happen in controlled environments with far fewer spectators. Of course live broadcast and streaming will continue to attract eyeballs, sponsors and advertisers. In course of time stadia and arena with adequate health safeguards may be built to allow audience participation. I am worried about the way our traditional melas and religious fairs will shape up. It is impossible to have social distancing on such occasions at all. Some via media will emerge in due course. Folk artistes must be found in another form of monetisation to survive.
Some other segments like radio, OOH including billboards and digital displays, will carry on but advertising pressures will be an issue. Book fair, literary and film festivals are the other areas of concern. No matter how we wish the fear unleashed by Coronavirus is not going away soon if ever. I believe people will reprioritise their lives. Economic havoc is going to render millions jobless. Most of them do not have the wherewithal or the ability to reskill themselves. Even if they do find alternate employment or occupation they will in all likely earn less than earlier. We have already seen the first pink slips and salary cuts being announced across the media Industry. People will go out less, spend less, make alternative choices which means existing paradigms will change. Will all of them go back to buying newspapers anymore or simply switch to watching and reading news on TVs and smartphones? Will they subscribe to fewer channels. Will they cut down on going out? No one has the answers, but quite likely.
AD & MORE
In India advertising drives Media. I feel the ad spend will rise but its existing distribution will alter drastically. The reallocation will be much swifter than it would have been. Conventional metrics won’t work. For the next few years, the Economy will be under stress. Marketers will have to innovate to sell. The professional elite in Media & Industry too will have to take haircuts. Budgets will be redrawn. In films, stars will have to forgo part of their high salaries. Their entourages will have to be pruned. Lavish sets and wasteful extravagance in production of all content will have to lean towards frugal efficiency. The number of award shows, conferences, junkets even holidays will be truncated. Redundancies will leave the Industry badly mauled.
I am not predicting doomsday, only reset of existing norms. Yes, in 10 years from now global GDP will be at an all-time high and India will be a 10 trillion economy. The problem will be a lot of us will be on the side-lines nursing lost opportunities. This is the time to unlearn, relearn and reskill. Ideologies, history, dreams will change. We are about to see humanity reset.
(Credit: This article by Amit Khanna was originally published in exchange4media.com)
Everybody talks about the colors of India. Colors are magnificent. But the texture is fascinating, says John Bailey, acclaimed American cinematographer, film director and former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Bailey along with wife Carol Littleton (Film Editor) was recently in Goa to attend the International Film Festival of India as head of International Jury for Competition films. In an exclusive interview with Pickle, he expresses his keenness to explore India to shoot a film
What has been your experience being at IFFI as head of International Jury for Competition Films?
It is truly international. IFFI has Indian Panorama and Indian section, but international competition is truly international. Some festivals (in Europe and Asia) tend to highlight and have a narrow focus. IFFI’s competition films are from everywhere. The films that Jury honor will be films that have real substance to them.
We have 92 countries competing for the best foreign film in Oscar foreign language category? But only one film wins. Is that enough?
Every competition has some kind of guidelines. For an example, we have a competition for screenwriters called the Nicholl Fellowship. It’s a screenwriting fellowship. There is a cash prize worth $35,000 for five winners for their next screenplay. The rule is that you have to be an unproduced writer. You cannot have had a commercial screenplay made. Each year we get 7,500 to 8,000 entries. That’s a lot more than 92 for the international films for foreign film features.
The Academy has a pretty good way of dealing with the foreign language films. Every film is shown in one of the two Academy theatres. And the voting is not based on the number of people who see it, but the ratings that the audience gives. And, then, of the 10 films that make it to the shortlist seven are chosen by the general committee. A smaller executive committee picks three more films that they feel are artistically very important which the general committee might have overlooked. All 10 films are screened together in early January on weekends. And, anybody in the Academy can see them. We project them in New York, Los Angeles, and London. They can also stream them. The five nominated films are chosen that way.
Each country has its own submitting committee. The Academy tries to evaluate how fair those committees are. However there are challenges too. Filmmakers may say that the film that was submitted this year was made by the sister-in-law of the President of the country or the Cultural Minister. And, this is not our best film. We have a special meeting where we look at all of our challenges. And there are guidelines that most of the filmmakers have to come from the country of submission. You cannot have a film submitted by Morocco that was made by French people even if it was shot in Morocco.
How do you see streaming services taking over? Will the future be different for Oscars?
The only thing that will change is change itself. Change is constant. What the changes will be, we are yet to know. The Academy, just like film organizations, film distributors, audiences, is very uncertain right now. Change and uncertainty has been the history of motion pictures from the very beginning. Because unlike some of the other arts, which are made by smaller groups of people or painters, motion pictures involve lot of people and lot of money. Therefore, money and finance play a large role. That’s a given. As long as there is a change in shifting between art and commerce, we are going to have these challenges.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I can tell you this. A lot of people—I am not saying older conservative people, but some young people—feel that the essence of a motion picture is being seen in a dark room on a large screen with an audience; where you go some place and you surrender yourself to a collective experience. It is not you and your living room, coming and going, turning it on, hitting a pause button. You yield yourself and your life for the time and experience to surrender yourself to it. And, a lot of people feel, if we give that away, then we no longer are making motion pictures. Therefore, it is called the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts & Sciences, and not the Academy of Streaming Movies.
For instance, Netflix is buying several movie theatres. They have had to rent a Broadway live theatre to show Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’. It costs them a lot of money to retrofit a Broadway theatre. That’s crazy. They are trying to buy theatres and show their movies on larger screens. Studios like Disney and Paramount are starting their streaming platforms. So, if Paramount is making streaming content, I am not just talking about distribution. I am talking about creating original content. Then, what is a motion picture studio.
How did 2019 turn out for you?
Carol and I have traveled a lot. We have been to many countries. We were in India in May this year after we got an award at Cannes Film Festival — insignia of Officer des Arts et Letters (Officer In The Order Of Arts And Letters). We were in Telluride, Morelia International Film Festival; we went to Poland, Toru Film Festival, where they gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award. We flew directly from Warsaw to India (Goa), via Doha. We have to pack our suitcases for extreme weather. It was five degrees in Poland and 32 degrees in Goa.
What are your plans for 2020?
I want to continue to work as a director of photography. If I find a good screenplay and good director, I will do that. Otherwise, I would continue to write. I enjoy writing very much. I wanted to write a book on my life and reflections on how my life was defined by movies in five decades. I joined the Union in May 1969. I was a camera assistant for eight years and a camera operator for almost four years. And then, became a Director of Photography in 1978.
How has been your experience in India?
In some other countries where I go, where the country is small or the culture is contained, you feel like you know the country after you visit one or two places. But India is many countries in one. It has many cultures, many ethnicities of which I know only a very small part. We have been to Delhi in North, we were in Mumbai and Goa, but we have not even touched the South of India or East of India. There is a huge country left for us to explore. I will definitely come back, if someone asks me to.
Being in India is such an intense experience. We see so many people. There are so many things to see and hear. It is like having a very rich meal. The sense of culture and happenings is so intense for us because we are quite people back home.
You are a cinematographer. What does your eyes tell you when you see India? Will you do a film in India?
I would love to do a film in India. It is incredible. Everybody talks about the colors of India. Colors are magnificent. But the texture is fascinating. Older concreted buildings are abandoned, but not torn down. I live in a country, where as soon as something is old, they tear it down and put a new one up. Talking about color and contrast, we went to Agra and visited Taj Mahal. I was amazed at the texture of the walls and how smooth it was. People talk about light or color composition. These are all important. But to me as a cinematographer, texture and the light that reveal itself in motion picture creates a sense of depth.
As a cinematographer, is doing a web series same compared to doing a motion picture?
If you look at my credits, I have done only a few TV movies. Even as a camera assistant and operator, I have done only feature films. And, I cannot help or work to think as a feature cinematographer. I am very committed to anamorphic aspect ratio of 240, which in the 1990 was starting to die-off. It was not popular. But with the digital camera, almost every film that we have seen in this international competition has been shot in the 240 aspect ratio. Somehow, shooting in 240 says shooting feature films because TV and streaming is almost 185. So, if you want to really make a statement and say it is a motion picture, not a TV movie or a streaming movie you shoot in 240.