Mainstream Bollywood is on the cusp of change with the rise of a parallel cinematic universe that uses the means and resources of the industry while making films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space By Saibal Chatterjee
A parallel universe has taken a concrete shape in mainstream Bollywood. It is defined by the work of directors and actors who work within the mass-oriented Hindi cinema but, in their films, address issues and themes of contemporary relevance in a manner that generates serious conversation and attracts ample media and audience attention.
Exactly one such Bollywood release is scheduled for February 28. Thappad, directed by Anubhav Sinha (Mulk, Article 15) and starring Taapsee Pannu, deals with a woman’s right to fight off domestic violence in a conservative society.
Sinha and Pannu, who played an important role in the former’s Mulk, a film revolving around the impact of Islamophobia on unquestioning minds, have both carved a niche for themselves by delivering stories that confront prickly subjects in a manner that facilitates engagement with wider audiences.
The duo represents a segment of Bollywood that uses the means and resources of the industry but makes films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space. Their upcoming collaboration, Thappad, is about a woman who walks out on her marriage when her husband slaps her. Sinha is a Mumbai film director who devoted more than a decade and a half to making romantic dramas (Tum Bin and its sequel), thrillers (Dus, Thathastu and Cash) and a superhero film starring Shahrukh Khan (Ra. One). In 2018, he reinvented himself with Mulk, about a Muslim family in an Uttar Pradesh town struggling to clear its name when one of its younger members is drawn into a terror plot.
In 2019, Sinha made the hard-hitting Article 15, which told the story of a young police officer who is posted in a town where caste discrimination is rampant. Three girls go missing and the protagonist is sucked into a world where the weak and oppressed are also completely defenceless as a result of deeply ingrained social prejudices of those that wield political and administrative power.
The role of the cop in Article 15 is played by Ayushmann Khurrana, who has achieved stardom on the back of a series of roles that border on the revolutionary in the context of popular Hindi cinema. The actor made his film debut in 2012 with Vicky Donor, directed by Shoojit Sircar. Khurrana played a sperm donor, a character unheard of in Hindi cinema.
After a few misfires, the actor began a phase that has seen him, among other things, play the husband of an overweight woman in Dum LagaKe- Haisha, a man with erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, a youngster grappling with a bald pate, and a blind pianist who ‘witnesses’ a murder in Andhadhun.
In Shubh Mangal ZyaadaSaavdhan, the follow-up to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Khurrana dons the garb a small-town middle-class boy who causes a stir by coming out as gay and bringing his partner home. So, there we are: a whole new world is opening up in the pan-Indian Hindi cinema on account of actors and directors who are willing to take risks.
Shoojit Sircar, who directed Khurrana in Vicky Donor, also gave Taapsee- Pannu a role that changed the course of her career. The film was the intense legal drama Pink, featuring Amitabh Bachchan as an ageing, cynical lawyer who comes out of retirement to represent three young women subjected to sexual violence after a rock concert. It was produced by Sircar.
A Bollywood director who has made a career out of dark thrillers, Sriram Raghavan has never lowered his guard in the matter of keeping his output free from dog-eared devices. He helmed one of 2018’s most acclaimed Bollywood thrillers, Andhadhun, which arrived virtually unheralded and went on to acquire a cult following.
A decade ago, Raghavan delivered Johnny Gaddar, a stylized crime thriller that remains a benchmark for the genre. In 2015, he made the subversive thriller Badlapur, about a man who lies in wait for years for a criminal who killed his wife and child in a random act of violence.
Also working in mainstream Bollywood but with a distinct slant towards the real and tangible is AshwinyIyer Tiwari. She has directed three Hindi films to date – Nil BatteySannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Panga. Each one of them has struck a chord without having to resort to potboiler conventions.
Bareilly Ki Barfi, a romantic drama set in a specific small-town milieu, saw Ayushmann Khurrana lock horns with an actor who has a niche all his own – Rajkummar Rao. Rao, a regular Hansal Mehta collaborator, has built up an impressive body of work since debuting ten years ago with Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex AurDhokha.
With Mehta, Rao has delivered two of his finest performances – in Shahid, which fetched him a National Award, and Aligarh, a film in which he held is own against a superlative Manoj Bajpayee.
Together, these directors and actors have created a space where Bollywood explores themes and ideas that are far removed from easy certitudes that the industry usually peddles. They have lent Mumbai cinema an edge it never had before by erasing the line between commercial success and artistic courage.
Winds of Change
The ageing Bollywood superstars are nearing their sell-by dates. Their fan followings are intact, but are struggling to convince audiences that they are still young enough to play action heroes and romantic leads. With the goalposts having moved significantly, the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are exploring fresh creative pastures.
Aamir Khan is the lead of Laal Singh Chaddha, an official remake of Forrest Gump (1994) directed by Advait Chandan. Shah Rukh Khan, on his part, hasn’t signed a film since 2018’s Zero. And Salman Khan, despite the below- par showing of several of his recent releases (notably Tubelight, Race 3 and Bharat) is sticking to his guns.
He seems to be continuing down the Dabangg path – the third installment of the franchise hit the screens in 2019 – with Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, directed by Prabhudeva. Dabangg 3 was incidentally also helmed by Prabhudeva.
It is reported that Shahrukh has given the go-ahead to a script penned by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (writers of Amar Kaushik’s Stree and makers of Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone). So, has SRK seen the writing on the wall?
But even as winds of change sweep over the Mumbai industry, Akshay Kumar (Good Newzz), Ajay Devgn (Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior) and Hrithik Roshan (War) have delivered massive hits this past year. Bollywood is, therefore, being driven by contradictory impulses.
On one hand, films like Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga earn critical accolades that do not necessarily translate into box office returns. On the other is the next Tiger Shroff vehicle, Baaghi 3, a high-octane actioner that will probably rake in big bucks.
The illustrious history of Bengal in world cinema has added a pressure on the upcoming filmmakers, which at times, is counterproductive. Cinema coming out of the North East is devoid of such overarching ghost hence it is so much refreshing to watch, says Director and Writer Prantik Basu, one of the talents from India in Berlinale Talents 2020, who is looking forward to interacting with and learning from the industry experts and fellow filmmakers visiting Berlinale this year. Interview with Prantik Basu
Congratulations for being a part of Berliane Talents 2020. Your film ‘Rang Mahal’ was in Berlinale last year, what is your objective and what do you aim to achieve at Berlinale this year?
Thank you. Yes, ‘Rang Mahal’ was in Berlinale last year and was received very warmly. It is always delightful to share one’s film to such a huge international audience. At the Berlinale Talents, my main aim would be to interact with and learn from the industry experts and fellow filmmakers visiting from all over the world. It is a very rare opportunity and I am very grateful to be a part of it this year.
What are the new projects you are working on this year?
I am presently working on the script of my first fiction feature film Dengue, besides finishing the post-production of an ongoing documentary feature.
Tell us about your film Dengue?
‘Dengue’ is a love story between two men, stranded during a sudden summer downpour in the suburbs of Calcutta. The rain plays a catalyst in bringing them together and while the roads get waterlogged and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry a tropical virus, an unspeakable romance unfolds between them.
I wrote the first draft at the PJLF Three Rivers Residency in Rome, under the guidance of Marten Rabarts and Olivia Stewart. Last year the project received the Hubert Bals Fund and the project now has The Film Kitchen on board as our Dutch co-producer.
A huge number of independent talent has been coming out of Indian film Institutes every year. Being an alumnus of the prestigious FTII, how has it influenced you?
Yes, that is true. At the same time, there are many super talented, selftaught filmmakers who are creating magnificent work. Film schools are great to nurture one’s creativity and hone the skills in a shared environment. The infrastructure is a great privilege and it spoils you to a certain degree. Since the time I graduated, I have been working with extremely minimal recourses, and that has been a great learning as well.
What is your view on the transformation happening in cinema? What are your thoughts on Big Screen and streaming platforms?
Both are completely different platforms. While one is a community experience, the other is a private one—much like ‘eating out’ and ‘take away.’ Thankfully, we are working in times where one can have bit of both, so why choose. Ideally, they both should co-exist.
You are well-versed with Bengal cinema? We will be celebrating 100 years of Satyajit Ray this year? Do you see the glory of Bengal cinema making a comeback in world cinema?
That is a good hope to work towards. Having said that, the illustrious history of Bengal in world cinema has added a pressure on the upcoming filmmakers, which at times, is counter-productive. Cinema coming out of the North East is devoid of such overarching ghost hence it is so much refreshing to watch. I hope we can arrive at a point where our regional specificities achieve a universal resonance.
Who has been your major influence in filmmaking?
I wouldn’t say influence, but I am deeply moved and inspired by the contemporary Thai, Portuguese and Latin American cinema.
Mesmerised by the past, noted Indian Director and Screenwriter Mukul Haloi loves to dig like an archaeologist to uncover all the little fragments of time, one layer after another, and then reimagining them as a whole Interview with Mukul Haloi
Looking forward to meeting and collaborating with composers, sound designers, script mentors and co-producers, noted Director and Screenwriter Mukul Haloi has high hopes from Berlinale 2020, which he is attending as one of the Berlinale Talents from India. Haloi after a number of successful short and experimental films such as ‘Loralir Sadhukath’, for which he was given the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award, talks about his first feature-length fictional debut and his other future plans in a candid conversation with Pickle Congrats you are part of Berlinale Talents 2020.
What is your objective and what do you aim to achieve at Berlinale this year?
Thank you. I am very much looking forward to attend the event and communicate with other talents from around the world, to discuss and innovate on new thoughts and understandings about contemporary films. I am particularly looking at meeting people who are interested in Asian films, more specifically from South Asia. As I have been developing a film, I want to make use of this platform to collaborate with technicians such as composers and sound designers and also expecting to meet script mentors and co-producers.
What are the current projects that you are working on?
I’m developing my debut feature film. It’s in the research and development stage. The film is going to be in my mother tongue Assamese. It is based upon a popular Assamese folk story. Apart from this, I’m gearing up for a short film which I expect to shoot by this summer. Also, post-production of my second docu-feature is going on.
Any surprise at ‘Parasite’ winning script and screenplay in Oscars? Also, a non-English film has been bagging Best Picture award.
Looking at the trends over the years, I think it is not very surprising that ‘Parasite’ has globally made an impact and found an acceptance among moviegoers all over the world.
Is being an academic helps you as director and scriptwriter?
I’m not so much into academics, but I teach film in independent workshops and also write about them. It helps me to constantly question my own practices and further deepen my understanding of films. Directing films is not just a craft, but also a responsibility to do justice to your own thoughts and ideology. So, I feel that writing, teaching or reading keeps me in a conflicted territory of thoughts, which help me to create something.
There has been a phenomenal change in the popular Indian cinema with content-based films working well and commercial hits falling in numbers? What are your thoughts?
It’s a good sign. We as viewers have been exposed to so many film cultures of the world that now we can identify and choose our own subjects. Maybe, that’s why cinema with strong content or subjects is getting acceptance. Also, regionally there are so many good films getting produced. Specially, I am very much intrigued about the films coming out of Kerala, which are fresh, powerful and commercially viable too.
Personal remembrance seems to be your forte in your works.
The past mesmerizes me. Remembering it is an archaeological process—digging one layer after another; finding bits and pieces of markers to a time; accumulating them and then making a whole to imagine the time we have lost in fragments. Those fragments are my area of work.
There is so much of talent coming out from north East? Do you see visible change on ground?
We can see viewers’ acceptance of new experiments and mode of thinking, though not so significant. In the last five years, there have been many films made by new filmmakers and they all are thematically and aesthetically and linguistically/ ethnically varied. To talk specifically about Assam, some films carry the neorealist practice of Jahnu Barua, but in a refurbished way. ‘Village Rockstars’ by Rima Das is one of such films. There have been another set of films which reflect on the insurgency-torn time of Assam. Jaicheng Dohoutia’s ‘Handuk’, Reema Borah’s ‘Bokul’ are prominent ones in this thematic classification. There has also been a resurgence of films in different languages. Rabha, Mishing, Bodo, Moran, Karbi—all these languages are now getting a place in films.
Few more film-makers who are creating new modes of expression are Bhaskar Hazarika, Deep Chowdhury, Kenny Basumatary, etc. Who has been your major influence in filmmaking?
There have been many. But among filmmakers — Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Hao Hsiao hsien are three names that stand out.
Finally, what are the goals you have set yourself in this decade?
I haven’t planned it for so long… But I want to make as many films as possible. One film every year would be great if possible. Also, I have been thinking over setting up something to inculcate film awareness and education in school children in Assam, which I will begin soon starting with my own village. Also, I am planning to publish my first collection of essays in Assamese by this year.
As Indian history, mythology, and folklore resonate strongly with the Indian consumers, It requires scriptwriters, visualizers and techsavvy animators who can translate these stories from live-action to animated content, writes Dr S. Raghunath, Professor of Strategy, IIM Bangalore
As India inches closer to adopting the 5G technology, the consumption of entertainment content will increase manifold, presenting a neverbefore opportunity for broadcasters and OTT platform providers to grow their business. Therefore it is not surprising to witness the trend of increasing investments in original IP content.
Indians are reportedly watching at an average of eight hours and 33 minutes of content a week that is higher than the global average of six hours and 48 minutes of content per week, where animation-based content has a significant share in the online content consumption.
The potential opportunity to expand animation and VFX business is immense while in reality, it requires commensurate talent to realize that potential.
We are aware that Indian history, mythology, and folklore resonate strongly with the Indian consumers, as most Indians are aware of their local heroes and their stories. It requires scriptwriters, visualizers and tech-savvy animators who can translate these stories from live-action to animated content. India is replete with folklore and characters that have a strong appeal in vernacular languages.
Our creative artists and writers can dip into the most valuable assets of folklore and mythology and draw upon a rich library of characters, and more specifically refresh and rejuvenate the connection that these characters have established with end consumers in rural and mofussil areas. The library of characters and storylines can contribute to a highly synergetic business model, in which animation and VFX can play a critical role, and Management graduates can address key marketing challenges in the creative industry.
Creative media, art, and design education requires a thrust and the focus that brings exposure to world class technology to aspiring young minds in the country. Students need face-to-face tutorial sessions with their teachers who have updated their knowledge on the current practices and technology in the industry in a studio-based learning environment.
To prepare for their future careers, students need to hone not only their technical skillsets but also soft skills such as networking and bringing exposure to their work through social network sites, festivals or exhibitions. They need mentoring from industry professionals, starting with workshops and guidance conducted by such professionals. Students can gain exposure to specific knowledge, skillsets, and inspiration for industry standards through these interactions. Participating in Master Classes, or in workshops with famous artists and animators from the industry can help students to develop the mindset of entrepreneurship for their future career growth.
Students require support on their action learning projects through remote access to computer resources. Remote access provides students with the flexibility to determine when to work on their action learning projects.
Educators must consider giving students more independence when they are given more responsibilities for their learning in project-based contexts. More independence and self-paced application may encourage students to do well in their projects. Student autonomy may have a positive impact on shouldering responsibility, creative freedom, and performance.
The Government of India has identified animation, under the audio-visual category, as one of the 12 champion sectors. As part of the champion sector categorization, the government has allocated a dedicated fund of Rs. 50 billion for the development of 12 sectors. Contribution and development of such ‘Centres of Focused Learning on Animation and VFX’ can immensely benefit the industry.
It is common knowledge that margins in animation business are not high and are known to be based on the volume of business. Countries like Canada, France, Spain, Ireland offer tax incentives to their companies in order to remain competitive. Perhaps we must consider supporting this fledgling industry until it attains maturity.
WITH LOVE FROM SISTER – Interview with Namita Pradhan
Having led a successful professional life in the Indian media and entertainment industry for five decades, we know Amit Khanna as an industry veteran, an avid songwriter and an opinionmaker, who wore many hats to chart the course of several important organizations in the country. But few know about his close relationship with his family or what he likes to do when he’s not making films or writing. Namita Pradhan, sister of Amit Khanna spoke to Poornima Bajwa Sharma.
From starting his career as an executive producer to making award-making films, setting up media channels, chairing various organizations and now penning down a book, Amit Khanna has had a remarkable five-decadelong run in the industry. How will you describe his journey?
Amit has always followed his passion. Right from the beginning of his career, he was ahead of his times and generation. He would feel comfortable in the company of people much older than him and still held his own amongst them. While his professional journey has been meteoric, he has always had close connections with the family and would always make himself available to us in all times of need.
We know the enigmatic man who has had a successful professional life. Tell us more about Amit Khanna’s lesser-known side.
Amit is super sensitive about his family relationships and takes his responsibilities very seriously. We used to live in a joint family in a big home in Lutyens Delhi at Hailey Road. We were, and still are, a closeknit family of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews though now spread out much beyond Delhi. And he still brings the entire family together a couple of times in a year, which we all look forward to. He loves to tell a story, or recite a couplet at family gatherings and is a treasure trove of anecdotes.
Can you share some special anecdotes from your childhood that are still fresh in your memory?
There are so many of them. He was always super protective towards not just me but all our cousin sisters. Our grandparents and parents had a great influence on us as we were growing up. He was close to them.
Tell us three things that no one knows about Amit Khanna.
Amit is a great dog lover. He also donates regularly to charity and is a stickler for rules which makes him extremely law-abiding.
Apart from movies and books, what are his hobbies?
He has varied interests in just about everything. But besides movies and writing, he also loves to cook.
Amit Khanna was the first person in your family who decided to join the media and entertainment sector in the 1970s when everyone aspired to become an IAS officer. How do you feel about his decision?
We are all extremely proud. We were then, and are more so, now.
Amit Khanna is a foodie. Any special dish that you love to cook for him which he likes?
He’s a better cook than me (laughs). He loves our traditional ‘Khatri food.’ But of late he has also started enjoying a slice of my sourdough bread.
Namita Pradhan, Ex. IAS officer, Ex Asst. Dir-Gen. WHO-35 years of international and national civil service
It’s rare to find a successful poet, lyricist, writer, and filmmaker — all combined into one man. Amit Khanna, who has completed five decades in the Indian M&E industry with his career spanning all media verticals, has lived and played all these roles with relative ease. He is the man who coined the word Bollywood and steered the Indian media sector on the path of convergence. His new book —‘Words, Sounds, Images’ — traces the history of M&E in India from the Indus Valley Civilization till modern times. We dive deep into his mind to understand the past, present and future of the Indian Media
In a career spanning five decades, Amit Khanna overwhelmed the Indian Media and Entertainment industry with the sheer brilliance of his profundity and exceptional creative power as a producer, lyricist, writer, talent promoter and mentor for many preeminent personalities in show biz. As a torch-bearer of modern entertainment, he shares a great rapport owing to his intrepid entrepreneurship and prophetic vision of the future of M&E space. Becoming an executive producer, writer and lyricist with actor-film-maker Dev Anand’s Navketan Films in 1970 at the age of 21, he went on to set up India’s first integrated media and entertainment company Plus Channel in 1989, which served as a platform for many award-winning films. He is also the founder chairman of Reliance Entertainment (from 2000 to 2015), India’s leading studio. Under his leadership, Reliance Entertainment diversified into production, distribution and exhibition of films across formats, radio and TV broadcasting, direct-to-home TV, gaming and online content creation in India and abroad.
Besides serving as an important link between the government and the industry and helping shape the Media and Entertainment policy, he has also been on the governing councils of the Jamia Millia Islamia Media Research Centre, and the Film Institutes in Pune and Kolkata, as well as Whistling Woods. He was the first Indian to serve on the international Emmys Jury.
Amit Khanna is a man of many talents, and he has been a vociferous writer and opinion maker serving as an editorial adviser to The Economic Times, Probe, Take 2, Online, Super Cinema and many other publications of repute. There was a time when he was the sole person who would be quoted on important issues concerning the industry by reputed newspapers and magazines both in India and abroad. Having worked across every segment in the field of media—print, radio, television, films, stage, live entertainment and digital media, he continues to surprise us with his proficiency in Hindi, English and Urdu as a multi-lingual writer and poet.
His new book ‘Words Sounds Images’ encapsulates the 5,000 years old history of the media and entertainment in India, which is set to be a treat for scholars from across the world.
The book starts with an examination of the origins, looking at a wide array of aspects including the state of entertainment during Harappan and Vedic times, details from the Natyashastra, the early drama, music and dance of Kalidasa, the development of ragas, musical instruments and early folk traditions, the genesis of classical dance forms, developments through the ages, including in the Mughal period and in the southern kingdoms, in the northeast, and under the Marathas and the British. Independence onwards, ‘Words Sounds Image’ takes a decade-wise look at the evolution of newspapers, cinema, music, television, dance, theatre and radio. In an interaction with Pickle, he talks about his voluminous yet engaging work and its relevance in today’s India. Here are the excerpts from the interview…
You have written a history of Indian media and entertainment and not an autobiography?
Personally, I don’t want to write an autobiography because I am a very straight forward and honest person. Speaking honestly, ideals have clay feet in India, and I don’t want to hurt them because they have a certain image which may not be entirely true. These people are famous and very well respected and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Moreover, I avoid it as I won’t be able to write false things. I don’t want to work for profit any more so I have decided to do some academic work.
Why did you decide to write a book on the history of the India media and entertainment industry?
I have been associated with various media schools including FTII, SFRTII and the Jamia Media Research Centre, among others. I came to realize that despite several books written on the media industry and lot of information available on Google, what has happened is that lot of wrong data got frozen on the internet. This has resulted in everybody quoting wrong data which is being circulated around.
Secondly, there is a lot of interest in the Indian media and entertainment sector because it’s one of the fastest growing in the world. Also, it is a very diverse market and we have a very rich cultural tradition. There are specific books written on each segment, but there is not one comprehensive book which gives you an insight on various subjects over a span of let’s say 5,000 years. My book is more like an encyclopedia. It does not delve into detail in anything but it mentions everything; records everything of significance which happened. That’s how this book’s format is.
Initially I considered the option to concentrate on a particular media or a particular time period within the media, but then decided against it and wrote a comprehensive book. However, having said that I will be writing more books in the future focusing specifically on television or films and other social trends.
I was 22 when Dev Anand handed over Navketan to me. I was influenced by him for the commitment to look ahead and keep working. He gave me this attitude
Why is it relevant for us to go back in time and reflect?
When I was writing about Indian music, for example, it occurred to me that even though we are looking at the various developments in music in the last 50 years we still need to understand how did the music originate? Why is it that some forms of folk music still exist after 5,000 years of their origin?
We find that some forms of music that find mention in the Sangam literature have survived to date, especially in Tamil Nadu. Folk music in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Andhra remain relevant even today. So, some of the relevant questions that needed to be answered are: What have been the influences? How did the Raga system emerge? How did Carnatic music diverge from Hindustani music? Though the answers provided by the book may not give you a complete picture, it still explains a lot of things. Whether you are a student of media, a media professional or you have a special interest in the arts, it will give you some touchpoints.
Which period in the history of media and entertainment in India you find much closer to the present?
Fortunately, there is a huge repository of data and knowledge available on the internet today that makes us a more informed society. Also, today there are a large numbers of media students and other professionals who have studied at least theory, making them more aware about the history of media compared to the people 30 years ago. But the pertinent questions to ask are: Have we traded knowledge for information? And are we able to preserve the wisdom which comes out of distilling of knowledge?
Everybody talks about our rich cultural traditions but they confuse time periods. For example, according to me the richest period of our history was the Vedic age but a lot of people confuse Vedic age with Puranas and with the epics, although epics predate the Vedas and the Upanishads. The fact is there is a clear distinction between them. Vedic knowledge or wisdom was distilled over a period of 2,000 years.
The two great Indian epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana have become a part of our cultural heritage. But in each region, virtually every 200 kms, the interpretation of these great epics changes because we come from a rich tradition. The transmission of wisdom and knowledge has been oral. Part of transmutation of this is possible, or is likely over a large span of time. We use very simple markers in history that this particular event marks the beginning of this era. But it is not like that. There are no ages and eras and time overlaps. The cultures, which keep on subsisting simultaneously before they get subsumed by one mass culture over spans of time; they are the first signposts of change.
We should produce only 500 to 600 films in India. But we are making over 2000 films. That ’s the biggest problem. Also, we cannot have 900 TV channels
How can this book be relevant for people?
The book is like an encyclopedia. It’s a reference book. There is no bibliography, so there are no reference materials. There is no arcane material which is normally written in scholarly books. It’s a very reader-friendly book. You can actually pick up the book and start reading it from any page. For example, if you want to read about music in the book it’s been so divided; if my interest is only music then I need not read the rest of it. I can read about music only. Similarly, if within music my interest is in classical music then I can read about it, or if it is theater or drama, I can read about drama or films. Each subject has been covered separately. It can appeal to anyone depending upon their interest.
We have been waiting for this book for a long time, why it took so much time?
The book required lot of research, therefore, lot of primary research went into it. Moreover, it was rather a challenging task to decide what to include and what not to in the book.
It means total number of pages were much more than the current 953 pages?
Originally it was planned in two volumes. But that would have meant devoting more time in rewriting it, and it would have been appealing to scholars and libraries only.
People of my generation or one generation after that are the last ones who are still obsessed with the sanctity of the celluloid films
Are you happy with your five decades devoted to the Indian M&E industry?
I am happy because I think we as a country have shown tremendous resilience to overcome various challenges, and have made tremendous progress in terms of technological advancement and realignment with the global geopolitics to come out stronger, and that’s the case with our media and entertainment sector also.
The case in point is when films moved from silent to talkie, the people said that live entertainment would disrupt the older forms of media because people are so infatuated by the moving image in the darkened auditorium. So they said: Who is going to watch Nautanki? Or who will watch Yakshagana? But the fact is that these have survived in some form or the other till today.
Then colour pictures came, and the people said that cinema would change. Later, other technologies like Dolby, iMax, Atmos and Virtual Reality were introduced in cinema. In the last five decades, the tools and the craft have definitely changed. Today, there is no analogue material or analogue link in the entire film value chain right from the conception stage. When you plan or write your film there is software to write it. You use it as the breakdown for your story boarding; you do your budgeting and everything online, and then you shoot on digital equipment. You do your post on digital equipment. Distribute it digitally, exhibit it digitally, and store it digitally. People of my generation or one generation after that are the last ones who are still obsessed with the sanctity of the celluloid films.
You are among the very few people in India, even in the world, to have seen closely all the mediums, what was it like back then?
When I first entered the film industry, very little tape was used back then. Songs were recorded on optical sound and if anyone in the orchestra, or the singer made a mistake then the film got wasted because you had to then put a new film.
At any point in time did you feel the frustration of accepting change?
No, there is always resistance to change. I became producer in 1976. Initially the Producers Guild had only 30 members and the membership was restricted. They did not admit new people. There were originally 20-25 people, who were giants of their time including people like V Shantaram, Meboob, Bimal Roy, Sohrab Modi, AL Srinivsan, AVM, LV Prasad, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, BR Chopra, and Subodh Mukherjee. However, in the early 70s they admitted some 4-5 of us—Mushir Riaz, Yash Chopra, Raj Tilak, Yash Johar and I. I was only 24-25 year of age when I became a producer. I came from a different background. I used to write in magazines.
Reflections on Amit Khanna, friend of Dr. Narotham Puri for over six decades.
He is someone whom people consider my best friend, but to me he is like a younger brother for over 60 plus years now. We were next-door neighbours at Hailey Road in Delhi. He was four years younger than me, but does age matter in friendship? He was always a brilliant mind, who was able to grasp myriad subjects that you would not expect a nontechnical mind to grasp. He would read Gray’s Anatomy and Samson Wright’s Physiology books of mine when he was in school and I was a young medical student.
He was well schooled (St. Columbas) and did his English Honours from St. Stephens. It was there that his love for theatre took root. For a young guy who used to mimic and deride one of my class fellows who was an ardent Dev Anand fan, it was ironical that Amit ended up with Dev Sahib after meeting him in relation to a charity show for his college society. His unconventional career choice was to prove a boon to the film, TV and entertainment industry, although I dare say it would not have pleased many of his family members given that his maternal grandfather was a reputed doctor who set up the Bhowali Sanitorium and his paternal grandfather was a reputed Engineer in Indian Railways. His wide array of knowledge; his inquisitive mind which always hungered for knowledge; and his achievements (including many firsts in the industry) have not surprised me at all.
His mind retains its cutting edge; his focus on the future and his ability to express himself on print and paper remain undiluted.
We go through phases when we do not meet, sometimes for a couple of years, but for me, our silences are comfortable—a true test of friendship. “A true friend is someone who knows your past, believes in your future and accepts you just the way you are.”
This feeling is mutual— when we meet, it is never to crib why we did not meet for so long nor when are we meeting again. That is because we never left each other. His tome on films, media and entertainment industry is timely and I feel confident will become a source material for generations to come. I have been blessed that in Amit I have a childhood friend who understands me and knows how proud he makes me feel about his achievements.
A chance meeting with Star-Filmmaker Dev Anand in 1969 got Amit Khanna involved in films while he was still in college. “Dev Saab must have seen some spark in me. He asked me to manage Nav Ketan’s work in Delhi, which incidentally involved liaison with Government and as well as getting involved with his distribution in Delhi,” he recalls.
His interests in college included theatre, journalism, advertising, radio and TV, which stood him in good stead. He even wrote the dialogues for a couple of scenes in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna. So when Amit Khanna passed out of the college in 1971, Dev Saab asked him to come to Mumbai and work with him. However, it wasn’t easy for him to take the decision, as “my parents were against my joining films,” he admits. “We had no background. Mostly in my family there were professionals, engineers, doctors and even civil servants. Nobody was in films. They were scared that I have no contacts. Moreover, nobody from St Stephens College preferred to join films at that time,” he adds. But given his fascination for films, the family allowed him to join Dev Saab.
It was a big break for him. “Nobody gets a chance where the top production house or top a star asks some boy from college that you please come and work with me and I am sending your ticket. I flew down to Bombay and on day one went straight to the studio from the airport. There was a car waiting for me there,” Amit Khanna says. Eventually, he got involved in every aspect of filmmaking. “Since I had been writing poetry (in Hindi and English), I ventured into lyrics writing and script writing.”
Talking about his schedule, he says that he was working 18 hours a day seven days a week doing different things. “My age and my educational background aroused a lot of curiosity among film industry and media at the time. Even singers like Lata Ji, Kishore Da, Rafi Saab, Asha Ji and others and other film stalwarts found me a strange mix of a creative person and a business head.”
A Spokesperson of the Industry
In 1976, Amit Khanna turned Producer, and this got him involved in the Film Producers Guild which at that time had only 35 members including veterans like V Shantaram, BR Chopra, and Raj Kapoor, among others. “They told me that you argue a lot but we still need you,” says Amit Khanna. He was the youngest member of the Guild and became its treasurer in 1976 and later its VP and then President. “Since I was articulate, I was a natural choice to be part of all film delegations meeting the Government,” he adds. Over the period, he also developed a strong network with bureaucrats, new parallel cinema directors, and the film festival circuit. He also developed friendships in advertising and corporate circles with almost all the leaders in these fields, and began writing on Industry affairs in various national publications. “During the emergency and post emergency I became the spokesperson of the industry on everything. Officially they would ask me to speak on almost every issue,” he says. He single-handedly pioneered the fight for industry status for films. “I was the first person who arranged the meeting between industry and FICCI.” He also chaired FICCI’s Entertainment and Convergence Committee and was Chairman of CII’s National Committee on M&E.
“I was the first person to take the Indian delegation to Cannes. I had to persuade people like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai. This is when Devdas was released in 2001. We took a big delegation to Cannes,” Amit Khanna recalls.
Indian M&E’s Soft Power – ‘Get the Focus Right’
Amit Khanna does not mince his words when he speaks about harnessing India’s soft power through the M&E sector. “Let’s not forget, the global Media & Entertainment is a USD 2 trillion Industry while in India we are struggling to reach even USD 30 billion! The G20 countries have a Media & Entertainment sector averaging 3-5 % of GDP while India is at 1%. So much for the soft power and knowledge economy,” he says.
For him it’s time for the government and the industry to get the focus right. “Why are you obsessed with getting foreign guys to come and shoot in India. For that you don’t need a film festival. You need to go to individual countries and market your films. He wants Indian film stars to do more when it comes to showcasing Indian M&E sectors’ soft power. “All the Indian stars with one exception of Amir Khan, who decided that China was a big market and he has nursed that market, other Indian big stars are happy going and getting mobbed by South Asian audience. If you see the audience profiles when Shah Rukh did the David Lettermen show, there were all south Asians sitting there. I would have been happy if he had smattering of 100 people. Indian stars have been honoured in various universities. There are books being written about them. People have done PhDs on Indian cinema, Indian television and Indian stars, but they are all catering to the minority South Asian segment,” he observes.
Digital is the Future of India’s M&E Sector
The future of India’s Media and Entertainment sector lies in digital space, says Media and Entertainment industry veteran Amit Khanna. For him, internet is the ubiquitous currency of our world and connectivity is our lifeline. In this ecosystem these two enablers are leading to monetization of our leisure and increasingly work, he believes.
“Today’s it’s about personalization, privacy and performance. As institutive web (3.0) is replaced by thinking web (Web 4.0), m2m and IoT, it is estimated that Digital Media & Entertainment (inclusive streaming audio, video, broadcast, gaming, Out of Home will account for about 40% of the entire leisure Industry in 2026 totalling to more than USD 1.5 trillion empowering nearly 6 billion people. A similar scene will be repeated in India where out of a total size of 70 billion E&M Industry the digital part will be more than 40 %. This year the digital M& E in India is worth more than the film Industry and will exceed the Print Industry in 3 years and the TV industry later in the next decade,” he says in a recent article.
He also believes that the changing media landscape calls for the craft to evolve afresh. “We can already see more news being accessed through social media sites and apps like twitter and What’s App. Fake news is a temporary blip as AI assisted filters will soon spot manipulated reports and doctored news. In the next few years news breaks will be accompanied by short blurbs on known political and other biases of the source or reporter. Even newspapers and magazines will have to value add to their print versions to survive. A pay per use model has to provide premium service,” he says.
‘Freedom of Expression is Not in Peril’
The industry veteran counts himself amongst those who do not believe that our freedom of expression is in peril. He says that “fear is overstated”.
“It is in every generation. In 70s I have seen censorship during Mrs Gandhi’s time. Even in my book I have mentioned, particularly during Nehru’s time, lot of films were censored and banned; books were also banned. But there was no platform where a person or artist could agitate. There was no social media. National press was not bothered to write about films being banned. No newspaper wrote about cinema except the review. That has now become magnified,” he adds.
Amit Khanna is of the opinion that artists and citizens have to find a voice, and social media and electronic media is helping them find that voice. “But that voice has to be somewhat reasoned. It is not that for the first time things in recent Indian history or independent India have become so bad. During Emergency years anybody could be arrested and threatened and you had to be quiet.”
Regarding censorship in film industry, he says that the government made a rule that liquor bottles could not be shown in films. “They also said that you can’t show blood in films and that’s why the words ‘dishoom dishoom’ came into the films of that era. Then they passed this rule that you can have only 6 action sequences of 90 seconds each in a film.”
Film Facilitation Office – A Step worth Praising
Amit Khanna credits the current Government led by Narendra Modi to have actually opened the film facilitation offices after nearly 40 long years of only talks and no action. “They have only talked but execution has happened now. I hope it is streamlined,” he says.
“The Prime Minister has reformed many sectors of our economy and industry then why not Media & Entertainment? A nation of 1.3 billion people wants options to be informed and entertained in Digital India,” says Amit Khanna, who wishes that “before we celebrate our 75th anniversary of Independence we had a National Media & Entertainment policy framework, which takes into account the rapidly changing world. This is too important a sector to be neglected.”
He also put his views strongly on the “inherent conflict in the role of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Telecommunications & Information Technology”.
“Besides the HRD Ministry handles IPR (Copyright) and Culture Ministry does its sideshow. It’s time we have one omnibus Ministry handling all subjects relating to Media & Entertainment,” he demands.
“We must have a group of experts and not Ministers and bureaucrats working on the future of our web-based content and delivery. Unfortunately, we have half-baked self-styled IT cells headed by vague people.”
It’s rare to find a successful poet, lyricist, writer, and filmmaker — all combined into one man. Amit Khanna, who has completed five decades in the Indian M&E industry with his career spanning all media verticals, has lived and played all these roles with relative ease. He is the man who coined the word Bollywood and steered the Indian media sector on the path of convergence. His new book —‘Words, Sounds, Images’ — traces the history of M&E in India from the Indus Valley Civilization till modern times. We dive deep into his mind to understand Amit Khannathe person
What is your idea of real happiness?
For me, happiness is bliss which comes with fleeting moments of life from various things… from your deeds, the feel that comes from your tasks, the happiness when you watch something pretty, when you feel ‘oh, life is worth’, or when you have a simple, well-cooked meal. Of course, I love flowers, I love nature…
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is that as humans, we are lagging behind science and technology and the progress which science and technology offers. The gap between what is possible and what actually is, is wide. That’s a fear. If that gap becomes huge, it will become difficult.
One trait that you don’t like in yourself…
Impatience and temper.
Which living person you admire the most?
I have learnt from many people. Let’s say… one has to keep learning from anything which is interesting… it is a new experience, new knowledge, new insight. I will observe from a farmer in a village to a well-known global figure.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I have done lot of extravagant things, like walking into complete luxury, sometimes I spend thousand of dollars on clothes.
Your current state of mind…
It is what it was 50 years ago…always thinking of new things and moving ahead
Do you lie?
Sometimes, when a simple lie can save somebody from getting hurt, when it can avoid unpleasantness. Otherwise no.
Which living person you despise the most?
No one as such. I don’t like certain people, and I just avoid them and that has taken me time. I don’t hate anyone, though I am vocal about my disagreement.
Your greatest love of life…
I had no such one…
When was the best happiest moment in your life?
Several points. Happiness is a feeling of fleeting joy or bliss at different points in your life. If it is one highpoint, life would be over.
Which talent you wanted to have today?
Two things I miss, which I admire a lot, but i don’t do. I know lot about music. But i can’t sing. And I can’t paint. These are the things which i wanted to do. I have a good sense of both art and music. I would even suggest Lataji and Kishoreda to ‘please sing in this way….’
If you can change one thing in your life…
It is my impatience, which made me take some very rash decisions.
What are your great achievements?
Number of people who are working in the industry, whose lives I have been able to touch.
Your treasured possession…
Nothing..why should I treasure my possession? Greats in any field have been forgotten in twenty years. So, I just don’t have false notions. you can’t buy immortality by doing anything.
Your favorite writers…
Whole range of them. I read all kinds of stuff, so…
Your favorite hero in fiction…
Again, will be many, different people have fascinated me.
Historical figure you identify yourself with…
Not one figure, but myriad people.
Your greatest regret…
I still think I have not done what I could have done.
How would you like to die?
Without passing discomfort to others. I would not like to die in a situation I would disturb others who care for me.
You said you would like to write more books, what are they?
One is on food, about different foods of India including street foods and traditional foods. Another book is about change which technology will bring about in society.
How important is privacy to you?
To me it’s not important. Because, power of internet is worth more to me than my privacy.
Excerpts from Words, Sounds, Images – The History of Media and Entertainment in India by Amit Khanna
The 1990s, in more ways than one, was a defining decade for the entire world. The longdrawn-out Cold War came to an end as Mikhail Gorbachev brought perestroika and glasnost to the Soviet Union. Once the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, a wave of change swept across the Eastern Bloc and a new order began to emerge in Europe. Nelson Mandela, the South African leader and champion of the anti-apartheid movement, was freed after twenty-seven years in jail. A fierce war broke out in the Gulf when Iraq invaded Kuwait, becoming the first televised war in history. In Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was replaced by John Major after years and Bill Clinton became the president of the USA. There were regime changes in many other countries as well and a move towards détente and democracy.
1990s was not only the last decade of the century but of the millennium. These years faced both a digital storm and a global economic crisis. There was political turmoil in South America (Nicaragua, Chile and Haiti), Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) and the Middle East (Gaza, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan). The digital era arrived towards the end of the millennium as analogue minds grappled with economic challenges. The first cloned mammal, a sheep named Dolly, was born. Viagra, a sexual stimulant, was introduced. The race to outer space quickened and the Hubble telescope was launched into space. The World Wide Web was created. Email became popular and the first email services such as Yahoo!, Hotmail and Google, as well as websites like Amazon and eBay were launched. Microsoft-Windows and a new, rejuvenated Apple started a fresh bout of war to gain dominance in the space of computers. Mobile telephony was now available throughout the world. For the first time, handheld devices connected hundreds of millions of people across geographies 24×7.
Cable TV was the new global force in media. Round-the-clock news altered forever the way people consumed current affairs. Time magazine— and its associates—and Warner Brothers combined to create the largest media company in the world, Time Warner. Rupert Murdoch extended his media empire all over the world, as did Japanese media and electronics giant Sony. Disney became a diversified media and entertainment company.
Popular American TV shows of the 1990s beamed in dozens of countries. They included soaps such as The Bold and the Beautiful, Beverly Hills, Mr. Bean, Larry King Live, The X Files, Friends, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Frasier and ER. Hollywood expanded its global footprint. Titanic (1997) turned out to be the biggest blockbuster movie of all time, collecting over US$2 billion worldwide. Other Hollywood hits included Home Alone (1990), Star Wars Episode 1—The Phantom Menace (1999), Forrest Gump (1994), Jurassic Park (1993) and animation films The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995). Among the critically acclaimed films were Hoop Dreams (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994), Goodfellas (1990), Fargo (1996), Three Colors Trilogy (Blue , White , Red ), Schindler’s List (1993), Breaking the Waves (1996), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Malcolm X (1992) and JFK (1991). In pop music, MC Hammer, Sinead O’Connor, Britney Spears, Jon Bon Jovi and Spice Girls topped the charts. Fast-food chains such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Starbucks expanded to many countries. In fashion, denim was once again the fabric of the decade. 1990s styles included black leggings paired with oversized sweaters, low heels, flannel shirts, T-shirts, sweatpants, flowing skirts, turtlenecks, sports shoes and flip-flops.
India faced ten years of political ups and downs. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 in Sriperumbudur near Chennai by supporters of the Sri Lankan Tamil rebel organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Terrorism raised its ugly head in Kashmir once again and the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 created a sharp communal divide. Communalriots— like in Bombay in 1992-93 – erupted at regular intervals all over India. Riding a rightist wave, Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power at the Centre in 1996, only to bow out in less than two weeks. The BJP, however, returned in 1998 and remained in power for a full term.
About the Book
Ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, this is a firstof- its-kind book that presents the history of media and entertainment in India – from the times of the Indus Valley Civilization right up to the twenty-first century. The book starts with an examination of the origins, looking at a wide array of aspects such as: the state of entertainment during Harappan and Vedic times, including details from the Natyashastra; the early drama, music and dance of Kalidasa; the development of ragas; musical instruments and early folk traditions; the genesis of classical dance forms; developments through the ages, including in the Mughal period, in the southern kingdoms, in the north-east, and under the Marathas and the British. Independence onwards, the book takes a decadewise look at the evolution of newspapers, cinema, music, television, dance, theatre and radio. The author, himself a film producer, director and lyricist who has worked in the entertainment industry all his life, brings his unique perspective to bear on the subject. This pioneering work is a must-read not just for the students and practitioners of the arts and media but also for their lay consumers. Publisher: Harper Collins India Pages: 952 pages Price: Rs. 1449
Under P. V. Narasimha Rao’s premiership, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh unleashed India’s most substantive economic reforms since Independence, again in 1991. The old Nehruvian socialism was discarded, leading to a pragmatic opening-up of the economy. It was the beginning of the dismantling of the Licence Raj. From a land of scarcity, India took the first steps towards becoming a nation of abundance. Fast food, colas, chocolates, ice creams and instant noodles were the favourite of the youth.
In sports, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was the new icon and Viswanathan Anand the first Indian world chess champion, while Leander Paes made his Davis Cup debut.
The advent of satellite TV brought with it multiple channels. Zee TV became the first homegrown private channel. Faced with competition, Doordarshan opened its doors to private productions as time slots were auctioned. It also launched the DD Metro channel. By the mid-’90s, India had two dozen satellite channels. Zee TV, Star Plus, ATN, Sun TV, Gemini TV, Udaya TV, Sony, MTV, ESPN, BBC, CNN and Doordarshan and its Metro channel were all keenly watched by millions of Indians. Almost every town in India had miles of cables strung across streets as cable TV made its unorganized entry. Local cable operators began delivering pirated films to cabled homes. The media boom had begun and ad spends zoomed up. News television produced its own stars and journalists like Rajat Sharma, Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt became household names. The coalition government led by the BJP went on to further liberalize media and communication in the country in the late 1990s.
Mobile phones came to India in the mid-1990s and, in less than ten years, completely altered the state of communications in the country. Maruti, in collaboration with Suzuki, changed the way Indians commuted. Suddenly there was a choice of cars you could drive. Ready-to-wear clothes became popular as several home-grown brands sprang up.
The Indian IT industry began its roller-coaster ride to global prominence as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, Wipro and HCL became the new leaders in providing outsourced workforce to the world. Stock markets ere the preferred investment option for the new middle-class Indians as more and more companies listed on the bourses, Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh and other securities scams notwithstanding. Credit cards and home and auto loans transformed the lives of the middle class. Foreign travel was no longer the preserve of the rich.
There was a substantial growth in print media as many newspapers, especially regional ones, started new editions. The film industry, too, started its metamorphosis. Sooraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar brought new-age romance to the big screen. The first multiplex, PVR, appeared in Delhi and satellite TV rights of movies fetched exorbitant amounts. FM radio expanded as licences to run local stations were auctioned. Private FM stations finally went on air in the 1990s, immediately catching listener attention with their snappy jock talk and latest music.
Amitabh Bachchan started the high-profile ABCL entertainment company. Others too started similar enterprises—Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV, Raghav Bahl’s TV18, Harish Thawani’s Nimbus, Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts, Sri Adhikari Brothers and Manmohan Shetty’s Adlabs. Corporatization entered showbiz as industry bodies such as FICCI and CII began to take interest in this high-potential sector.
For me, it was the beginning of twenty-five years of a hectic and eventful professional life across the entire gamut of media and entertainment as I launched Plus Channel, India’s first media and entertainment conglomerate, with friends
The three Khans—Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir—ruled the silver screen. Aishwarya Rai not only became Miss World but a huge Bollywood star, too. Madhuri Dixit and Kajol were the other female heartthrobs. A. R. Rahman brought a fresh sound to Hindi film music. Filmmakers like Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Ashok Amritraj, Shekhar Kapur and Manoj Night Shyamalan made waves in Hollywood. Big stage events and concerts finally came to India as event managers Wizcraft, Showtime and DNA brought international acts to perform here. Relaxation in foreign investment policy led the way for several large global giants like Sony, Disney, Fox, CNN, MTV and CNBC opening subsidiaries in India.
In 1999, India decisively defeated Pakistan in what is known as the Kargil war on the northwestern border. A brave, new and confident India presented itself at Davos and other international forums.
For me, it was the beginning of twenty-five years of a hectic and eventful professional life across the entire gamut of media and entertainment as I launched Plus Channel, India’s first media and entertainment conglomerate, with friends.
(Courtesy: Harper Collins India)
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