The pursuit of excellence of the human mind is individual and that’s what makes creativity great. This is what Amit Khanna, former chairman CII National Media & Entertainment Committee and former Chairman, Reliance Entertainment said at the CII Big Picture Summit 2012.
Amit Khanna, media guru, poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian will be giving his thought leader address crystal gazing where the media industry is heading at the 9th edition of CII BIG PICTURE SUMMIT 2020 (December 16-18)
SPECIAL ADDRESS: Amit Khanna, CII BIG PICTURE SUMMIT 2012
It has always been said that time has come for India to reap its demographic dividend. We are a youthful nation, What does Young India mean specifically for media and entertainment? It has been noted over the years by experts and sociologists that it is the young who not only consumes M&E but also are trendsetters. However, in the recent past, trends have emerged in more developed markets that as we move towards a digital world (a networked society) more and more niches emerge in the media and entertainment universe. There are sufficiently large pockets of people who are willing to consume different kinds of films, television, new media. Hence it becomes a larger pie with more people able to consume it.
One of the realities which many of us seem to overlook is a change which will happen in the next ten years. In the digital universe demographics get blurred. Because the ease of access gives the ability across ages across psychographics to access news, information, entertainment often from sources which were unattainable till a few years ago.
We are way down in the per capita consumer spend on media and entertainment. In more developed markets they are as high as five or six per cent. In some of the other competing markets like Brazil or China it is still much higher than India. As people become more aspirational, connected with different devices, through the development of viewer access technologies and with all content ultimately resting in the cloud consumption will go up in geometric progression. It has been noted that society grows in arithmetic progression. It is a slow progress. But, technology propels in geometric progressions. It takes leaps of several generations with each technological advancement. The problem is trying to reconcile the pace of social change with the rapid speed of technological change which is happening simultaneously. We all know of the famous analogy of several India’s exist together in different times and space. However, it is imperative for us to tap and address each and every citizen of these India which ultimately create the whole India.
Similarly, the ad spend to GDP ratio is amongst the lowest in the world (in top twenty countries of the world). There is no other way as consumption goes up these ad spends will go up audience measurement techniques will emerge and you will see ad spends rising in a competitive landscape.
Short term predictions
What we are heading toward is something Walter Manning, founder of Jwt said forty years ago when he was setting up the media lab at MIT. He said 21st century media will be all about personalised segmentation of media. It is that what we are heading to. We are going to see enhanced, relevant, curated content being consumed. Time is the only finite factor in consumption. You have only 24 hours to do work, play and entertained. Within that space there will be lot of competition in trying to monetize leisure. Leisure has become a larger world used when we talk about media and entertainment. It is no longer about watching news or listening to the radio or going out to a concert or watching cinema in your neighbourhood multiplex it is also events like Formula One. It is also about going to other social gatherings. We have seen social media groups form community groups which meet often and are now just about beginning to get monetized. HDTV or 3D Cinema are in the beginnings of what I would call enhanced viewing experience. You will in the next five or seven years come towards immersive TV, come towards films which will have multiple endings suiting different markets. It will be the same narrative but the filmmaker shoots two or three different ends depending upon the geography or demographics to suit those audiences. The most significant thing is curated. As digital technology develops, and we move from the present semantic web (Web 2.O) to intuitive web (Web 3.O) and the next which is currently being finalised in the labs we will find machine to machine talk becoming easy (Web 4.O). These huge large databases will talk to each other figure from our digital footprints what our interests are lead us on to that entertainment, news, information, music. It is for us to monetise these new revenue opportunities. Cross Section, Cross Segment competition is something we have to be cautious about.
The only thing in this world which is not fungible in this global world is talent. Talent, cannot be outsourced. Everything else can be. Processes, manufacturing. Talent is individual. The pursuit of excellence of the human mind is individual and that’s what makes creativity so great. More such opportunities are there in this huge currently untapped digital landscape. It is almost as if the mariner has landed on the mars and just dug up a little sample and telling us what is in store for us.
When popularity on social media becomes a yardstick of measuring success, trolling, fake news, doctored posts and a lot of propaganda and promotion becomes the norm
BY AMIT KHANNA
Technology has opened up absolutely amazing possibilities of mass communication and personal engagement. In the past few years, we have an unprecedented situation in human history where almost 5 billion people are just one button away from each other. According to Statista, a global media research firm, 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of July 2020, encompassing 59 per cent of the global population. China, India and the United States alone contribute 70 per cent of these users. Another billion are online occasionally.
Virtually everyone using the Internet is active on one of the many leading social media platforms. Even as hundreds of millions wake up to a good morning message from friends and family, an equal if not more are busy spewing venom ad nauseum.
This democratization of media has challenged decades of conventional wisdom of communication. Anyone anywhere anytime can express an opinion, criticise, endorse, abuse, applaud and contradict others. Social media, an omnibus term for all applications and services which allow one to one, one to many and many to many interactions has upset the status quo in politics, diplomacy, news, arts and entertainment and, of course, interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, while billions of people are “posting” on social media constantly, they are not ready to face the consequences, social, political, cultural, economic or psychological. So now, a blame game has begun on the insidious ramification of an always-on society. But, most are blaming platforms, websites and applications for their own inability to handle the cataclysmic change in our lives, real and virtual. It is we who are irresponsible in our comments on social media.
The transition from traditional media to social media engagement has been rather swift. Unlike the known power paradigm of newspapers and broadcasting, social media is anarchic. In a peculiar democratic way, it gives the control of not only what to say but when to say it. Look how YouTube has given an outlet for millions of people an opportunity to showcase their talent. Or how Wikipedia has become a source of information and Google fountainhead. A fountainhead of digging out even the tiniest fragment of news from obscurity. User generated content is the bedrock on which social media giants have been built. When individuals post on various topics, an inherent bias is likely. When popularity on social media becomes a yardstick of measuring success, trolling, fake news, doctored posts and a lot of propaganda and promotion becomes the norm.
Since the last few years, there has been a constant chatter about politics, specially elections being influenced by fake news and social media manipulation. In fact, now apps and platforms are often unfairly accused of being partisan and manipulative. What most people do not realise, leave alone understand, is that the rules of a networked society are being written every minute and virtual anarchy for a while is a foregone conclusion. No media or journalist ever talks about their political biases or their editorial slant, yet it’s an open secret who stands for what. Why blame social media for similar biases? After all, journalists take refuge under freedom of expression all the time.
Has journalism ever been truly independent? The answer is “no”. What is unpalatable to traditional media and its practitioners that their relevance and importance is getting usurped by tech upstarts. Not only that, these Internet-driven companies are the new corporate giants. With billions of dollars’ net worth and hundreds of millions of subscribers they are also an integral part of our day-to-day life today. The problem gets compounded, as it did, when traditional media like print and TV started a symbiotic relationship with social media a decade ago. A newspaper covers a story based on a message from someone, it gets quoted on social media and TV runs endless debates on this source-based information. Another network picks it up and starts a fresh debate. Welcome Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp , Snapchat, Tik Tok et al and the virtual world is on fire. This de-value chain gets started with different linkages but, ultimately, all participants use one another to further their own interest.
Like two parasites, both are now feeding on each other and only spewing out malcontent for the gossip-hungry consumers. Nothing spreads more or faster than malice or panegyric. With millions of trolls on all sides of all divides, viciousness is a foregone conclusion. Now, armed with bots or other smart algorithms, even AI, one can get millions of likes or dislikes in a matter of hours. Trolling is big business. Fake news be damned. Blame game has a billion progeny. “The first rule of social media is that everything changes all the time. What won’t change is the community’s desire to network,” says social media expert Kami Huyse.
Thanks to the Internet, each person with marginal views can see that he’s not alone. Conversely, the majority reasserts its position more emphatically through social media. Platforms are not here to balance views or change public discourse. In fact, there is a direct correlation between a surfeit of news and falling standards of public discourse. Social media amplifies good and the bad. Social media is about discovery. When users find one another via social media, they respond. No wonder tweets, posts, pictures, some original, mostly photoshopped or forwarded fill terabytes of virtual space every minute. Likes, hates, emojis and memes are reinforcements of personal or collective emotions, negative and positive alike.
The ongoing Sushant Singh Rajput case is just one example. Every political or social issue has a 360 degree maelstrom triggered by social media. It’s not that social media is always harmful. It has successfully given voice to marginalised people, brought forgotten issues upfront and connected forgotten friends. For many, social media is the only shelter from the humdrum of life. Without social media, social, ethical, environmental and political ills would have minimal visibility. Increased visibility of issues has shifted the balance of power from the hands of a few to the masses. The flipside is the amount of vitriol generated on social media.
Personal agendas drive a lot of the commentary on these apps.
Social media is slowly killing real activism and replacing it with ‘slacktivism’. While social media activism brings an increased awareness about societal issues, questions remain as to whether this awareness is translating into real change. It is not surprising that governments all over, irrespective of political ideology, want to control social Internet-based content and apps. Even heads of governments and opposition leaders are haranguing on Twitter.
As we have seen in recent times, mainstream media is obsessed with sensationalism, eyeball grabbing breaking news and rhetoric. While screaming anchors lead the charge on TV, it’s a motley group of cheerleaders who lead the troll armies. Many public figures who owe their existence to social media are up in arms when the same social media is used to demolish them. Facebook and Twitter and such like apps run a legitimate business with well-publicized business policies. As long as they follow the rule of law, how can anyone accuse them of being partisan. It’s their platform, their business, it’s for them to decide the rules of use. Are all journalists and media free of bias. Can I, as a citizen or organization, force a publication or TV channel to give me space and time and be equitable in their coverage of politics.
Let the first stone be cast by the one who has not used (abused?) media/social or otherwise.
Amit Khanna is media guru, poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian. His latest book Words, Sounds, Images (published by HarperCollins India) is ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, a first-of-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
(This column by Amit Khanna was originally published by IANS)
Celebrities are hot air balloons, which often reach dizzy height but in a matter of time fall ingloriously into deep abysses of oblivion by Amit Khanna
It’s a magical world. Where you come chasing a dream and then see it come true. You walk in with nothing but guts and grit or a bagful of talent. From anonymity to applause all it takes is one hit. From dingy PG digs to a swanky apartment is a matter of months. From local train to limo the ride is one helluva rollercoaster with more uphill thrills than downhill slides.
This is for the lucky few. The rest wallow in a half-forgotten existence. But these are the rules of fame and you enter knowing the odds. Don’t blame the other players or even the bystanders. When you play this roulette of celebrityhood you know your chances of winning are slim and even if you win one round you may lose the next.
When a million are out competing for the spotlight, a handful will make it eventually. Unlike what some believe and others talk, your dad can get you to sit on this carousel of success but it’s the audience which turns the wheel. The lineage just puts you in the inside lane but in this race it is often the outsider who surprises you with her performance. Gossip columns and sound bites get you a mention or more. It is the ‘public’ which is the arbiter of success at the box office. This makes the journey from the sidewalk to the marquee tough, tiresome and tardy. It’s not for the weak-kneed or fainthearted. Legends are made of those who have travelled this route triumphantly.
Entertainment is as much about art as it is about commerce. As far a studio goes, they are in the business of entertainment and incidentally except for one two or three all, Studio heads today are professionals with no family linkage
I have spent over five decades in showbiz. My family never had or has any connection with the media. There was no attempt to ever derail my progress nor did any of the so-called Bollywood (incidentally a word coined by me) establishment ever sabotage my career. Many before me and after me have made it not because they inherited fame and success or had the Industry lineage. Like in any field in media and entertainment there are second or third generation (occasionally even fourth) actors, producers, directors, writers, technicians, musicians, singers, journalists, photographers, media owners and others who perhaps follow their parents’ calling. As do politicians, sportspersons, corporates, business heads teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, architects or even masons, carpenters, tailors and farmers, who enter a vocation because someone in the immediate family did earlier and made it perhaps a little easier for them to follow.
However, for every one such family-driven success there are a dozen who achieved success by themselves. Media and entertainment history of a list of achievers who came from outside and the failures from within the Industry. Almost the entire group of offbeat and middle cinema are and have always been “non-family”. Eighty per cent of directors, composers, writers and singers and 90 per cent of technicians are first-timers who came, struggled and made it on their own. Stardom and failure don’t distinguish between caste or creed, insider or stranger.
I am not saying no one is exploited or abused here. Some are, and one’s heart and goes out to them.
Another myth is Bollywood has camps. What camps? A producer or a director or even a star can surely decide who he or she wants to work with. It’s their project, their money, their convenience. Entertainment is as much about art as it is about commerce. As far a studio goes, they are in the business of entertainment and incidentally except for one two or three all, Studio heads today are professionals with no family linkage.
From dingy PG digs to a swanky apartment is a matter of months. From local train to limo the ride is one helluva rollercoaster with more uphill thrills than downhill slides
Businesses succeed when their product is well made, well marketed and well received and not when they play favorites. I have headed two studios in the past 30 years in which we gave breaks to hundreds of newcomers irrespective of where they came from. I have personally been a bridge for many to several whenever they have encountered storms professionally and to a few in their personal lives as well. A number of people who are big names across ideological and creative divide will vouch for this. A number of past and present colleagues are not only still in touch but are often ready to lend a shoulder to cry in your hours of need. Half-truths, heresay, fact and fiction are interwoven seamlessly into a larger than life tapestry of innuendo, doubt and bias. We forget what we call film industry is an amorphous blend of stars, strugglers, media magnates, indie filmmakers, writers and musicians and a million of others.
Let’s look at the top 50 breakthrough films of the last 20 years and you will find all of them were backed by one studio or another. Obviously, relationships, success and yes talent do queer the pitch for in showbiz but that’s true for any other profession. If you look at any studio’s filmography it will include a variety of artistes and others and different genres and budgeted films. I have headed various Industry organisations for decades and I can say with certainty that working conditions, wages and business is far better today than what it was a generation earlier. There is a certain fraternal feeling which still exists. Even in the present crisis this industry was the first to mobilise resources to help daily wage earners. Sure, not everyone has been taken care of but the intent is there. Today insurance and other benefits are available to a large percentage of people involved in this Industry. Indeed, more still needs to be done.
Show Business is a cruel business. It picks up nobodies and catapults them to the stratosphere. Amidst stars, money, fame, adulation. Then for no reason it just takes it all away. Spits out the very icons it creates. Those who have savoured success for extended periods face the same dilemma of emptiness when their play is over. No more party invites, no more mahurats and premieres. No more call sheets. No more work. Forgotten, forsaken, lonely and lost some break more and quicker. So is the case anywhere else where your fame turns its face away. How many painters, performing artistes, authors and artisans have faced similar crisis?
Eighty per cent of directors, composers, writers and singers and 90 per cent of technicians are first-timers who came, struggled and made it on their own. Stardom and failure don’t distinguish between caste or creed, insider or stranger
In the last five decades I have seen the marquee drop names with an alacrity that is ruthless. I have seen the tinsel lose its lustre. Limelight turning a hazy yellow like aging cellophane. Stars turned applause junkies writhing in the pain of withdrawal symptoms. Some fortunate ones change their trajectory and move to the small screen and some find solace on streaming platforms. Some who invested wisely wallow amidst nostalgia in relative comfort. Irrelevance is the most hurtful truth, which afflicts 80 per cent of the film people in the twilight of their lives. Time just makes reining czars disappear in the dark void of failure and oblivion. Heartthrobs and creative artistes face heartbreak and manic depressions. These scene-stealers lie forgotten, sometimes dusted and brought out at obscure award functions and handed trophies as a token gesture. More often lying in the deep abyss of digital archives with their work sprouting sporadically on the vast TV channelscape or Google searches of an eager scholar. It is for them to have an insurance in place emotionally and yes financially always handy.
We are living in a moment economy. Every moment counts. In hyper networked society noise levels are so high that celebrity hunters are going to the extreme to attain their two minutes in sunshine. We always walk the edge. We are easily susceptible to hurt, anxiety, depression, euphoria or even death. No one has yet figured out the safeguards or even the perils of stardom. Celebrities are hot air balloons, which often reach dizzy height but in a matter of time fall ingloriously into deep abysses of oblivion. As writer Michael Humphrey wrote in Forbes magazine a few months ago, Has Generation Famous changed the equation for fame and fandom? If the famous are, usually performing 24×7, the media reporting non-stop turns voyeurs and vultures at will. The hunter and the hunted keep switching places. A thin line differentiates the two. When privacy gives way to isolation, the filament breaks.
As a society, our ‘always on’ online presence is like walking the thin edge. We are easily susceptible to hurt, anxiety, depression, euphoria or even death. No one has yet figured out the safeguards or even the perils of stardom. The performers and their purveyors know the fragility of it all. Let us not keep shifting the blame when the focus shifts. We are all a part of this scenario.
A walk with the stars always ends on Sunset Boulevard my friend.
This column by Amit Khanna was originally published by IANS
Amit Khanna is media guru, poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian. His latest book Words, Sounds, Images (published by HarperCollins India) is ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, a first-of-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
Everyone is busy outdoing the other in the mad race to grab eyeballs. Views have replaced news. So, sometimes, crime shows rule and at other times the leitmotif is supernatural occurrence By Amit Khanna
To me a simple definition of news is organised information about a changed situation, events, happenings and people. There was a hierarchy of news which was determined by immediacy and social significance. The fact that it’s expensive to publish a newspaper, there is always an underlying business model in publishing. In most cases, it is to make money, in a few to push an agenda — political or otherwise. All the talk of a mission, objectivity and fourth pillar of democracy is a lot of rhetoric and utopian eloquence. Advertising was always the major source of revenue as it remains even today. Alternatively, the funding comes from whoever wishes to back a point of view which obviously benefits him.
For over two centuries in India and elsewhere, the business of news has continued on pretty much the above lines. Till the advent of TV news in India, newspapers (and magazines) imagined themselves to be the custodians of the nation’s conscience, no matter their own credibility was coloured by a political tint. However, they were largely confined to mere reportage of events and happenings and occasionally people, leaving the pontification to edit page pundits. Digital technology, computers and satellite transmission changed news gathering and dissemination a lot. The ability to cover any event or happening in real time altered the way people connected with it.
Initially, radio and then TV restricted themselves to reports on incidents, people and problems. From contextualising to interpretation, news then succumbed to biases. The way you edited a story, juxtaposed facts or even positioned it, changed the story itself. This malaise has only got heightened today.
Several decades ago, one of the founding fathers of modern journalism, Walter Lippmann, said, the press is like a roaming spotlight, bouncing from topic to topic, story to story, illuminating things but never fully explaining them. “The function of news,” he wrote, “is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act.” This may appear simple but is the crux of the problem. Media vehicles predicate where they want to go for a story. So, who you talk to, what questions you ask and how much of the answers you retain, what is seen and said determines the final outcome. It does not make an iota of difference whether the perspective is decided by the owner, editor, journalist, advertiser or even the government. The fact is, objectivity is fiction. When the width of your knowledge is Google search and the depth is social media reports or leaks from interested parties, any claim to be independent is bunkum.
There is not a single objective media vehicle. The so-called liberal media are as partisan and prejudiced as the saffron and various other leaning towers of verbiage. What will replace this jejune noise is still a matter of, well, debate. The edge of the cliff is in sight but the phoenix is yet to be born is mixed metaphors apart. There is some sense in an occasional story on TV, online or even print, but these are mere flashes in an otherwise bleak scenario. Print, struggling to survive, is less strident. A large number of left and extremist journals have perished under their own intellectual arrogance and ideological ignorance. The rest keep on batting aimlessly with a straight face rather than a straight bat. A few holier than thou ‘civil society’ “do gooders” and “grassroots workers” spew endless “gyan”, whichever the media it may be.
Everyone is busy outdoing the other in the mad race to grab eyeballs. Views have replaced news. So, sometimes, crime shows rule and at other times the leitmotif is supernatural occurrences. Now, in online news, which is simple to put together and relatively inexpensive, all and sundry don the expert’s mantle. Retired bureaucrats, politicians in the electoral wilderness, out of job editors, have-been and wannabe journos, academics, parvenus and celebratii and the strange breed which goes by the name of activists are all spewing petabytes of unconsidered opinion. It’s another matter that publication/channel/website, anchor/editor has preselected quote hangers and verbal gymnasts and dial-aminute experts ready to harangue. Roving microphones, live coverage and random selection of data only peppers up the debate. Forget the investigative journalism of the 1980s. Or even the pseudo intellectualism of the 1970s. The idealism of the 1950s is best remembered in retrospect. Investigative journalism is now innuendo, leaks and source-based plants. A vast majority of journalists cannot even write or speak the language fluently they report in.
TV news today is an audiovisual akhara. There are nightly shouting matches. Pompous, ill-informed and amateurish spokespersons wrangle with pesky anchors and a montage of animated faces in agitated voices. Today, TV news is entertainment. The ones which a decade ago were watchable are all platforms of premeditated ideological noise. Some are pretenders of serious journalism, which makes them even more suspect. While the anchors are all heavily made up and coiffured and dressed fancifully, their diction and language leaves a lot to be desired. And it’s not that this problem is restricted to any language or region. Sensationalism under the garb of breaking news and scoops are unleashed with regular ferocity on every medium. Breaking news is more regular than advertising across media.
Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, journalists have become lazy and predictable. Google and Wikipedia are the fountainhead of research. If you notice, TV anchors quote print stories and print journalists take a clue from TV news. Both use Twitter (and other social media) as source of information and then start spreading their points of view as the ultimate truth via WhatsApp. The smarter ones are across different social media platforms. Every now and then a lot of noise is made about fake news and trolling. It’s the pot calling the kettle black. My source is genuine, the others unreliable. If you closely follow news, you realise more than half of it is plants by different interest groups. Interestingly, media persons and their loyal supporters are the ones who keep the whole trolling game going on social media. What with Bots and algorithms taking over, every slanging match gets millions of likes, dislikes, posts and ripostes by the millions. Do they represent the voice of the people? No way. One set consists of government apologists and the other government bashers. Political bias is worn as a badge of honour. Just being anti establishment does not make you correct. Nor does being cheering squads for the powers that be.
Secularism and nationalism are two other notions much bandied around by the media today. TV only accentuates the decibel level. If the fat lady screams on one channel, then be sure schoolmarm harangues on another. Two well-known English anchors are both the self-appointed questioners of the nation. One bow-tied greyhound spends his day collating news clippings on Google and the evenings questioning hapless guests. Two former editors with similar lineage run their talk shows with opposite political slants. One venerated pioneer is having telethons and others are busy with town hall meetings. On business channels, one lady is the repository of all the knowledge on banking and economy while a bunch of reporters have turned stock market experts and corporate analysts. The long line of inquisitors has only increased and shouters go on and on and the tone gets shriller. The liberals are as usual paranoid about some imaginary loss of freedom even as some overzealous nationalists are busy boycotting people and countries. Indian democracy, meanwhile, thrives amidst media cacophony.
One of the major issues is that India has far too many publications (70,000), news channels (300+) and thousands of online news sites. No wonder mediocrity rules. The latest scourge is Webinars, Zoom meetings, Hangouts and virtual conferences. In these days of Work from Home, it’s a good pastime. Now wait for the innumerable award shows run by various media organisations going virtual. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods, so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built: context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate.
That is a tall ask my friend.
(This column by Amit Khanna was originally published by IANS)
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)
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.