Definitive decade

Hindi Cinema

Definitive decade

And yet, no decade in the history of Hindi cinema, now 97 years old, has seen the kind of definitive changes that the decade 2000 to 2009 saw. From finance, functioning and filmmaking to star-prices, the NRI market and international honours, the Hindi film industry saw sea-changes. 

Funding & finance

Hindi films were traditionally funded by financiers who would extract as high an interest rate from the hapless producer as four percent — a month! In the 90s, underworld financing infiltrated along with widespread extortion and also murders. But in 2000, cinema was officially given industry status and bank and corporate financing opened up.

Still later came film insurance and other allied de-risk methods. Today corporate companies are ruling the film industry, some making as many as 12 films at a time. Overseas collaborations are also a norm now and many venture capitalists from UK and USA are also increasingly investing in our movies, besides major studios like Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and others. Yash Raj Films rules among individual filmmakers and works in a studio pattern modelled on Hollywood.

The multiplex phenomenon

With multiplexes taking off in a big way as a culture, the whole movie-watching experience improved — excellent screens and sound, plush seats, add-on facilities and clean toilets — and avenues for middle-of-the-road or experimental cinema as they needed software and niche audiences who liked to watch such movies. On the flipside, terrible cinematic fare was actually conceived and found release, the common man could not afford movies because tickets could be priced anywhere between Rs 300 to Rs 750, and the consumerist culture spread like a virus.

The economics

At one level, economics turned white with payments in cheques and strict contracts that generated accountability in cast and crew. At another level, rates of stars were artificially boosted by corporate honchos who claimed to be passionate but looked only at greenbacks and branding. This made production budgets even more skewed with stars claiming pies in profits and top stars signing multiple-film contracts and taking fees as hefty as Rs 20 crore a film, leading to a comparable escalation in the next hierarchy when even the A-plus of stars list could not guarantee a hit. The same happened with filmmakers. Over the years, top stars have begun largely working in home productions and with fixed banners. Films are made in one stretch (making stars change looks as per character) and bound scripts are the norm.

India Inc

Indian films — from mainstream to niche, Hindi to regional and even English, got attention worldwide and big-ticket films competed in the Top Ten Movie Hall collections with Hollywood and other biggies. Traditional NRI markets remained, but new ones opened up. Debutantes became international celebrities, Indian and Western artistes and technicians exchanged countries of work and everyone from Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Yash Chopra and AR Rahman to lesser names and a lot of films managed international honours and spotlight. Indian film celebs even judged international cinema and had retrospectives at festivals abroad.

The content

All this, along with exposure to foreign fare and the Internet led to a major change in content — again for both better and worse. Overseas governments offered huge subsidies and incentives and films began to be first shot, and then based abroad in terms of stories. They even began to be tailored to NRI tastes, though the real global opening has yet to happen. The music followed suit. Soul and content in music and cinema were replaced by an increasing orientation towards packaging and a shift away from Indian culture and traditional arts like lip-synched songs. This affected music sales (which has decreased physically also because of iPods, mobiles and Internet downloads) and box-office, but losses were buffered in part by endless available funding sources and elevation in ticket rates, new media emergence etc.

While the hyped names continued to be promoted by a media that went increasingly out-of-sync with the audience from their delusional ivory-tower perches, the real health of the industry came from the real geniuses around.

So as the first smash hit of this decade released as early as January 14, 2000 in Rakesh Roshan’s Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai with the biggest star-discovery of the decade in Hrithik Roshan, the millennium’s first decade ended with the December 24, 2009 release of this decade’s biggest opener, Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots, which has grossed 100 crore worldwide in just four days.

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