When we read headlines heralding Indian actresses dazzling at Cannes – the annual film festival on the French Riviera, the subtext doesn’t say they are mostly there to promote shampoos, not India’s powerful film industry. We have, by now, got used to silly dresses in general and interviews to the captive Indian media in particular. The Indian tent is just that – a tent. Most people who go there are Indians in search of Indian food. This year India decided to profile regional films. Nobody cares. If a film is good, the region is irrelevant.
But, something interesting happened this year. Director Rohena Gera’s feature film Sir, was not only acclaimed in a critic’s category, it has not stopped drawing huge crowds around the world. Even more interesting is the fact that the Indian delegation led by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry was unaware that Sir had caught the attention of Cannes’ discerning audience up until a few days of the festival’s beginning.
Even as I write this, comes news that a Bollywood label is set to replace the “PewDiePie” – the king of YouTube. Data over the weekend is pointing towards India’s biggest music company T-Series becoming the new boss. More than 500 million Indians are online and this is only the beginning and it has been adding new subscribers faster than the Swedish star it has dethroned. No, not all of it can be explained away by saying there are more Indians in the world – it is time to look at our film and entertainment industry as a growing business.
In 2017, Bollywood grossed in the region of $2.1 billion and has been growing in excess of 10% each year at the box office in the country. Aamir Khan’s Dangal grossed $164 million within 45 days of its release in China. Consulting guru KPMG estimates that the Indian recorded music business will reach $300 million in annual revenue. That is four percent of the $7.65 billion that the US recorded film industry alone earned last year (September 2017 estimate).
Bollywood is a global brand. There is no corner in the world where films, music and actors’ names are not known. It’s obviously a revenue-spinner. It is entirely indigenous, their stage productions are top of the rung (read Wizcraft) and they showcase India in all its colour and glory, diversity and ambition.
They have got there on their own, as risk-takers and disrupters without making thirty-page power-point presentations. They don’t run around looking for government funding and doles. Most of them raise their own cash – in other words, they are businesspeople. And, this homegrown industry is a massive job creator.
Oh, but wait. It’s not intellectual enough. Which is why when international investors and governments come to India, the top dogs of our film and entertainment industry are not invited to the high table. They are called to “entertain” our guests – and that is perfectly normal – but business is not where they are profiled.
When Indian politicians travel abroad looking for investments, they do not drive business towards our film, music and entertainment industry. There is a lot of nonsense that Bollywood produces but formula films may be giving way to different identities and depth.
In an interaction with Republic’s digital team last week, a quick tour de table showed that Indians were interested in consuming quality entertainment information. Young India is neither stupid nor sluggish and will go find interesting work where it exists. We fall overboard when orchestras play Hindi film music when our leaders visit foreign countries, but in our own country, we keep them at arm's length.
It is time to cut this cultural apartheid.