RIP: The King of Rock ‘N Soul Solomon Burke, best known for penning the soul standard “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” — famously covered by the Blues Brothers in their eponymous film — passed away today on his way to a show in Amsterdam. He was 70.
To honor his memory, please find somebody and love them.
October 11, 2010
For me, one of the most heartening things about the success of Dabangg was the conspicuous absence of any corporate association.
First clarification- I refer to the various entities operating here as corporate, rather than what they seem to call themselves- studios. This is for the simple fact that none of them in fact even possess a physical studio, a studio being a place where you can shoot films. It is a very telling sign that after raising vast sums of money from investors and/or the public, none of them is even attempting to provide substantial infrastructure to film makers that will help them produce better films. In contrast to the West, where most studios were created by visionaries who invested their money into creating something more enduring (the Disney building I am told, literally stands on the shoulders of statues of the seven dwarves), with the exception of YRF, none of the current crop of studios has been founded by a strong creative presence. Which is probably why YRF is the only entity in the last couple of decades to invest in a studio in Mumbai. Contrast this with the past too, where the physical legacies of Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan among others, still exist in some form. Even today when I enter Mehboob Studios or RK, though they may need some modernisation, the first thing I am struck by is that they instinctively feel like places to make films. There is something in the layout, the atmosphere, the staff still working there, that makes you feel completely at home as a film maker. This cannot be by accident, they were built by legends & visionaries to help them make more films, and their legacy has deep roots that are entrenched to this day. Conversely, despite the vast sums of money that have been lavished upon us by these corporates, I feel the primary legacy they leave behind will be correspondingly shallow, and reflect their intentions- so I do not expect better work environments, but more litigious and intricate dealmaking, and more and more resources spent on excel sheets and lawyers fees. Thank you sirs for helping in this stage of our evolution.
Peter Biskind’s wonderful book ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ that chronicles the adrenaline fuelled decade of 70’s Hollywood, notes the part that studio bosses played in allowing for the transformation in the films that were made. Notable among them is Robert Evans, the Paramount boss then& was also subject of the brilliant documentary ‘The Kid Stays In The Picture’, which gets it title from a life changing line uttered by Darryl Zanuck, one of the founders of what is now 20th Century Fox.
He had a tumultuous career both personally and professionally, but during his tenure took Paramount from a floundering studio to the biggest studio in Hollywood. More importantly, he oversaw classics like The Godfather, Chinatown, Love Story,& Rosemary’s Baby, to name a few. That is the legacy he leaves behind, and I hope that he is the poster boy for at least those who work with a similar job description here in Mumbai today.
Coming back to Dabangg, I wonder why no one in the media (or not one of the various shareholders) has picked up on this- despite all the expertise and finance at their disposal, how did the whole bunch of corporates manage to let this slip from right under their noses? The same studios that have backed similar films, that have backed the same actor in the past, managed to let currently the number 2 film after 3 Idiots slip? It is the commercial equivalent of The Dark Knight being produced & distributed ENTIRELY by an independent producer, after being up for grabs. The suits bought all the other turkeys and still didn’t manage to get invited for Thanksgiving!
But most importantly, I would like to celebrate the spirit of the independent producer, in this case Arbaaz Khan. In the best, old fashioned sense, he had a nose for something in the script, he used all his resources of judgment and goodwill, and took it safely past the million possible pitfalls that accompany every film’s journey, and made all the important decisions right- from casting through a brilliant promotional campaign into the cinemas. This is the way films used to be made, and its nice to see that its not quite extinct yet.
By the way, this is not the first time the studio system is operating in Mumbai- the 1930s and 1940s were dominated by several studios across the city. At that time their demise was attributed, in no small measure, to the rise of the individual producer. This also directly led to the era in which we produced arguably some of our best cinema ever. Lets see how this round goes!
This is a blog post that I’d written for Mint a couple of weeks ago.
What better way to prep for my stint with the mandatory media 3 ring circus as my film gets ready for release early next year, then by ranting at the media? Maybe a meta-rant?
I’ve noticed a number of recent articles, talking about the extent to which film PR matters, more so than ever before, and to the extent to which lies, fabrications are manufactured, choreographed and played out, all for a few more free column inches in the hope of putting more asses on seats.
Genuinely good stuff, really showing how all this is supplied in the name of news.
But what is intriguing is how not one of these articles has examined the demand side of it- to put it bluntly, why do editors and publishers go along with this, knowing all along that it is a sham? Do they believe these stories to be true- which seems unlikely, as they are now publishing pieces that take on the falsehood of the entire enterprise.
Or, knowing that it is false, I would really love to know why they give these lies such credence. And now meta-credence, as they look down on us further, exposing us as liars, cheats and scoundrels. Which is not entirely so curious, if you see that we indulge in the business of selling dreams, illusions, fabrications etc- or more concisely- lies!! There is a clever quote from Cameron about a clever quote from Godard about cinema and lies but I suspect me quoting them may be too ultra-meta for even this piece. We lie for a living. The minute you buy a ticket, you are willing to watch and hear those lies for a couple of hours. You are paying to see us lie to you. Logically, we will lie to sell you those lies. If we were to apnao satyagraha, cinemas would be empty. Ok more empty than they are most days. Where do we go from there? Only regional lies?
How come no one writes about the media side demand for it? And please correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen any publisher or editor quoted in this context. I thought the essence of good journalism (and these are good journalists, whose work I’ve consistently enjoyed reading over the years) is to put forward all sides of a story.
One hypothesis is that it is sacrilege to take on any priesthood from within. This I know from whatever time I’ve spent in this business too- the worst thing someone can do is take on another from within the fraternity in public. You pretty much tear up your membership card right then.
Even if a journalist were to attempt it, and I’m sure on an individual level they have, it would gain no traction with the people they report to. How dare someone in the media question its integrity?
And as a journalist friend suggested, why not hit the delete button on all those thousands of PR plugs that get into the inbox everyday, ignore those quotes packaged in convenient tweet form- instead if the editors asked their reporters to go out onto sets, post production studios and wherever else, and get some first hand stories with some good old fashioned snooping around (the kind that needs comfortable footwear, not keyboard virtuousity). Or do we in the movies just paint a romantic of what journalists should be doing?
A minor sidenote- why are every studio’s box office figures published dutifully as the gospel truth? We know that studios are desperate to show great numbers every quarter, but wouldn’t some kind of verification, some kind of scrutiny be par for the course. I know the difficulty of procuring these figures, but maybe its better in their absence to not publish.
Vapid as it may be, ultimately the good and great on the publishing side of things see that these lies put eyeballs to their ads, so as we refine our lies to multiplex lies, and whatever new everlasting truth manifests itself on Friday (valid till Thursday next), so they critique us through new lenses.
I guess this at the heart of it is that we both know each other is lying, but only they get to tell on us.
And this is all genuinely trivial stuff- one of the most excellent, albeit depressing, pieces I’ve read recently is P. Sainath’s account of how the Press Council of India made a mockery of the investigation into paid news- i highly recommend reading this piece here, appropriately titled “The Empire Strikes Back”
Haven’t seen too many reactions from the press to this, which probably means the publishers & owners really wield an unbelievably scary amount of clout over what gets transmitted. Which though not surprising, is still somewhat terrifying.
So now after working for over a year on a film which pretty much contains everything I would like to say (hence it is in the film) I will spend the next several months talking to the media about it without having a chance to show them the film, because apparently that is not done. Come to think of it, I don’t envy their job either.
At least 2 people have died this week, crushed by tree branches that fell on them. Unconditionally tragic. Corporators and politicians are putting out excuses, but I have a simpler question.
What the hell are these trees doing on the roads in the first place?
Luckily, I also have a few answers.
I believe the main reason those trees are still there is that it somehow makes us feel that Bombay is green and habitable. It also means that elected officials are spared the task of maintaining existing parks, to a level that would entice folks to regularly use them recreationally. They are also spared the onerous task of creating new public green spaces that almost every other city in the world has, and we have a right to. Conveniently they can instead sell off any public space and give us what we really need- more marble lobbied buildings, or exclusive clubs where we can play lakhs for the privilege of having some open green space to wander in.
By retaining these straggling old trees they have painted a nice veneer for us to be satisfied with, like the paving stones that we enchanted with briefly. Thesis being lets squeeze in these trees all over in existing spaces, so we don’t have to give our citizens several acres with hundreds of them in one place.
They can keep the pavements crappy. Even crappier than otherwise would be. Read Samar Halarnkar’s excellent piece in HT for more about that. See, because trees are unconditionally good and huggable, they can come in our way if we want to walk somewhere. They also allow building societies to push in other pavement beautification, like 6 foot long pots containing mini trees and shrubs. Like the hideous colourful paving tiles that are conveniently extra slippery in the rain.
Trees on streets also provide great disguises for really rubbish architecture. Without these trees, I am sure there would have been far more outrage over the grotesque TDR monstrosities that stick vomit like to suburban lanes. With the trees, there is a vague sense of green nothingness. Without them, this city might even be forced to look at external aesthetics a little more seriously. Think of it as the worlds worst (or best) combover. Unfortunately I’m one of those obsessed with spotting, taxonomizing these sorts of things, especially if they incrementally conspire to hem us in.
Truly tragic that lives were lost on our streets last week. And truly frustrating where we’re heading.
The film, which stars James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, and Lizzy Caplan, is set to be released November 5.