Chocolate and Gold Coins

Friday, March 03, 2006

Indian Movies and All-Arounders

In this previous post, I posed a question, “Why are Indian movies mediocre?” and I gave some hints: the Indian cricket team in 1999, and Milli Vanilli.

No one tried to solve the puzzle. It reminds me of my years being a TA in college: the student always came to recitation looking for answers to homework problems not insight.

Well, so be it. Here is my answer.

The problem with Indian films is simple and many have noticed it: they are all musicals. After Satyajit Ray, the idea of making a two-hour movie with real actors and no song-and-dance has just died. And that is a pity because the musical is not just not well suited to address serious issues.

But there is a more important reason a film industry based on making musicals will have problems producing high-quality films. It has to do with the labor demand that these musicals place on the market for actors. Before I go in to that, let me explain why the genre of musical died out in the west.

The musical was invented in Hollywood. I believe Busby Berkeley made the first musicals and I think he had an impact on Indian musicals as well. Soon came Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who made some of the best musicals of all times. I love this assessment from Astaire's first screen test:
"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Later came Gene Kelly who made the greatest musical ever: Singing in the Rain. But the genre died when Kelly and Astaire retired. Basically, it was just too hard to find people who could act, sing, dance, and looked handsome enough to be a film star.

The problem is familiar to any cricket enthusiast: the musical required an all-arounder. And it is obvious why the genre didn’t die in India. India discovered Milli Vanilli before Frank Farian did.

Who or what was Milli Vanilli? A german music producer named Frank Farian had an insight: there are many great singers who lacked dancing ability and many great dancers that lacked singing ability. Maybe if these talented people specialized, then they could produce really high-quality music videos. Farian didn’t let the paying public in on this little insight: he packaged Milli Vanilli as if the dancers were the ones doing the singing on the record. Milli Vanilli one a Grammy and then famously had it taken away when the scam was revealed.

Of course, Indian films have always used the Milli Vanilli trick. They use actors who can dance and lip-sync to the words of professional singers. This trick enabled the Indian musical to survive because they didn’t require a complete musical all-arounder. They just required actors who could dance - they didn’t have to sing.

But Indian films typically required little true acting ability so most famous Indian film stars were dancers first and foremost and maybe interesting personalities but not really actors. The all-arounder of a true actor who could dance well enough not to provoke laughter was hard to find. This is the analogy to the 1999 Indian cricket team: today’s actors are one-dimensional.

To make serious movies you need serious actors and screen writers who have skill in writing serious drama. Bollywood doesn’t have this kind of talent. I think there is a need for serious films and serious acting but it definitely a different commodity that the typical masala film.

My feeling is that there is a market for serious movies and it cannot be satisfied by making slightly more serious song-and-dance movies. If you have dance, then you will have dancers, not actors. I think a there should be a separate genre of film where there is absolutely no song-and-dance. This will force a premium on acting ability and create a new form of artistic expression in India – one that is greatly needed.

I think it would be wise to make the movies in English. Yes – you throw away 90% of the potential movie going population, but most of them what masala films anyway. And making serious movies in English allows the potential to carve a niche in the greater English-speaking movie market – a huge industry. I really believe that there is an untapped potential here. Of course, it could be that I am just tired of reading subtitles.


  • Michael I do agree with you in that majority of the Bollywood movies are mediocre. But I don't think its fair to compare bollywood movies to Milli Vanilli just becase that in bollywood movies no body denies the fact the the actors are not singers in fact they list all the playback singers in the movie credits. Also if you look at the sales of movie music CD's they are solely marketed under the singers credit and not the actors credit. Milli Vanilli cheated the whole world and the Grammy by keeping that fact secret and once it became public they were stripped of their grammy.
    I think the main reason for the medicority of the movies is solely because of the quantity of movies bollywood churns out every year. It has become sort of a manufacturing industry rather than a creative one. As in any manufacturing process if you see the bollywood movies these movies are made of a certian tried and tested boilerplates. Every now and then someone tries to think out of the box and comes up with a different movie. Soon people try to boiler plate it so that tons of other movies can be made similar to it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:38 AM  

  • Hi Michael
    The problem is pure economics. Most hindi films recover a lot of their production money from the soundtrack, so music is essential. Also, there are loads of people who will go to a movie just to watch a song and dance number by their favorite movie star and not pay attention to the rest of the movie. For example, check out the frequent Bollywood "concerts" that take place in New Jersey every other day. These "concerts" involve dancing and lip syncing by film actors and actresses along with a band of extras. And people pay a lot of money to go to these "concerts". If American movie stars performed such "concerts", they would be ridiculed in public. I guess ultimately, its a question of movie culture, Indian movie culture being superficial, shallow and extremely disappointing.

    By Blogger gawker, at 10:22 AM  

  • This is a sweeping generalisation - with scant evidence.

    There was a strong tradition of musicals, at least in Tamil, much before the invention of Cinema. Am not saying that is or isn't the reason - but your generalization is just as good (or a little worse) than mine. You may want to quiz your wife on 'iyal, isai, nadagam' and stuff.

    By Blogger Nilu, at 10:29 AM  

  • Michael,

    Interesting analysis. Some random (and perhaps) related comments.

    I wonder if the Indian musicals were inspired solely by Hollwyood or did they also appear as a natural extension of Indian folk theatre (e.g. the 'nautanki' or the 'jatra' forms) that involved a lot of song and dances. If I remember correctly, the first Indian talkie Alam Ara was itself a musical.

    I was trying to think if I could poke a hole in your theory by mentioning good actors who were not necessarily dancers but became famous nevertheless. I could come up only with Dharmendra - but then he wasn't such a great actor anyway. Other good actors such as Amol Palekar or Sanjeev Kumar never made it that big. The BigB, I would consider was actually a very good actor (see Kalapatthar, Saudagar etc) who could perhaps be called a good dancer.

    There was a brief trend in the 70s to make films with songs but little dancing that featured good actors, especially those made my Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee, Sai Paranjpe, Bhimsain, Muzaffar Ali etc. Shyaam Benegal and Govind Nihalni have tried to make serious movies with songs but haven't had much success.

    Although Hindi films might not have allrounders, as Ebert famously wrote, they are the 'swiss army knives of cinema', with each movie trying to encompass different genres: drama, comedy, action-adventure, erotica etc.

    By Anonymous BongoPondit, at 10:51 AM  

  • Michael, you seem to have condescending attitude towards Hindi movies! I know that I won't find many supporter even among desis, nevertheless to me, Hindi movies serve completely different dimension of my personality which Hollywood or Hollywood style movies cannot. And cinema is foremost an entertainment genere, so why must there be a any serious movies in the first place? There can be, but there must not be one.

    Reason for mediocrity appears to me as people's taste. If current types of movies run well, why would some one change it, given that any change so far hasn't produced any positive results. Also, illiteracy of large population also hinders development of some science fiction and other 'hi-funa' ('momento', 'usual suspects' type) movies! They require some serious thinking. If you want no brainer laughter marathon, just watch Govinda. In fact, many Indians find bad movies enjoyable because they can enjoy its badness (greatbong can give you some examples).

    Lastly, English 2-hr no song and dance movies...why not call Bollywood actors in Hollywood and dismatle Bollywood?

    By Blogger Ashish Gupta, at 10:54 AM  

  • Interesting observations all. However even if the musical format imposes the need for all-rounders, they do come about (ex. other cricket teams, Indian team at other times, Shahrukh Khan etc.)
    Even within the scope of the Bollywood format the quality could be much better (ex. angry young man films, mani ratnam). Ofcourse people's taste is the usual suspect. However Bollywood films have an absurdly high flop rate too. The question is who has the money to make these crappy movies? Ask the CBI.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:09 PM  

  • I was waiting for your post on this, just so that I could disagree with you. What you've done here is the common thing of classifying all Indian movies under the "Bollywood" umbrella.

    So, here's my long winded comment......
    Indian cinema pretty much grew on parallel lines. There were the big "masaala" movies, that went on to be dubbed "Bollywood", and a second, parallel stream of movies (quite numerous, i assure you), in almost all major movie making languages. So, while the people thronged to the theaters for musical action mindlessness, others experimented with cinema. Some actually bridged the two. After Sathyajit Ray (or actually, around the same time), there were movie makers like Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt, who made serious movies with deep plots, yet appealed commercially. Unfortunately, the next generation of quality cinema makers were classified as "art movie" directors. These include some extremely talented movie makers like Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, to name just three. Their movies won plenty of awards (both in India and at major world film festivals), but often did not do much business at home. This perhaps tempted other talented filmmakers to switch completely to "commercial" cinema. Mahesh Bhatt, for example, started off with the extremely sensitive and superb "Saraansh" and "Arth", but switched quickly to the "bollywood" format.

    It's in part also a question of supply and demand. Thus far, a majority of the movies that have made money have been the big-blockbuster-songanddance-action extravaganzas, the others have made little money.

    but rest assured that quality cinema exists (even by sheer probability, given the number of movies made, there will be some good ones!). Recent attempts (which you might never have even heard off), like "Maine Gandhi ko nahin mara", or "Pinjar" were excellent.

    So......."Why are Indian movies mediocre?", IMO, is a flawed question. The question "Why are a large percentage of the big, successful Indian movies mediocre?" might have been more correct. But then, the analysis would have to be different!

    By Blogger Sunil, at 12:57 PM  

  • Several excellant comments here. I will respond to each one soon but I would like to make a general comment.

    First: I think that most commenters here have largely ignored the central thesis of this post which is that the need for dancers in Hindi movies requires that Hindi movies will typically not have real actors and typically will not deal with real dramatic themes. Of course, there might be some Hindi actors who are decent screenplays and they may make some decent movies. But Indian films are disadvantaged because of the need to hire actor/dancers instead of just actors.

    My feeling is that this is akin to Marshall McLuhan's thesis that he summarized pithily as "The medium is the message." In other words, if you are doing musicals, you are doing love stories and you are doing mindless escapist entertainment.

    Second: There is nothing wrong with having musicals if people want them and there is nothing wrong with actors lip-syncing if everyone knows that is what is happening. I did not want my reference to Milli Vanilli to imply that there is something dishonest about Hindi movies. I was merely pointing out the economic advantages of specialization. And if people like Greatbong and others like the campiness of Hindi film, fine, but that still leaves an entire genre of art untouched in India.

    Third: No doubt that the last paragraph about Indian movies in English is self-serving. But then, there must be many people who only speak English and are interested in India. I think there is a niche there.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 2:44 PM  

  • Hi Kuttan, Gawker, Nilu, and Bongopundit

    Kuttan: See above comment about Milli Vanilli.

    The quantity vs. quality issue is hard to evaluate. Obviously if you make lots of movies, there is the potential to make lots of bad ones. But Godiva makes lots of chocolates - how many are bad? I don't really see the connection.

    I would agree that like Hollywood there is a tendency to make films that are similar to ones that have already succeeded. So in Hollywood you might get three or four sequels to a movie that wasn't all that good in the first place but made a little money.

    Gawker: Clearly there is a lot of money in the musicals and that is fine. There should be musicals. But there should serious dramas as well. It is a little like going to a restaurant that serve beer but not wine. Nothing wrong with beer and there might be lots of reasons why they like beer but why not have both?

    Nilu: I am sure that stage musicals predate cinema musicals in both India and in the West. In the west there was something called Opera that was popular once. And there was Ballet also. And many Broadway musicals date way back. But my post really was not about who invented the musical.

    Bongopundit: I think that stage musicals were around for a long time in many cultures. The influence Busby Berkeley specifically had on Indian cinema was his use of geometrically arranged dancers and shooting from the ceiling to capture this pattern. Having lots of dancers arranged in a geometric pattern (typically a rectangle) is fair typical of the Indian dance sequence.

    If you go back, there were lots of good movies being made in India.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:09 PM  

  • Hi Sunil, Ashish, and Anon1
    Sunil: Thanks for the thoughtful comment and thanks for the movie tips. Believe me, I would love to see better Hindi or Tamil movies!

    I was waiting for your post on this, just so that I could disagree with you.
    How did you know you would disagree with me before I even had a chance to say what I believed?

    If you want to say that many Indian films are good in their own way, I won't disagree. But I feel that they don't tend to touch serious subjects very often and don't leave you moved very often. You had a nice post about the lack of good historical drama in India cinema last week. Well, this thesis kind of explains it. Look at Ashoka - it was ridiculous. It was ridiculous in part because they had the typical dance routines and cast SR Khan in the lead, it was ridiculous because the medium (the musical) is ill-suited toward producing historical fiction.

    Ashish: Of course, I am not arguing against escapist entertainment. But if you say that there is no demand for serious movies with serious themes - I would disagree. After all, western movies do well in India - maybe not as well as the Hindi movies but well enough that there is a market for that sort of thing.

    Anon1: You mentioned Mani Ratnam as an example of a movie maker who can make decent movies. I liked some of the early Mani Ratnam movies: Roja was decent. But by Uyire (Dil Se) he had decended to drivel. But I cannot say that it was the song and dance that did it - except that it might be hard to keep good screenwriters employed if they cannot also have the skill of writing in song and dance sequences into the film.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:28 PM  

  • Is this Mikie dude for real? he has watched Roja and uiyre? and talks of Mani? :O You are one patient man.

    Anyways, my point on the musical was - there was a strong tradition of combining music and theatre - not Opera style but quite like the modern song and dance sequence. Most of Ramayana and Mahabharatha was done on stage, using this technique. This was because, music alone, was considered "upper class" material and restricted to the upper castes - in the form of Carnatic Music and Tamil Poetry and stuff. Prose and Poetry again suffered from such class equations. Only folk drama, which was a combination of all three elements - music, dance, writing was open for the masses.

    By Blogger Nilu, at 4:19 PM  

  • Your analogy fails in the only respect that a Bollywood movie would require an acting, dancing, singing all-rounder to be better-than-mediocre. A cricket team does not require an all-rounder to be better-than-mediocre. Case in point - West Indies team on the late 70s, early 80s. Even Steve Waugh's Australians didn't boast of a genuine all-rounder.
    Excellent post, nevertheless.

    By Blogger VC, at 6:09 PM  

  • I do not think movies have to be in English. I love foreign movies. And all foreign movies I love are in language I do not speak with subtitles. It is much more authentic.

    It is sad that India has so few serious movies; the country is full of literary geniuses.

    By Blogger Minh-Duc, at 2:04 AM  

  • I have trouble getting people to comment on my inane posts and you are worried about people not solving your complex questions? :)

    By Blogger Patrix, at 2:40 AM  

  • it's fun to disagree violently and argue sometimes, isn't it? :-)

    By Blogger Sunil, at 4:05 PM  

  • Michael, Michael, Michael...what are we going to do with you!

    You write about India's most ubiquitious art form and its greatest cultural unifier - Indian movies - without even a modicum of facts, figures and empirical data - just the same pseudo-intellectual derisiveness of Indian cinema so prevalent among even some of the Indian elite.

    Let me present some facts and then offer my humble explanation of why the "mainstream" Indian cinema - not all Indian cinema - is different. I didn't say mediocre, mind you - just different than western cinema.

    Fact #1: Read Bongopundit's post. If you have watched the movies made by the likes of Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Girish Karnad (a Rhodes as well as Fulbright scholar, no less), you would agree that the best of Indian cinema is equal to the best of any cinema anywhere in the world. I purposely did not invoke the name of Satyajit Ray. It isn’t necessary. He is one of many. And why just the acknowledged greats? Why not the likes of Karan Johar and Subhash Ghai, who have produced mainstream, blockbuster hits and whose movies are not any inferior, or less passionate, than Frank Capra’s?

    Fact #2: If you have seen the work of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Nana Patekar, Deepti Nawal, Manoj Bajpayee, etc, you will agree that the best Indian actors are as good as the best anywhere. Oh, they are not popular actors, just good ones? How about Waheeda Rahman, Sunil Dutt and Dilip Kumar from the previous generation? How about Ajay Devgan today?

    Now, the question is: are the above examples of good Indian cinema mainstream or niche? The answer is: great art in every society is niche. For every Coppola, Scorcese and Fellini, there are hundreds of second and third-rate producers of summer flicks, date flicks, horror flicks, chase flicks that routinely discharge their waste into the movie theaters of America every year. That’s the mainstream, folks!

    That said, it is still true that the mainstream Indian cinema, with its Mini Vinneli techniques and heavy reliance on the musical, is quite different than mainstream cinema in the west? (As an aside, I do disagree that the musical in America died with Gene Kelly. Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Le Miserables, Cats, Grease, and most recently Chicago - need I say more?)

    So back to the question: why is the mainstream Indian cinema different? The answer, as usual, must be found in economics. This is one of the few industries in the world whose product, in the same 150 minutes, has to appeal to the Delhi socialite as well as the poor, illiterate village bumpkin, the NRI doctor living in New York and the rickshawallah in Patna. No marketing genius in history has ever come up with a value proposition (that’s marketingspeak) for any product that would sell equally well among the rich as well as poor, the educated as well as illiterate, the urban as well as the rural. Somehow, the mainstream Indian cinema, defying all odds, has come up with a formula that resonates among the broadest cross-section of Indians.

    But the real question is: why does it have to appeal to such a broad audience? Why doesn’t every Indian movie speak to a certain demographic segment as Hollywood movies usually do?

    The answer is the distribution system. Economics! There was a time in America, when movie theaters were huge entertainment palaces and a single movie had to pack all the demographics in to be economically viable. Then came the multiplexes and the distribution got segmented and movies became more targeted. This still has not happened in India on a national scale. But the multiplexes are coming. And then you will see mainstream Indian cinema become more like mainstream American cinema. The big Hindi musicals that are currently the mainstream will become niche products just as the big musicals in America are. But will that be progress?

    Aren't we sick and tired of the bland sameness our massive economic engine has enforced on this planet? Do we really want to McDonaldize the world? When I see Indian movie stars imitating the Yo-Yo urban cool from America, I fear it is the beginning of the end.

    Ironically, I am writing this post as the Oscar’s has just started. It will be interesting to see if the movie I went to see last night wins the Best Picture - Brokeback Mountain.

    By Anonymous Sarat Dayal, at 8:30 PM  

  • Since people have already taken apart the 'mediocre' tag you put on Hindi movies in general (I can, with example, prove enough Hollywood medicroe movies produced per year as Hindi ones), let me take the cricket angle.

    The 1999 Indian ODI team (if you talk of test matches, then this explanation does not apply, but then neither does your need for a genuine allrounder) was one of the favourites in the World Cup. You know why? Because they had the best batting lineup (going by records, and not just home records), close to best bowling (Agarkar was hot then, and Kumble was at his peak), the best wickett-keeper who could bat more than decently (even thats considered an allrounder now) and a close to functional set of allrounders. Yes, I said it...decent enough allrounders. Robin Singh and Ganguly were the seam-up allrounders. And they did splendidly in the tournament.

    The Indian allrounders in the WC99 were probably better than the token allrounder used by Australia when it won the 87 and 99 (Moody) and 2003 (Harvey as allrounder!).

    And what about the team that Australia defeated in 99? Pakistan - had Wasim, Azhar and Razzaq as allrounders. Or the team that Aus defeated in semifinals - SA..had Klusener, Pollock, Kallis as allrounders. see...why this allrounder logic is flawed?

    What the Indian team of '99 lacked was...well...that's another story altogether..isn't it.

    By Blogger worma, at 8:02 AM  

  • Michael, I disagree with you that songs are a problem for Indian movies. But I think you got close to the problem and Sarat Dayal (#16) got it right. The problem is not that the stars have to be all-rounders, but movies have to be, because of the distribution system. If every movie has to satisfy every segment of the audience, then we will only end up with mediocre stuff. In fact, I was discussing this problem with one of my classmates 8 years back, and we both concluded that we should see a difference when multiplexes become common, and indeed we are now seeing more "off-beat" movies and movies made specifically for the multiplex audience.

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 9:11 AM  

  • The puzzling part is that Sarat, having come so close to the answer, you end up choosing the wrong one! Having more multiplexes will not make movies same. They will make movies different from one another. Just because we have multiplexes, it won't make us like the exact same movies that the Americans do.

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 9:22 AM  

  • I did not mean to suggest that, after multiplexes, all Indian movies would become alike. On the contrary! Since the multiplexes tend to segment the market, we will have more variety because the movies would become demographically aligned.

    What I meant was that this scenario, once it has taken hold in India, would make Indian cinema very similar to Hollywood. And that will be a sad day. Ask Americans over the age of 50 and see if they don't miss the grand, sweeping themes of the earlier Hollywood.

    One thing is for sure, and I hope Michael learned his lesson on this one. You don't mess around with Indian movies on a desi blog or else you will stir up a hornet's nest.

    By Anonymous Sarat Dayal, at 11:42 AM  

  • Hi Michael:
    One of these days I will get a life and maybe wouldn't have the time to write three posts on the same thread.

    I want to comment on the subject of Indian movies in English. First of all, to the extent English is one of the Indian languages, Indian movies in the English language are perfectly legitimate offsprings of Indian cinema.

    Secondly, the phenomenon is quite old. Merchant-Ivory did many such movies starting in the sixties. In the last couple of years, we got near mainstream English movies such as Bend it like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding and Bride and Prejudice. There is a parallel to Indo-English movies, and that is Indo-English literature - Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth, Arundhuti Roy, etc.

    Finally, I agree with you, Michael, that Indo-English movies, due to its demographic precision, would be very different than the big song and dance Bollywood fare. Again, I would never say "better," just different. But I would still insist that trying to change Indian cinema by dropping Hindi is almost as bizarre a notion as relocating Bollywood to Southern California so that it could become more like Hollywood. Hindi is the language of northern India, man! Indian cinema for half the nation, and more than half the population, is Hindi cinema.

    By Anonymous Sarat Dayal, at 12:05 PM  

  • The worst dancers in Indian cinema are Mamooty and Mohanlal (except for that katakali flick). Thank fully, they are not expected to dance much.

    By Anonymous SloganMurugan, at 11:55 PM  

  • MKC! Cricket and Bollywood lessons from an American. The left will see red.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:18 AM  

  • Lots of very good comments here.

    Let me address an issue raised by Sarat and Ravikiran: the relevance of multiplexes in creating choice.

    I have to wonder how relevant multiplexes are in creating diversity. The reason why they might encourage diversity is because they might mean more smaller theaters and more screens per square kilometer. But all you need to have diversity is enough screens per square kilometer. They made a big difference in the U.S. because so many people live in more sparely populated suburbs. But if you live in any of the major cities in India, you have probably a dozen or more screens within 5 miles of your home - do you need more choice than this?

    Now, there could be several issues with this. One is that five miles might be too far to travel for a movie in India. I can see that. Then the multiplex is relevant because, like the suburbs, you are dependant on just one theatre complex. Another issue is that perhaps a dozen independent theatres would not behave in the same way that a single multiplex with 12 screens would operate, (I am not sure either way on this - but if it is more efficient for a single operator to own all of the screens then one would just buy out the others). Another issue might be that many cinema goers do not choose their movie prior to visiting the cinema hall so it makes sense to have a single multiplex - but I don't see why people would behave like this.

    Anyway, the multiplex theory is plausible but I am not certain it really explains the lack of variety issue completely.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 7:36 PM  

  • The rationale for multiplexes is not simply the offering of choices under one roof. It is economics. How do you fill a movie palace of 1,000 capacity three or four times a day, and if you can't, how do you pay for the huge space? What kind of movie can attract 1,000 people in one seating? A multiplex theater has a capacity of 100 to 200. So you can have a Woody Allen movie playing in one and a horror movie in another, and they both are able to pack 'em in.

    On the subject of choice, last Saturday my wife and I went to a multiplex here (we live in Florida) with our 13-year old daughter and her friend who had come for a sleepover. My wife and I watched Brokeback Mountain. The girls went to Pink Panther. Talk about demographic segmentation to maximime utilization of assets! Had there been no multiplex, the family of four could have been entertained as customers only by a huge western or family drama or historical movie - the standard fare of Hollywood up until the Sixties.

    Michael, I had a lot of fun with this Indian movie thing you started. Thanks!

    By Anonymous Sarat Dayal, at 9:56 AM  

  • Ah.. there was a miscommunication. Multiplexes did not replace independent theatres of the same size. They replaced huge theatres with many small-sized ones. So it is now possible to make movies serving smaller niches.

    Also, right now, multiplex tickets are expensive, which means that they serve the rich whose preferences will naturally be different from the average. While ticket prices will reduce, the ability of multiplexes to serve different segments will not.

    All this will lead to exciting times for the film industry. However, I don't think it means - and I certainly hope that it won't mean - the end of songs in films. Songs in Indian films are way different from Western "Musicals".

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 7:40 PM  

  • Indian movies in general SUCK BIGTIME!!!!! I don't get any satisfaction watching most movies save a precious few - which also throw in a healthy dose of "commercialism" just so not to throw people off. The movie scene in India will change when the collective mentality of the audience changes and I don't see that happening anytime soon - going by what's being said here and by the number of people flocking to see super-mediocre movies in India.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:44 PM  

  • Hi Michael:
    I read about you from Greatbong's site. Very incisive view of Indian movie economics, and you've hit it exactly as it is, but from the supply side: yes, division of labour and scale is the production model and that's correct. But the difficult part is demand. You see, the market that is catered to is, how do I put it kindly, a banal market of underemployed folks, which thrives on one and only one kind of film, so the preference function is very weird, as in almost lexicographic after a point. Hence we have the corner solution of terrible quality being demanded consistently. Does that make sense? Oh yes, it does, because quality as perceived by you is not an argument in the vast majority's preference function at all. So what is the product differentiator? It is the film star of course. You see, Milli Vanilli is bland. But an Indian film star is a "personality" much like, say, a Jack Nicholson or a Jimmy Stewart, not an actor like a Henry Fonda. The public avidly tracks the doings of these filmstars, their personal lives being the background for their onscreen dmend. Film mags and the internet are the advance guard for developing their popularity, rather the popularity of their "persona" whcih then transfers itself onscreen. So the producer empirically tracks the sales of films starring particular actors and casts them into the same 0 quality (corner solution) film made over and over and over again since 1920. The same junk has been made in bull and bear markets, in war and peace, in colonialism, in socialism and in capitalism. So my prediction is that this piffle will continue to be made for ever. Having said that, what's teh connection between that and cricket? I'm drawing a blank. Cheers.

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