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Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies.pdf

Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies.pdf

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Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra: 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies'
Published : May 20, 2010 inIndia Knowledge@Wharton 
 Indian filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra sees his industry undergoing major changes, such as institutions replacing private financing, increased use of digital technology, a breakdown of the star system and its inefficiencies, and the emergence of amore professional, level playing field. Mehra is best known as the writer, producer and director of the 2006 blockbuster,
Rang De Basanti
. At the recent Wharton India Economic Forum in Philadelphia, Wharton operations and information management  professor  Kartik Hosanagar spoke with Mehra about the changes in the film industry,including the controversy over intellectual property rights and royalties. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Kartik Hosanagar: Congratulations on all of your recent successes, including
 Rang  De Basanti 
. Originally, you were in advertising and then you made a careertransition into filmmaking. What drove that transition?Rakeysh Mehra: It was like flowing with the water. Nothing was pre-decided. I just went alongfrom one profession to another until [I found my] calling, and I guess cinema was it. Havingdiscovered cinema -- and I am still discovering it -- it gave me a lot of happiness and satisfaction. Icould also express myself through the medium, much more than I could have done anywhere else.Hosanagar: I would have thought you could have expressed yourself through advertising as well.Mehra: I had a lot of fun in advertising. I started producing commercials. Then I started directing.A lot happened when MTV moved into India [in 1995]. They gave me the task of "Indianizing"MTV. It was great fun ... making the first commercials with [film actor] Amitabh Bachchan. Atthat point in time [in advertising,] there were only models and non-cinema personalities; celebritieswere not common. At the same time, there were huge technological breakthroughs in advertising....[Also,] a lot of international commercials came over because India was booming economically.The automobile industry, including Japanese cars, came to India, and we started shooting for it. Butin advertising, you are always working under a given brief. Your primary job is to sell. That is avery limited expression. Technically, yes, you can express yourself.Hosanagar: That makes sense. Let's talk about your films. Your second film,
 Rang De Basanti 
, wasa phenomenal success and among the top three highest-grossing Hindi films ever. What were someof the factors that led it to its success?Mehra: Actually, when I was conceiving the film and making it, and even during its release, I couldhave never thought that this film was going to shape up the way it has. It became more than amovie. It went on to occupy the subconscious of the nation.
There are millions of reasons for the success of the film. But once you are going with it, you are goingwith your instincts -- a small voice inside you, which is the loudest. That drove me into writing the scriptand then taking it forward -- producing and directing the film. You can do justice to the subject when youare really dying to say something, dying to express yourself. Then, you are drawing out of your own reallife. The soul originates from your childhood, your youth, your school, your college, your profession,what you have seen in life and what you imbibe from life and learn from life. And then you give it back.
Hosanagar: You mentioned there were a million reasons why it was successful. There could havebeen reasons why it could have failed. On that note, I want to look at the business of cinema. It is a
This is asingle/personal usecopy of IndiaKnowledge@Wharton.For multiple copies,custom reprints,e-prints, posters or plaques, please contactPARS International:reprints@parsintl.comP. (212) 221-9595x407.
 
All materials copyright of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Page 1 of 4
Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra: 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies': India Knowledge@Wharton(http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/article.cfm?articleid=4478
 
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head-driven business. Most of the profits in the industry are concentrated among a few movies, andcertainly their success is highly unpredictable. A lot of folks at Wharton have studied these kinds of head-driven businesses -- be it movies, music, start-ups, venture capital, product releases and so on.We are always trying to understand what contributes to the success of these head-drivenbusinesses, and can you predict that in advance? Are there best practices to filmmaking? Arecertain things crucial to making something successful? Or is it always that you make the movie andit is a hit or a miss, and you have no clue what is going to happen?Mehra: There are various factors that are always part of a successful film. Obviously, you can'tpredict the quantum of success. Essentially, we all work with inner glass ceilings -- to break through those is the challenge. Raising the bar is where the challenge lies. To kind of be a gamechanger in your own game is where the fun is.
One has to start with scripting process -- it's the writing and the content which defines it. You can have agood script and you can make not such a good movie, and yet it will be successful. But to start with, if you don't have a good screenplay and a good story to tell, you can get the best artists, the best cast and the best technicians behind the camera, but it will not reach out to the audience. If there was one [key]ingredient, it would be the content and the writing.
Hosanagar: I completely agree. But one interesting contradiction is that in Hollywood, close to 10%-- and sometimes 12% or 15% -- of the budget is spent on developing the story, the script and so on.In the Indian film industry, that is sometimes as low as 1% or 1.5%. Do you think the Indian filmindustry is under-investing in development?Mehra: Absolutely. I can't agree with you more. We need to place a lot of emphasis on developmentbudgets and not necessarily on the film you will make. While you research many models of cars, itis just that one car that comes in front, and all that money you invested in development need notnecessarily convert itself into the finished product. So, yes, you are so right when you say that weshould invest more and more in developing content. Out of that conten,t you will find somethingyou can take forward and put on the assembly line.Hosanagar: I see some parallels with other industries that are focused very heavily on research anddevelopment. They often make the most of their money through licensing. Qualcomm in the U.S. isa technology company that fits that bill. Is there an opportunity for a purely development-focusedfirm in India whose job is to produce stories and scripts and license them?Mehra: Yes and no. Since no one has tried it, we don't know the answer. Once you try, you haveyour own learning curve. With a lot of ideas, you reach a roadblock half-way or almost nearcompletion. I've always felt it is better if a part of your overall budget is put towards contentdevelopment. If you are a studio house or a production house, you can invest in that part, and outof there take content and finished screenplays and put them forward, rather than starting aspecialized house there.Hosanagar: Switching gears, I want to talk about recent technological innovations. Digitalproduction has brought down the cost of filmmaking considerably, and digital distribution is alsonew in India. Companies like UFO Cinemas and others offer digital distribution that allowssimultaneous release in multiple markets. What impact would this have on filmmaking and theindustry in general? Is the adoption of these technologies still fairly limited, and if so, why is that?Mehra: We have been hearing [about] digital for the past 15 years. It's not like it just sprang up.Hosanagar: But do you produce in analog film reels? Or do you do digital production for most of your films?Mehra: These days most of the films are made [in] analog, and then converted into digital.Hosanagar: So, a film is primarily produced in analog, converted into digital and edited in digital.[You then] reconvert it back to analog and distribute it in analog.Mehra: We distribute it both in analog and digital. In India today, digital prints are gaining
 
All materials copyright of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Page 2 of 4
Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra: 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies': India Knowledge@Wharton(http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/article.cfm?articleid=4478
 
)
 
momentum -- almost 50%. India has taken the lead in digital projection. In terms of actual shootingand utilization of digital cameras, they still do not give you the same results as film, not only inIndia but worldwide. In Hollywood also, digital movies are either Indy films that are low budget orthose that have to be made faster. This has given new filmmakers a lot of elbow room. There areissues [with] conversion from analog to digital and digital to analog. But film does give you acertain depth.Hosanagar: From an outsider's perspective, the movie industry is heavily relationship-based, andone really needs to be in that industry to participate. How open is the industry to new entrants?Can people with new and creative ideas easily enter and bring about innovation?Mehra: Yes and no. It was a very closely held industry [until] five years ago and a good 20 or 25years before that. I don't know the history before that. It was an industry which was clannish andrelationship-based. It was difficult to break into it. Even if you were breaking through, you weredoing paddles in an arts cinema house and so on. But today it is completely changed. And it ischanging rapidly by the hour.
It is no longer a cottage industry; it is more open and [has] a level playing ground for everybody whoenters, because financing has become structured. When the size of the business grows and the finance becomes structured and comes from institutions, banks and companies listed on the stock market, thewhole game changes. The people who understand the business of films [are not] emotionally attached torelationships. They are more attached to the results. How will the film be monetized? How is it going to be marketed and distributed? What kind of product is it? Are we raising the bar? Is the content changing?All those things come into play tremendously. New talent is born every day. There are new actors. Thereare new directors. There is a new kind of writer. There are breakthrough subjects. [All that doesn't] havethe momentum one would like to see, but yes, the big thing is already there.
Hosanagar: Over the last seven or 10 years, a lot of the financing in the Indian film industry hascome from multinationals, including investors in the U.S. and Wall Street. Has that dried up now,given the recession in the U.S. and the impact on the financial services industry in the U.S.?Mehra: Not really. When it all began, the funds came mostly from the U.S. and [elsewhere in] theWest. But now things have changed as India itself is a consumer market. We consume most of whatwe produce ourselves -- almost 80% to 90%. So, even the money is being generated from within thecountry. We find Indian institutions like IDBI (Industrial Development Bank of India) and Indianbanks looking at financing movies. Even [international] distribution houses and studios areentering the Indian distribution [industry]. The big five American studios are in there now. It is alot healthier, with the flow of funds getting more organized.Hosanagar: What is the most important or interesting innovation in the industry in the last 10years?Mehra: There have been two key changes. The industry was driven by a star system around fiveyears ago. That system has broken. The whole star system has fallen. Earlier, you would find a staractor doing many projects at the same time. There were instances where actors had signed up for10 to 12 films and had 10 films on the floor. As a result, all of them used to suffer, because time waslimited. But now, better and healthier contracts have come in, and an actor is doing one film at atime. One technical crew gets into a movie, finishes it, gets out and [then] gets into anotherproduction. The breaking of the star system has been instrumental towards [creating] bettercinema.
The other key thing is the clean finance that has come into the business. People who understand moneymanage the financing. It's not an unorganized way of giving money at high interest rates. You canactually plan the entire budget and your cash flow [in line with] the milestones the film achieves atvarious stages. [The milestones are] developing scripts, pre-production, actual production and shooting of the film, post production, the marketing and the selling. So, at every stage, [a portion] of finance canmove in. You don't need the entire [funding] at one time. And because it is not some moneylender [financing it], everything is structured. There is a timeline to your cash flows -- inflows and outflows.That has brought about a paradigm change in the whole industry, in the way we think [through] the
 
All materials copyright of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Page 3 of 4
Filmmaker Rakeysh Mehra: 'Raising the Bar Is Where the Challenge Lies': India Knowledge@Wharton(http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/article.cfm?articleid=4478
 
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