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Behind the Glitz - Exploring an Enigma Called Indian Film Industry

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Item Code: NAN714
Author: Someswar Bhowmik
Publisher: Thema Books, Kolkata
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788186017616
Pages: 125
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 150 gm
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Back of the Book

In generating craze, creating hype, engendering glamour and promoting extravaganza, the glittering and apparently burgeoning face of the Indian film industry masks an enigma. At the best of times, a chaotic mess of speculative activities, shadowy deals and unabashed profligacy; and at the worst of times, racking of mindlessness, throwing economic logic and business ethics to the winds, it is a highrisk sector, hovering perilously, Between successive periods of boom and recession. An outsider attempting to fathom its mechanism is faced with the inevitability of being consistently denied access to reliable information. The dominant Bombay cinema, masquerading as the Indian cinema, creates an illusion of homogeneity in cinematic representation across language and cultural zones, emerging as the big bully in the Indian context.

This book offers an analytic historiography, identifying and examining the macro aspects of the phenomenon, in terms of its source of capital, nature f investment, production organization, sale of activities, distribution networks and market forces.

Someswar Bhowmik is Reserach Scientist at the Educational Multimedia Research Centre, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. He writes extensively on the sociology of media in India, especially cinema and television. His focus areas are media Industry, freedom of expression and educational media. Besides writing, he produces educational programmes for television.


Cinema still ranks very high in the hierarchy of popular entertainment in India. In terms of generating craze, creating hype, engendering glamour and promoting extravaganza, cinema in India is in a league of its own, perhaps matched only by cricket to some extent. However, the face of a glittering and apparently burgeoning Indian film industry masks an enigmatic backyard. The Indian film industry today is a high-risk sector. It also hovers perilously between successive periods of boom and recession. At the best of times, it is a chaotic mess of speculative activities, shadowy deals and unabashed profligacy. At the worst, it reeks of mindlessness, throwing economic logic and business ethics to the winds. There is always an air of uncertainty about the Indian film industry. To even attempt to fathom its mechanism would require a fair amount of patience, grit and alacrity. This is one site where almost everything is kept under wraps and any insider will eye an outsider with evident suspicion if the latter tries to understand the implication of something. Even an innocent question or harmless query can evoke a stony silence. The Indian film industry abhors transparency. So an outsider has to be prepared for the inevitable irritant of being consistently denied access to reliable information. Till the 1990s, the Government of India used to publish voluminous handbooks on the Indian media scene. These contained some basic information about the health of the film industry. Not anymore. Nowadays one has to depend on absurdly priced slick annual studies on Indian entertainment and media (E & M) industries commissioned by The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI). These are too obsessed with dishing out optimistic prognoses to even shed light on, leave alone analyse, problem areas. Even industry insiders find the pictures these reports paint unnecessarily rosy. It all appears part of a well- orchestrated promotional strategy, to largely facilitate global acceptance and visibility of Hindi cinema, churned out by Mumbai- turned-Bollywood and masquerading as the Indian cinema.

But, Hindi cinema is not even the quintessential Indian cinema, embodying a pan-Indian cultural ethos. As a matter of fact, the realm of Indian cinema has always been a site for diversity-of language, of culture, of sensibility and sensitivity even. Time was when a Hindi film was as far removed from a Hollywood film as it was from a Bengali or a Tamil one. And up to a certain point in history people used to respect, and even marvel at, this plurality. But now there is an irrational drive towards homogeneity in cinematic representation across language and cultural zones. And the Hindi cinema is being projected as the benchmark in this endeavour. In fact, Hindi cinema has become the big bully in the Indian context, hardly brooking any alternative-e-commercial as well as cultural. Maybe secretly it is aspiring to embrace the ethos of Hollywood. What one sees with plain eyes is a process of wielding muscle power and money to grab markets and ward off, nay stifle, domestic competition.

Things have not reached such proportions overnight. There has been a historic process, which culminates in the present scenario. As far as I have understood, the volatility and instability that seem to have plagued the Indian film industry perennially are indeed manifestation of some deep-rooted maladies. Film industry in India emerged as an offshoot of trading activities that tried to assimilate a foreign cultural commodity. It has not been integrated into the usual gamut of economic activities, but allowed to grow by fits and starts driven by developments in the West. It bears all the signs of an erratic evolution. My aim in this book has been to create an analytic historiography, identifying and examining the macro aspects within this phenomenon. Needless to say, the phase- wise division of events/trends, such as the one I have enumerated, is in no way ultimate or sacrosanct, but only based on my understanding of the process. Here I have analysed the affairs of the Indian film industry in terms of its source of capital, nature of investment, production organization, scale of activities, distribution networks and market forces. And I have deliberately refrained from any micro-level analysis of different centres of film production! trade in India, for fear of losing my focus.

I am aware that the inferences and observations made in this study are open to further exploration and scrutiny. There is no gainsaying claiming any irrevocable finality about whatever I have inferred or surmised. I only hope that these do not turn out to be utterly outlandish.


The characterization of cinema-in both its aesthetic and materialist forms-has taken several routes. The propensity, compulsion and bias of the individual proponent have determined each such route. The twentieth century, suggested Waiter Benjamin in 1935, was an era of mechanical reproduction of art forms, in which the replica would prove more useful than the original. He therefore deduced that the importance of art forms and artistic practices in this age would be basically determined by their reproducibility and the quality of replica. Indeed these qualities helped cinema acquire a unique position in the realm of art.' In 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote, 'The' movie, by which we roll up the real world on a spool in order to unroll it as a magic carpet of fantasy, is a spectacular wedding of the old mechanical technology and the new electric world.'? According to Arnold Hauser, 'Cinema signifies the first attempt since the beginning of our modem individualistic civilization to produce art for a mass public. However useful these suggestions might be, they have not analysed this medium in terms of specific economic parameters. It was therefore overlooked, until much later, that the emergence of cinema as an intellectual exercise and a material practice has taken place at a crucial juncture in history. In fact, it was Vivian Sobchak who first suggested emphatically that the transformation of the moving pictures into cinema proper and the emergence of monopolistic capitalism were occurrences of the same era." Sobchak based his proposition on Frederic Jameson's thesis that monopoly capitalism remained the dominating ideology from the 1 890s through the 1940s, using technologies dependent on electricity and a cultural logic called modernism.' Extrapolating on that thesis Sobchak proposed that the typical form and institution of visual and aural representation in the era of monopoly capitalism has been the cinema. Indeed, the contribution of several major strands of capitalism to the commercial aspects of cinema was considerably explored before this theorization came into being. But by rigorously locating cinema within a specific boundary, this theory has redefined, and also revitalized, the exploration of the economic contours of cinema.

One of the crucial elements of that exploration is the consideration of an internal conflict between the large capitalist and the small capitalist, so typical of the era of monopolistic capitalism. This internal conflict is evident in various aspects of the enterprise involving the film. Hollywood itself is an example- there the low budget B-movies or the independent cinema is locked in an unequal contest with the high budget A-grade cinema. This problem has yet another manifestation for the European countries, e:g. Britain, France, Germany or Italy. There the domination of big budget films from Hollywood has endangered the local film endeavours. Most of the producers in these industries are small operators by Hollywood standards. The remarkable feature of this problem is its vintage origin-the film world has been dogged by it almost from the very beginning. The intense competition around Thomas Alva Edison's Kinetoscope and the Lumiere brothers' Cinematographe, and the machinations of the first monopolistic film organization Motion Picture Patents Company to establish hegemony over the market are very early events. In the golden era of Hollywood studios there was a sustained, and successful, effort to combine the roles of producer, distributor and exhibitor in order to assume absolute control over the market. In this context one is inevitably reminded of Karl Marx's analysis of monopoly capital. Marx had observed two distinct stages in the working of monopoly capitalism-viz. concentration and centralization. During concentration, the rate of growth of industry as a whole rises, so both big capital and small capital grow. However, here the rate of growth for big capital is much larger than that for small capital, because the latter encounters many obstacles that slow down its growth process. In the era of centralization, industry as a whole does not expand or expands at a very slow rate. In this phase big capital consciously elbows out small capital-by trying to control all stages of production, distribution, exchange; by hindering the entry of new producers and sellers into the market, and trying to maintain the existing rate of profit. During the phase of concentration big capital expands itself only in a planned manner. It knows very well that the manner of its expansion will weaken small capital. The conflict here is covert. But not so during centralization, when the competition, apart from being intense, is much more ruthless and the conflict overt.

The characteristics of monopoly capital and its contemporary trends have impacted the film industry and business in different regions of the world, including the developed capitalist societies on either side of the Atlantic. After the First World War when the United States of America emerged as the leader of international capitalism, the film industry located in Hollywood started to gain a sure ascendancy in the film world. In almost no time Hollywood left the erstwhile leaders in this field (viz. the film industries of Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Denmark) way behind. And simultaneously, the tyranny of Hollywood stunted the growth of film industries in the majority of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This tyranny manifested itself in two ways-through Hollywood's distribution dominance, and by moulding the tastes of local audiences, exposing them to an unrelenting flow of Hollywood products. In fact, the basic principles and the manner of execution in this aggression on local tastes put it on a par with the 'Operation Shock and Awe' that unfolded during the USA's invasion of Iraq in 2003. The end result was an unsurpassed prosperity for Hollywood drawing principally on foreign receipts. As a matter of fact, these receipts largely subsidized an uninterrupted process of innovative research and technological development that helped Hollywood keep substantially ahead of its real as well as potential competitors. Following Harry Magdoff, we can say that Hollywood was trying to practise 'imperialism without colonies. Theoretically, India too fell within the sphere of this stifling influence. She nevertheless witnessed the emergence of a substantial film industry, a development unparalleled in the context of the underdeveloped Third World.' But the shadows of Hollywood have left a permanent productive sector of the Indian economy, the Indian film sector is governed by a particular symbiotic relationship between capital, product and profit within a specific ideological framework. The aim of this treatise will be to explore and delineate this arrangement, with appropriate reference to the stages of global development.


1 Prologue 1
2 Indian Film Industry: An Overview 7
3 Economics of capitalist film Industry 13
4 A Tale of Two Systems 29
5 Of Weakness, Conflicts and contradictions 43
6 The Site of an Erriatic Growth Pattern 63
7 Bollywood Inc:  
  Envisioning a Global Future 98
  Postscript 105
  Bibliography 112

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