Monday, August 22, 2011

An Indian Disney-a far fetched dream

Few kids(atleast middle class ones!) would have grown up without seeing/hearing of the famous comic characters Mickey Mouse/Donald/Goofy, and watching a diet of famous children's films Snowwhite/101 Dalmatians etc. These content examples are eternal, which is a testimonial to the quality of their creator and IPR managers. For decades, Disney has stuck to its proposition of clean family oriented media, and has profitably monetized it. Every generation discovers that content anew, and often even veteran cynics would get goosebumps from watching some of those films/serials. The runaway success of dubbed versions, show that Disney has managed to transcend barriers to communicate.

In contrast, India has very few such examples. Barring Ramanand Sagar's famous 'Ramayan'/'Mahabharata'(which are now sold by Moser Baer in DVD form), Amar Charitra Patrika comic characters(Suppandi) & Chandamama, one would be hardpressed to name such long lived content. Now, kids grow up on a diet of dubbed Western serials(like Disney ones) or else Hollywood films.

I recently watched the 1991 blockbuster 'Saudagar' starring Dilip Kumar & Raj Kumar. The film is a bit too long for today's standards(3hrs+) but has 2.8lakh views on Youtube( The film tags at heartstrings in multiple ways-music(that haunting song imli ka bhuta), friendship, enemity, becoming friends on Holi, romance, betrayal and death. This film, as many others before it, make today's films seem shallow by comparison. I hasten to clarify that the old school films(pre 1990s) were quite unrealistic(even in Saudagar where do you have a king ruling in 1991 India?) but met the viewers taste. In contrast, today's viewers especially the multiplex crowd(an increasing number) like to read/watch stories about themselves. And shorter the movie the better. That cuts the scope for the director to comprehensively tell a story. A Bheja Fry or a 'A Wednesday' are certainly great films, but are unlikely to stand the test of time, like how Saudagar/Sholay have done.

Why should we care? Media companies(book publishers, film producers, newspapers) are increasing facing shorter life cycles and viewer saturation. Deprived by piracy of the once monumental initial week collections/book sales, they are dependent on backlist and extended period content exploitation. Given this scenario, quality should be at a premium. Of course, who defines 'quality' is a tricky question. If the sole objective is to take out a 1yr P&L, then even a low budget masala B grade film will do. But for creating a sustainable media empire, a Saudagar is likelier to do it than a Singham.