What ails the Indian Film Industry?

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The Indian Film Industry being the diversified amalgam of regional narratives with films being made in as many as 21 different languages would be rationally expected to bring in booming revenues to say the least. However, despite the compensations that the country’s demographics bring, the Indian Film Industry, a business modestly valued at over 10 billion dollars per year is being forced to constrict itself to a 2-billion-dollar bubble which leaves us clocking just about a fraction of the revenues generated in USA and China even as India sets herculean standards with respect to the number of films made per year.

The chief menace: piracy, which has been undervaluing creative products in India by digging a hole in the revenue of a film courtesy the bootlegged version which is out on the streets even before the film can recover its budget. The rampancy of piracy and the fact that it’s been unfettered by the paper laws is attributable to the nexus among the pirates and the police thus furthering the cause of piracy and warranting that it becomes a common facet of our daily existence. Moreover, piracy is the reason behind the dipping sales of official DVD’s and music CD’s in India as illegal downloads spruce up their inventory even as filmmakers cry foul.

Piracy is the reason behind the lack of amelioration or for the lack of a better word, the downfall of the independent music scene as buying a music album simply isn’t viable against the alternative of free downloads from the internet. People from the film fraternity have been trying to dissuade the public against using illegal downloads citing the fact that accessing an artist’s work for free is undervaluing his market price and thus directly proportional to bad karma. But Human nature being bent the way that it is gravitates towards stuff that is promptly accessible but most of all, FREE! Then who cares if it’s bad karma? At least its free!

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India is said to be making about 1500 to 2000 films annually but the major revenue inlet for these films, the theaters aren’t making sufficient inroads when it comes to tapping into rural areas. The number of screens in India are palpably insufficient given the size and population of the country but what’s worse is the skewed distribution of these theaters. The appreciable initiative driven by the multiplex chains like PVR and Inox to add about 150-200 screens each year is being counteracted by the alarming rate at which single screens in rural areas are closing and yet, rural areas and small cities are nowhere near being taken into consideration when it comes to multiplex chains mapping these areas, simply because their revenue systems are expected to fail there. (Just to give you a context of this problem, remember how people at PVR have started delivering food inside the theater hall during intermission? Can you imagine them having any sales for food during intermission in a rural area?)

Hence, the number of screens in India remains more so static at around 13000 screens or perhaps increasing at a very slow rate (for those optimistically inclined) with just 1 screen per 96,300 residents. By comparison, USA has about 50,000 screens with a 1 screen per 7,800 residents and China courtesy its binge building of movie theatres since about 2011 has surged ahead of India as it has about 25,000 screens with 1 screen per 45,000 residents.

Now as if these problems weren’t enough, the film industry has been warring internally with the institutions which in a utopian scenario should be furthering the cause of the film industry but being the dystopian scenario that it is, are causing further snags in a filmmaker’s quest for creative satisfaction. Remember Pahlaj Nihalani, the omen of doom for radicalism in the film industry? Indie cinema which is already battling complications in the sphere of budgeting and distribution is further hindered in its desire for putting forth themes which are outside the realm of mainstream discourse by CBFC’s bigots who have taken it upon themselves to define Indian cultural norms with no scope for progressive change. So for a film like Aligarh or Masaan, which went up against mainstream commercial entertainers and thus faced constricted distribution, screens and hence, the audience share, the CBFC causing additional pains and acting like an extortionist while threatening to stop the release of the film if certain scenes are not removed is a nuisance factor.

The government doesn’t soothe the pain either, for citing a bizarre logic, films in India have to pay an entertainment tax which would seem to classify them as a frivolous activity, outside the ambit of a necessary service, and they must also pay Service Tax, which implies they are necessary. Businesses in India are normally taxed as either one or the other, entertainment or service. But according to the tax collectors, Cinema somehow strangely qualifies as both.

Behind the failure of rectification of these hindrances which are manifestly digging a hole in the revenue of the film industry is the commonly prevalent psyche that there are far severe problems which need to be rectified in India before the government resorts to looking after the film industry’s first world problems. What these critics fail to realize is that more than being a community of millionaires, the film industry is a sector which employs tons of people and drives in loads of Foreign Investment which ultimately benefit the nation.

Consider this, according to a 2013 article in WIPO Magazine (the journal of the World Intellectual Property Organization), the Indian film industry loses around INR 18,000 crores (US$3.34 billion) and some 60,000 jobs every year because of piracy. That’s 18000 crores less in the country’s GDP. What’s needed is for the government to realize the soft power potentiality of being the biggest market for films in the world. Instead the scenario at the moment sees India as the world’s biggest film producing factory but somehow generating contracted revenues because the loopholes are aplenty and alteration is nowhere near realization.

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