Thamizh Talkies: An uncertain future for cinema
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
A new month begins in this stay-at-home phase but while most of us are likely already at work, on the road and generally moving around, the entertainment industry is still figuring out how to adjust to this new normal of conducting shoots and resuming the “start, camera, action” routine. Cinema in the time of corona has also become quite a personal affair. Every day, we watch some movie or an episode from a series (the millennial word for serial). Every day, there is a story to go to for the audience. And every day, we end up wanting a new story as well.
In this scenario, we truly should become an industry that should plan on releasing at least a few films in a periodic manner, which can see a break-even point in their cost-to-profit ratio if they are sold to a tv channel or a digital platform. This may not be feasible for all films—only for those films whose numbers do tally. Yes, this is a question I’m posing to the powers that are at play in the Tamil film industry today. There are filmmakers who have taken to the new digital-medium wave and then, there are filmmakers who naysay when it comes to making content for the smaller screen. Does the screen size really matter for what you are going to convey? If you say yes, then would you mind waiting a whole year or maybe more, so you can shoot your movie? Would you wait a whole year to have the release of a biggie like Vijay’s Master or Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru? Again, there are no right or wrong answers in such a situation. But these questions must be asked and the answers must be sought. Any crisis throws open possibilities to break the existing pattern.
Will this need for new and engaging content break the existing patterns of filmmaking and distribution/release? Will a new way (wave) enter? There is a need for effective storytelling to an audience which is now well exposed to how well even a masala film can be made (ask any Money Heist fan). An issue-based story need not necessarily translate into a good film and a generic timepass film could well turn out to be an engaging film. It all depends on the creators and their cinema sensibilities. Beyond the metros, television is still a major platform for the audience which still wants to see stories centred on human relationships and the resultant dynamics. So is there no need for mega serials to change their approach in storytelling? The television gurus and the TRPs should answer this question. But cinema at large is now forced to get into a ‘rethink’ mode. Neither mindless entertainment nor ‘preachiness’ will suffice. Good intent won’t give you good content; only good filmmaking will. The exposure of the audience in the metros and tier two cities to the craft of cinema has made the art of filmmaking a necessary component in addition to having just a good story. A taut screenplay, acting genius and technical brilliance all go into making a digital home viewing experience as effective as a theatrical viewing.
I’m not for once suggesting that theatres are a thing of the past. Even if governments open up malls and cinema halls shortly, I wonder if I will have the courage to venture out and sit in a crowded theatre without worrying about the dreaded virus latching onto my sleeve or popcorn tub.
Cinema shot with minimal crew and lighter equipment will become part of the new normal. Production done with effective personnel and a limited set of talented actors who will come prepared for the day’s shoot, with stories well-thought and planned for quicker narratives, will be witnessed. Anthologies and multiple stories in singular themes will become the new engaging content. The magnum opuses will have to wait—both to be filmed and screened. Meanwhile, it’s a fair and open field, or rather, I would call it a ‘field day’ for the so-called ‘small and medium budget’ films which could just be big in content. Will our filmmakers go for the kill?