19 out of the 20 all time top grossing movies worldwide are animation and VFX driven movies.
As Diwali approaches, there is a lot of buzz and excitement around one movie – RA-One. This movie is considered to be a watershed for Indian feature films. Not only because of its scale, budgets and the fact that it employed 11 Oscar winning visual effects artists from around the world, but also because of SRK’s own passion and commitment. Box office fate notwithstanding, the film has already created ripples in many ways, impacted and changed the animation and VFX industry in India.
I happened to view a very interesting interview by SRK in which he narrated an excerpt of his conversation with Hollywood actor Will Smith who happened to visit India about 2 years ago. Will Smith told SRK that he does 2 movies each year – one that he likes and one with a superstar. SRK was a little puzzled, after all wasn’t Will Smith a star himself? Will Smith elucidated further that by a “superstar” he meant VFX. Truly it’s only in Hollywood that VFX (apart from the story) is a superstar. It is evident from the fact that movies in Hollywood like the all time top grosser – AVATAR and many others made by Directors like Spielberg, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, Cameron etc. the star attraction for the audience is the animation and Visual effects (apart from a great story). Not that Hollywood doesn’t have its share of stars. But by and large, the Director’s reputation and the project’s intrinsic creativity and scope determines the budgets, scale and marketing/distribution, not the actor’s Box Office worth. The director and his storytelling which usually employs a lot of animation and visual effects are a sell and not the star himself.
In India, the biggest illness that Bollywood suffers from is its own creation – the “Star system”. If you have a “saleable star” (there are only about 6-7 of them who are touted to command an initial / first weekend Box office draw) then your film will see excellent marketing, publicity, distribution irrespective of the content or quality of the film. But because there are only that many saleable stars, everyone in the industry wants to work with them to de-risk their projects to ensure good marketing / distribution. Therefore, as a result of the adverse demand – supply ratio, the stars pretty much quote any fee that they deem right, increasing cost of production, subsequently its recoveries and profitability become highly risky. While almost all of Bollywood’s producers to reckon with complain about sky-rocketing fees of A-list actors as unrealistic, they do also admit in private that they’ve been part of the system which has been fed by them, vitiated and subsequently made unviable due to over-bidding.
This is a vicious circle that Hollywood has outgrown in a sensible way, a large part of it owing to VFX as a draw as a film’s USP. In fact, the entertainment industry especially the movie business has grown exponentially over the past 2 decades or so largely due to enhanced storytelling possibilities due to availability of new technologies for VFX, animation and digital.
I wouldn’t hazard to surmise that sooner or later, no matter how star struck our nation looks, in a less than a decade Bollywood too will move into the direction where the right casting, storytelling and VFX will determine the entertainment quotient of any film and not the “saleable” actors. This change is imperative for the industry’s survival and growth as we have to ensure that more films succeed and the pie expands.
And its not like India doesn’t have star directors. But only a small part of the movie-going audience here craves to see a movie made by a certain director, rather than make a choice according to the cast. Why is that? SRK again has a very interesting take on this. In one of his interviews SRK declared he abhorred the star system (yes, he actually said that!). He concluded that in the west A-List Directors have consistently delivered films of a certain quality and bettered themselves with each project, they built their personal equity over years. Conversely in India, most A-List directors have faltered over a period of time and cashed-out on their equity, producing duds and lethargic looking films occasionally. This broke their winning streak and they lost part of their personal reputation along the way. Hmm… when I look around, SRK’s conclusion is very, very true.
To sum it up, there is no doubt that Ra-One will expedite the opening up a completely new form of film genre in India if it succeeds. People from the animation and VFX industry are awaiting this threshold. We have to keep investing in our talent, our techniques and the story rather than look at star-power to draw the audience. That is the only way to go in the long term – make India’s AVATAR without any saleable actors and make it the biggest success of all times.
Best of luck SRK! He may grant G-One to the entire industry.
Published in STUDIO SYSTEMS magazine Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue.