“Govt. doesn’t recognise the importance of cinema”: Subhash Ghai

Born to a dentist father in Delhi, Subhash Ghai entered the film industry in 1970 after attaining his diploma from Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The film director, producer and screenwriter, known for his works predominantly in Bollywood has given notable films like Kalicharan (1976), Karz (1980), Hero (1983), Meri Jung (1985), Karma (1986), Ram Lakhan (1989), Saudagar (1991), Khalnayak (1993), Pardes (1997), Taal (1999) and Black & White (2008).

In 2006, he set up his own film institute Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. The institute trains students in filmmaking: production, direction, cinematography, acting, animation. Ghai has done brief cameos in his directorial ventures.

Mukta Arts managing director Rahul Puri spoke to Ghai to know about changing times, new vertical of the business, the market scenario and much more.


Tell us about the differences in the film industry today from when you joined? How has the influence of branding and other media (like television and digital) changed the way that the film industry is perceived now?

The main difference in the film industry is that now it has become broad in terms of media, technology, and communication from what it was in 1970s. Earlier in 70s, films were the only mass media to entertain people whereas today there is a huge growth in terms of content and reach in television, radio, digital and social media, which has taken entertainment to a different level. Nowadays, branding has become ‘THE’ thing for today’s generation. A sports man, a fashion designer or a chef, everyone has turned themselves into brands and tell me who hasn’t? Film industry might be only one dimension of the entertainment world, but it still holds a major importance and impact in media.

The film industry continues to be iconic yet the size and scale of the industry is comparatively smaller than many others. Is the mindspace the industry occupies today in terms of influence and marketing justified? 

No. The film business is a showmanship and a business we term as ‘Showbiz’, which influences all other industries like television, digital, music, events, fashion, and festivals with a big dividend. So, if you have a look at the film business in the theaters, it is very discouraging. But on the other hand, we are also involved in other aspects of media business such as satellite rights, music, events, branding, franchising that brings more money than theater business. Henceforth, marketing has become a bigger gamble to attract initial draw towards theaters and even to other aspects of media. 

Where do you see the film industry reaching in the next decade? Will this growth/change come from new content or new delivery platforms (digital/theatres/mobile)? Where is the best hedge for risk in the industry today?

Film industry always survived because of its bigger frame images in cinema halls. Cinema experience is a social bonding for people, it is a collective gathering, it is an event, a festivity! It can cover many weekends if the movie is really brilliant, and to create its presence such films run in maximum theaters. And now with the changing technology and improving higher standards, we will see a drastic change in theaters with 180/360 angle big screens to draw audiences from their homes. 3D, 4D and 5D theaters, mobiles, big watches and so on, the digitisation will bring Rs 100 crore to Rs 200 crore on first day of release in theater and television screens simultaneously. Content will be improvised accordingly, and more fantasies genre will be touched upon as I firmly believe that ‘a child in a man will never die’.

People talk about a new type of content coming into to Indian films. Is this a hype? Are we actually telling newer stories or is the format of our storytelling changing but the core remains the same?

Content keeps developing with time. Film content will soon adapt the following and some of which are already taking place such as:

  1.     Real life issues/biopics
  2.     Super star fantasies in mainstream style treatment
  3.     Science fiction
  4.     Animation – mythology/kids fantasies

India has a lot of rich content in terms of stories in its heritage; soon, maybe by 2015, it would dominate internationally with its content. Though, it is said that there are only 36 plots in human drama, Shakespeare and Mahabharta says it all.

There is a trend today about remakes. Some of your own films are being remade. How do you feel about that and do you think the remake trend is causing original content to suffer?

Honestly, if you ask me I think nothing is original. Art itself is an imitation of universal existence and its various versions thereafter. A film like Aurat in 1940 was made Mother India in 1957 which was remade as Dewaar in 1975. We all should look at remake as an adaptation, transformation, inspirations of same plot which touched millions of hearts and souls… and the adaptation from a different filmmaker’s perspective makes the content looks fresh. Every remake comes with new packaging as ‘old wine in a new bottle’, but only classic stories will be repeated like our epics which are evergreen.

What is the key to being successful in the content creation business? There are so few people who are able to sustain it. What do you attribute your success to?

According to me the key factors are - develop your skill for the business, do market research, have a talent for ideation and innovation! My quest is to observe life and to present current and old dishes in new plate and that is my strength.

You are very active on social media platforms. What do you feel is the benefit of this media and is it really something that will revolutionise marketing of entertainment?

My only personal factor in being active in social media is to connect with the people I do not know as it widens my horizon and I can express directly to them. So we talk about our work to people and take feedback from strangers too, it develops your skill to improve as well. Such open platforms are good ways to communicate.

What are your hopes from the new government, both at the centre as well as in Maharashtra. The film industry, as mentioned, is iconic in brand and has a lot of brand value but this doesn’t always deliver incentives to the industry from the government. Do you think this will change?

Unfortunately, the government at the center or state level has never recognised film industry what it deserves, they don’t share the vision as it can be powerful media to influence people. It’s a major device to develop a culture in children of tomorrow. With the government, it’s not only the financial issue; it’s the issue of recognition of ‘importance of cinema’ that the government needs to look into. Please study what American cinema has done to its own country and how it has influenced other major countries and India is nowhere close to it, yet. Cinema speaks about your country, culture and brings tourism and business.

The government has set up a new Skills Ministry. Given your involvement with education at Whistling Woods, what do you think will be the benefit of this to the film industry?

This is the first positive step taken by the new government, which brings big hope to fulfill my dream to see India to be known as the ‘Big Think Tank’, an ‘ideator’ rather than just a doer. Whistling Woods has been doing this since its inception in 2003. If you look at most of our alumni, they all are actively working towards bringing a new change in cinema and media industry.  They are doing brilliant in their respective cinema and media jobs. I only hope and wish that government should be able to recognise this soon.

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