Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Who Wants Solutions?

Malayalam film industry is at a standstill, and an entrenched battle is on between a group of directors and producers on the one side and the bulk of the association of film industry workers on the other. Troubles have been brewing for quiet a long time, and what we witness are only the symptoms of the crisis that runs much deeper and wider. At the structural level, these rifts between various professions – creative, technical, and managerial within the industry, is a reflection of the state of our film economy. It is a low level economy that has adamantly remained inward-looking and status quoist in its approach for a long time. It is neither idea-driven nor sensitive to happenings in other industries in the areas of changing market, funding, technology, treatment or themes. Moreover, it has refused to be an organized industry with its proper business plans and management systems. It is being run on an ad hoc and haphazard manner for a long time. And this works to the advantage of only the top few – the super stars, the directors who charge and get their fees, and producers if happen to get lucky despite all this.

It is not a surprise that such a thoroughly disorganized system works to the structural disadvantage of the 'workers' in the industry, which here includes cinematographers, editors and art directors to light boys, drivers and focus pullers. Let us not forget the fact that these workers are the lowest paid in the country, despite producing 60+ films every year. And the ratio between the highest and lowest wages in the industry (that is, the money that a super star charges and a light boy gets to work in the same film) is beyond imagination. So, the 'trade unionism' that the so-called 'creatives' allege and point out as 'the' hurdle, is something that has been boiling inside for a long time. Obviously the fabulous amounts that are paid to the stars and the 'creatives' come out of the sweat and blood of these workers without whom the industry itself wouldn't exist. The super stars and the fly by night speculators have nothing to lose in this game. This anti-labour attitude has been very much evident in their films also, that religiously idolizes the hero (super star) and celebrates market freedom. (For instance, films of Srinivasan and Sathyan Anthikad have consistently depicted any kind of labour union as an impediment to wellbeing).

So what has been happening till now was that the heavy expense incurred at the top was being subsidized by the workers in the industry. Now they also want their due share in it, which is what is irking the bosses. In a way, they are refusing to share the burden of the mismanagement of a star-centred, idea-starved industry.

Unions in film industry has a long history and has been there in all the industries, whether it be Hollywood, Bollywood or Kollywood. It cannot be wished away, but has to be necessarily factored into the business plan. But one also has to take into account the fact that cinema is a peculiar kind of industry unlike manufacturing or other conventional businesses. It has a creative and spontaneous side, and constantly needs new ideas, talents and technologies. If 'unionism' stands in the way of such creative freedom and endeavours it will end up as yet another trade union that is unable to look beyond the purse of the financier. There are reports that the MACTA stranglehold over workers make it impossible for an 'unregistered' artist to work in a film in Kerala, or plan a film on his/her own terms, as a result of which shoestring often become noose string.

Though there are no readymade solutions to the current imbroglio, there is an urgent need to look at the industry afresh and also learn a few lessons from other industries – in terms of ideas, fund raising, across the platform production modes, themes and marketing.

Now, like any other issue in Kerala, this 'debate' is also 'progressing' around allegations and off the cuff opinions of individuals who seem to think that the world begins and ends with them. In the process it also turns into yet another media event, where solutions and dialogue are insignificant as long as it is entertaining and transient. What gets systematically hidden from public view are the real issues – the wage structure, financial and personnel management practices in the industry, and most importantly, the utter poverty of ideas, which is also evident in the way this issue is being handled. So let us move beyond Vinayan-Siddique tiffs, and 'intelligent' taunts of Srinivasan, and talk business, plain and simple.

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