Much is changing for good, and as the film industry has come to a halt, so have many dependent companies. Those who have come full circle in the entertainment industry. This includes film production and all the workforce it employed and supplied movie theaters.
But then there was also a major victim, and that is the written press. The written press had to stop publishing for a few months. Now they’re back in circulation, but what they’re missing now is what added to their sales and circulation – movie supplements.
First, the major newspapers have added subway-based supplements to their major publications. They were named after the cities from which they were published but had nothing to do with the cities involved. The idea was to cater to film buffs, which quickly turned into catering to filmmakers. In this, they have become a tool for promoting films. At a price, of course! To give credibility, or should we say, acceptance, they introduced the concept of Page Trois, a space dedicated to the party circuit.
These supplements owed their very existence to the entertainment segment without which they would have nothing to print. But somehow the entertainment industry was convinced by the reach of these supplements that they started to believe that they needed these rags instead and not otherwise! As a result, they had to pay for every inch of column coverage they needed for their films. It was strange, a strange kind of market!
Real-world money makers, like manufacturers, did not recognize such supplements. They even refused to give interviews to such supplements as that would be considered bought space! Why, then, did the entertainment industry, especially the film industry, believe that buying space in such newspapers could increase the prospects for their product?
This is because people in the movies had this tendency to imitate their brothers. If one producer bought a quarter page in a newspaper supplement, the next would buy half a page. If one film was reserved for 3,000 screens, the other would do better with 4,000 screens! The age-old adage in commerce has described this as “Bhed Chaal”, and it has prevailed.
This mad race in the blind to spend more on unproductive things showed a lack of wit on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, these paid reviews didn’t help a movie at all. Finally, word of mouth is what made or marred a film once it was released on cinema screens.
Previously, film publications were limited. There were magazines like Filmfare and Star & Style, which catered to star-crazy readers. Screen, although sold on stalls, was sort of a commercial publication, aimed at those who liked to discuss the films and their inner stories like progress, release date, etc. Then there were a few trade magazines that mostly dealt with box office collections, business prospects of a released movie, etc. The film industry – such as producers, distributors and exhibitors as well as film funders – has only followed these publications.
Trade magazines were business-oriented and the film industry used them to their advantage. These did not belong to any large publishing house but to individuals belonging to the trade, and only survived thanks to the patronage of the people of the cinema. A film magazine was a must read for anyone doing business here, whether in Mumbai or anywhere else in India.
Commercial papers came in handy when films were released on Indian circuits at different times. Investors from other channels have inquired about a film released in a particular channel from these specialist magazines. When the system of simultaneous release of films all over India came into being, these magazines lost their usefulness. No one had to wait to find out the prospects or the fate of a movie. As a result, we only have one in five surviving commercial newspapers, Complete Cinema.
Speaking of trade publications, Delhi, the hub of Delhi-UP tours, also had a few trade weeklies, Patriot and Filmy Reporter, which were sponsored and supported by the Delhi Film Trade. I don’t think their circulation extended beyond the area of ââthe film colony in Chandni Chowk, where the film trade was concentrated, and these may have gone to some UP theaters as well. Once the advertising medium for the films stopped, so did the publications.
So far, so good. But then came the kind of publications that grabbed the film industry without in any way benefiting the industry or the cinema. They were nicknamed Shiny Rags, but enjoyed a decent following among those who thrived on movie star bedroom stories. So we had magazines like Stardust and Cine Blitz among others. Previously, there was no concept of cinematic gossip except in the weekly Blitz, which attributed a small column to cinematic gossip. But those glossy papers have become full-time journalism!
Like all ephemeral things, gossip glosses have lost popularity as social media and movie web portals (by the hundreds) have mushroomed. What was worse about these flies was that there was no gossip to write. Whether the stars were in a relationship or had an affair, it was all out in the open. No need to write about public affairs! Thus, gossip magazines have known their natural disappearance.
Going back to the mainstream media that began to cash in on self-gratifying moviegoers, just about every inch of their extras column was available at a price. The publisher didn’t have much to say and the content was worked out between the marketing department and the spendthrift. Reviews were rated with stars as in 3, 4 or 5 stars. As if the stars and superstars of their star cast weren’t enough, insecure filmmakers bought stars from these reviews as well. Everything was going badly. The reader was taken for an idiot, the reader on the other hand did not care since such supplements were provided free with the newspaper! Who was cheating on whom? Currently they are all deprived of content
What about the television channels? Do you think they would have survived the first six months of the crown lockdown with no other news than the crown, its effects and what governments were doing? They would have annoyed observers in addition to adding to the depression caused by the pandemic. Sadly, news of the tragic deaths of two young people linked to the cinema, actor Sushant Singh Rajput and his partner Disha Salian, has helped news channels to keep going. Otherwise, there was no news at the national or international level.
Not only TV stations, but even movie portals, had nothing else to write about but the tragedy of Sushant. It remains to be seen how many bounce back, given that there isn’t much going on in the film world to write about. Then pretty much every social media user has turned to reviewer now. They post their personal reviews on movies as well as OTT content.
As it stands, there isn’t a single movie release available on newsstands, nor is it expected to be relaunched anytime soon.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran screenwriter and box office analyst. The opinions expressed are personal)
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