Technology is enabling Bollywood to sustain life even during pandemic times


Sasi Kumar

Many of the Bollywood productions of yesteryear were fantasy creations with elaborate sets, song and dance numbers, and intricate plots.

Representational Image | Photo: PTI

I enjoy good movies. Movies make me think, laugh and learn. It entertains me in many ways unimaginable. The allure of the silver screen, its magic, mysticism, and the heartbreaking storylines always take me to make-belief places which are beyond my comprehension. It transports me through a multitude of states of mind from ecstasy, agony, happy and sad. It elates my spirits and saddens me at the same time. Movies often convey strong social messages to reshape our thinking.

Movies keep me connected to my native land and help me to rekindle my childhood memories. During my school days, it was a privilege to see an occasional movie in one of the local theatres, a building with thatched roof, sandy floor, squeaking wooden benches, dark, dimly lit, smoke-filled interior and with no creature comfort. Later during my college years, as I lived in a major town, the theatres were slightly modern and cozy.

In the seventies, as I started living in the Americas, nostalgia and childhood memories encouraged me to watch pirated Bollywood movies on VCR and Betamax tapes. It was pre-digital time, used to take many days to deliver the movie reels to North America. Then came a plethora of enhanced video media including VCR, Betamax, VX, VHS, Laserdiscs, HD DVD, Blue-ray and satellite technologies speeding up the movie delivery to faraway places.

Then, movies were the main staple of entertainment for the common mass. The stories on the glittering celluloid took their viewers to fascinating and faraway places and fed their imaginations to the max.

These days, when time permits, I watch many genres of films from many different cultures as the pandemic-induced stay-at-home directives linger on.

Many of the Bollywood productions of yesteryear were fantasy creations with elaborate sets, song and dance numbers, and intricate plots. They were usually filled with stereotypical and awkward subplots, melodrama and woefully long fight sequences and silly comedic routines built around tried and true formulas. Then, there were the odd ones, so-called art films, strictly made not for the general movie-going population. They seldom were commercially successful.

Often, the same-old-same-old stories are retold with subtle variations plots with different subplots and renamed characters. A movie is bad when I visualize the next set of dialogues or the next series of scenes. It is bad when the movie drags on with stereotypical scenes full of melodrama, convoluted-unreal-awkward plots and subplots, and copycat characters, and a mix of poached storylines. Sometimes, it starts with a good theme, builds up a fair amount of anticipation, and self-destructs towards the end. Thus, the audience simply tunes out.

The profit motivation has frequently compromised creativity, authenticity, and common cause. There is not much leeway to think out of the box or to let loose creativity. As we know, creativity takes time to mature and flourish. Producers as they face many constraints mainly exorbitant costs, and shrinking market share try to follow the tried-and-true formulas leaning heavily on entertainment by adopting conventional storylines to satisfy a variety of mainstream moviegoers.

The philosophy of the viewers is also changing; the same old same old is not enough these days to satisfy the educated movie-going public. Appetite for the run-of-the-mill production is waning. Lately, movies with talented casts, creative directors, and big fat budgets fail to make money simply because of the viewers’ changing attitudes and aptitudes. They prefer quality to quantity. Old ways of storytelling are passé. Producers are realizing that star-power alone anymore carries a movie to success. On the other hand, there are many examples of well-made, low-budget, success stories. They are crafted with great love and care by talented directors and artists.

Good movies convey positive social messages to build personal and communal harmony. They build a feel-good ambiance. Good movies educate people on the wisdom of cooperation, ethical behaviour, coexistence and teach them empathy and kindness. Good movies try to tell us stories that are relevant to our emotional well-being. Good movies make us happy, and help us to relate to our emotions. Conversely, bad movies make us depressed, feel exhausted, and unhappy. Bad movies emphasize chaos and confusion and perhaps make us feel guilty. Bad movies do not challenge our emotional psyche: they deplete our energy. Then there were ‘copycat’ instances where vulnerable groups simply imitated the hazardous scenes in movies with tragic results.

Over the years, movies have leapfrogged to the forefront of entertainment with mind-blowing techno-wizardry and amazing visual effects mainly due to technological advancements. Drones to 3-D technologies, newer digital cameras with high-definition video capture capacities, rapid developments in cloud-based and advanced graphic technologies are helping the industry enormously. Raising funds and reaching out to movie buffs on a real-time basis have improved the marketability of the products. Thus, ever-evolving technology enhances the movie industry in unimaginable ways.

Traditional filmmaking is no longer viable as technology embraces everything digital. Celluloid films moved over to digital production, post-production, distribution, and delivery process. Of course, technology is doing wonders to the movie industry with bigger-than-life characters, wonderfully crafted, colourful panoramas, and impressive sound emulations. High-speed supercomputers, computer-generated imagery (CGI), computer animation, imaging techniques, Internet technologies have changed almost every aspect of the motion picture industry.

Today, there is a glut of shows on TV, on many streaming apps, on-demand video services, IPTV interfaces, cell, and the Internet on top of the over-the-air, and cable services are catering to people all over the world. Now we get Bollywood and other local language movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and on other OTT streaming services. Also, they are presented in small and mainstream theatres across North America usually on the same day as they are released in India: thanks to advancements in digital delivery technologies.

As the pandemic is spreading its wings, small and big businesses across the world are suffering. The movie industry is not an exception. Covid-19 protocols are putting major roadblocks when comes to movie production and theatre attendance. However, technology is helping them in many ways to overcome the difficulties, from remote production facilities to over-the-cloud collaborations in editing, and marketing and distribution. Gone are the days of expensive print media advertisements. The advent of the Internet and Social Media channels are enabling widespread and inexpensive marketing. Then, the many self-distribution platforms enable producers to reach a global audience.

OTT platform is a lifesaver to the film producers as the regular theatres are out of bounds due to the pandemic. Viewers choose and enjoy the productions on many different devices from mobile to Smart TVs connected via the Internet. It is empowering a whole new segment of moviegoers and a whole lot of producers to think outside the box. Also, technology is changing what we watch, and how we watch thus altering our cultural norms at a faster pace.

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