By Vinod Mirani
A lot is in the process of changing for good and, as the film industry came to a standstill, so did many dependent businesses. The ones which completed the circle of the entertainment industry. That includes film production and all the workforce that it employed and fed to the cinema halls.
But, then there was one major sufferer too, and that is the print media. The print media had to stop publishing for a few months. Now they are back in circulation but what they lack now is what added to their sales and circulation — the film supplements.
First, the major broadsheets added metro-based supplements to their main publications. They were named after the cities they were published from but had nothing to do with the cities concerned. The idea was to cater to the film buffs, which soon changed into catering to filmmakers. In that, they became a tool of promoting films. At a price, of course! To lend some credibility, or should one say, acceptance, they introduced the concept of Page Three, a space devoted to the party circuit.
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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 believing that they needed these rags rather and not otherwise! As, a result, they were made to pay for every column centimetre of coverage they needed for their films. It was strange, a strange kind of bargain!
The real world money-makers, as in the industrialists, did not acknowledge such supplements. They even refused to give interviews to such supplements because it would be deemed bought space! Why, then, the entertainment industry, especially the film industry, believed that buying space in such papers could further the prospects of their product?
That is because the film people had this tendency of aping their brethren. If one producer bought a quarter page space in a newspaper supplement, the next one would buy half a page. If one film was booked at 3,000 screens, the other would better it with 4,000 screens! The age-old adage in the trade described this as “Bhed Chaal”, and it prevailed.
This blind rat race to spend more on things unproductive showed a lack of application of mind on the part of filmmakers. Actually, these paid columns did not really help a film in any way. Finally, it was word of mouth that made or marred a film once it hit the cinema screens.
Earlier, film publications were limited. There were magazines like Filmfare and Star & Style, which catered to star-crazy readers. Screen, though sold on stalls, was a kind of trade publication, meant for those who loved to discuss films and their inside stories like progress, release date and so on. Then, there were a couple of trade magazines that dealt mainly with the box office collections, business prospects of a released film and so on. The film industry — as in producers, distributors and exhibitors as well as the film financers — followed only these publications.
The trade magazines were business-oriented and the film industry used them to their advantage. These were not owned by any big publishing house but individuals belonging to the trade, and survived only on the patronage of the film folk. A film trade magazine was a must-read for any and everybody doing business here, be it Mumbai or any other location in India.
The trade papers had their use when films were released in Indian circuits at different time. The investors from other circuits got their information from these trade magazines about a film that had released in a particular circuit. When, the system of simultaneous release of films all over India came into being, these magazines lost their utility. Nobody needed to wait to find out the prospects or the fate of a film. As a result, we now have just one trade paper out of five that existed surviving, Complete Cinema.
Talking of trade publications, Delhi, the centre of the Delhi-UP circuits, also had a couple of its own trade weeklies, Patriot and Filmy Reporter, which were patronised by and the supported by the Delhi film trade. I don’t think their circulation extended beyond the area of film colony in Chandni Chowk, where the film trade was centred, and these possibly also went to some UP cinema halls. Once the ad support from films stopped, so did the publications.
So far so good. But, then came the kind of publications which scrounged on the film industry without benefitting the industry or filmmaking in anyway. They were dubbed as glossy rags but enjoyed decent following among those who thrived on the bedroom stories of the filmstars. So we had magazines like Stardust and Cine Blitz among others. Earlier, there was no concept of film gossip except in the one weekly, Blitz, which attributed a small columns to film gossip. But, these glossies made it into full-time journalism!
Like all things transitory, the gossip glossies lost their following as the social media and web portals devoted to films (by the hundreds) mushroomed. What was worse for these glossies was that there was no gossip to write about. If the stars were in relationship or having an affair, it was all in the open. No use writing about affairs that are public! So, the gossip magazines met with their natural demise.
Coming back to the mainstream media which took to cashing in on the self-gratification seeking film folk, just about every column centimetre of their supplements was available at a price. The editor had little say, and the content was worked out between the marketing department and the spender. Reviews were rated with stars as in 3 stars, 4 or 5. As if the stars and the superstars in their star cast were not enough, insecure filmmakers also bought these critics’ stars. It was all going haywire. The reader was taken for a fool while, the reader on his part, did not care since such supplements came free with the newspaper! Who was fooling who? Presently, they are all starved of content.
What about TV channels? Do you think they would have survived the initial six months of the corona lockdown with no other news except corona, its effects and what the governments were doing? They would have bored watchers besides adding to the depression caused by the pandemic. Sadly, the news about the tragic death of two film-related young people, actor Sushant Singh Rajput and his associate Disha Salian, helped the news channels sustain. Otherwise, there was no news happening nationally or internationally.
Not only the television channels, but even film-based portals, had nothing except the Sushant tragedy to write about. Remains to be seen how many bounce back, considering there is little happening in the film world to write about. Then, just about every social media user has turned into a critic now. They post their personal reviews about films as well as OTT content.
As things stand today, there is not a single film publication available on the newsstands, and not likely to re-launch very soon either. (IANS)
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box, office analyst. The views expressed are personal)