Core business is a phrase that got familiar with the arrival of corporate houses in the film business. Which is to say, they would stick to the business they came to do and know it better, rather than branch out into other businesses that may look lucrative but you knew little about.
In the film industry, too, the jobs were marked out for people who specialised in or were trained for the task.
But, when it comes to the film industry, every aspirant hopes to become an actor to start with, and aim for stardom. But, there are also those who just want to be a part of the filmmaking process and train to be a cinematographer, choreographer, editor, sound recordist, action director and so on — loosely defined in film parlance as technician.
Be it a star or a star secretary, a technician or an assistant in any department of filmmaking, all these have a common trait ,or call it ambition, and that is to turn a producer; realise his or her idea of filmmaking. Their creativity seeks an outlet. There are also those who expand their horizons, their skills, beyond the one area they are qualified for. Either because they have not been able to make a mark in the chosen field or because they think they can put their skills to better use.
To make it easier to understand, there is the example of David Dhawan, a qualified film editor from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), who became a successful editor but, later on also took to direction and made a success of it. Similarly, Subhash Ghai qualified in the acting course from FTII. His foray into acting did not take him far, following which he shifted to directing films, initially for other production houses and, in due time, his own banner which he set up with “Hero” at the start of 1980s.
Ghai and Dhawan are the two stories of success. But, there are many who exceeded their brief and, not only failed as producers but also ruined their standing in the field of their specialisation.
A lot of technicians nurse this urge to make their own film. Always being present at shooting due to their profession, they observe and learn but most of all they develop a rapport with the stars. If a technician can put together a saleable star cast, the finance and the rest would fall in place.
Here lies the problem. When a director becomes a producer, he usually succeeds because he knows the art of filmmaking. When an editor becomes a director, he is considered most suited for the job because he pre-edits a script in his mind and shoots only what won’t be deleted on the editing table, saving wastage, and David Dhawan is the best example of this. Usually, an actor wants to become a producer because he wants to make films his way instead of letting others call the shots. But, in many cases, an actor starts making his own films when the outside assignments dry out.
Over a period, there were filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Biswajeet, Joy Mukherjee, Jeetendra, Rajjesh Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Mithun Chakraborty, IS Johar, Dara Singh, Feroz Khan, Sanjay Khan, Sunil Dutt, Sanjay Dutt, Dharmendra, Sunny Deol, Govinda, Mahmood, Asrani, Mohan Choti — you name it. The ultimate dream of all these people was to have their own film! Some succeeded and stayed on while others folded up after a film or two.
However, film is a speculative business, with the ratio being 10 to 12 per cent success as against almost 90 per cent failure, many of those who ventured into it, lost home and hearth. The finance came at a high interest rate and against mortgages.
For the one who aspired to be a filmmaker, it was a gamble, a game of Russian roulette; one bullet was sure to fire. One flop and it ruined the producer. So, what made any and everybody connected to the film business still want to make a film?
Veeru Devgan, Raam Shetty, or Ravi Dewan were a huge success as fight composers. They branched out into filmmaking. Not only did their transition backfired, they also lost out on their speciality — that of composing action scenes. When a technician takes to film production and fails, you never hear of him again.
Same is the case with other technicians. Take the example of Faredun Irani, ace cinematographer of films like “Mother India” and “Anmol Ghadi” among others, or Nariman Irani who shot for “Phool Aur Patthar” and “Saraswatichandra”. He was first-time lucky as a producer with the Amitabh Bachchan starrer “Don”, but when his sons, Nadir and Nadeem, tried to revive the banner Nariman Films with the film “Shastra”, they met with a disaster. Ace cinematographer Ashok Mehta was much in demand as he excelled in his craft with films like “Utsav”, “Ram Lakhan” and “Bandit Queen” among others. He turned director with “Moksha”, to great disappointment.
Technicians are much respected by all concerned on the sets of a film while shooting. That makes them believe that they have developed a great rapport with stars, giving them with the misplaced confidence to turn to production. The actors agree instantly with: Aap toh hamare ghar ke hain… which actually translates to the technicians ruin.
They say in the film industry that Ek baar paint (make-up) lagane ke baad, actor kissika nahi hota! Most technicians-turned-producers were ruined because they were let down by the stars they counted on.
But, when the corporate houses entered films and started film projects left, right and centre, the risk factor in becoming a film producer vanished. If you were a successful star or someone who was close to stars and put a film project together, you qualified. No need to borrow money on high interest rates or need to mortgage your house or the film negative. Now that almost all corporate houses have stopped backing film productions, it will be interesting to watch how many stars still continue to make films.
The ambition to become a filmmaker is not limited to actors and technicians alone. Those on the periphery of the filmmaking process also dream of making a film someday. That includes spot boys, the ones serving tea and other necessities while a shoot is in progress, a canteen boy or even a guy who runs errands and hangs around film sets.
There were also film publicists like Kewal P. Kashyap and K. Razdan who branched out to filmmaking for a while.
There are quite a few examples of these: Guddu Dhanoa who worked for the Deol family, Bhaskar Shetty who was a canteen boy at Mumbai’s Ramnord film processing lab, and E. Niwas, who won a National Award for his very first film, “Shool”, served tea on the sets. Talking of National Awards, Madhur Bhandarkar started by renting video cassettes to finally end up producing films.
Producing a film of his own was the ultimate aim of almost all who entered the film industry, the only faculty where one can last if he is wise enough.
There are hundreds of stories of success and failures, enough to fill volumes.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)