Bollywood‘s Corrupt Ecosystem Was Already Crumbling; Sushant’s Suicide Will Make Things Worse For It
Mediocristan — that is Bollywood today — cannot continue like this. It has to change.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide came as a shock to one and all, even if they weren’t his fans or that much into Bollywood movies.
Since he came from TV, he also has a much larger fanbase in the Indian middle class compared to other new faces in the industry.
The fact that a young, talented actor whose life seemed perfect, promising and glamorous could take such a drastic step is very hard to digest for most.
Sushant didn‘t leave a suicide note behind, which could‘ve given his fans some closure.
It is surprising that a well-educated and a highly articulate person could just leave without expressing his thoughts for the world to read.
Maybe, it speaks of the hopelessness that had set in.
Not leaving a note has made matters worse.
Understandably, people are fishing for conspiracy theories and blaming their favourite villains. And those are not difficult to find in a highly competitive and corporatised industry, where a few powerful movie production houses can make or break one’s dreams and some powerful stars are known to hold grudges and destroy careers of people they don’t like.
Bollywood rightly gets called out often for rampant nepotism where star kids are given breaks in their early 20s while those who make it on their own take years to establish themselves and get a break.
It’s not a coincidence that the most talented actors in the industry are in their 40s or 50s and are rarely given leading roles.
Let’s be clear that this is not an easy industry to work with, even if those factors were not present.
The competition is fierce, working hours can be crazy, paparazzi is always behind you, and one has to struggle for a long time without having real friends or family looking after you.
Now, on top of all this, throw in the corporatisation, feudalism, nepotism and constant pressure to suck up to a few powerful houses or families.
Following the consensus for not-so-bright (and star kids) is not difficult, but outsiders like Sushant Singh must find it difficult to fit in.
Tweets by some industry veterans (the likes of Shekhar Kapur) do tell us that there were some people in Bollywood who were the reason behind a lot of pain that Sushant felt. However, even Kapur doesn’t have the guts to name those people.
“Take down the system, not a few people”, is his message.
Fortunately, that’s already happening. The Bollywood ecosystem built around family ties, which gives preference to kids born with a silver spoon rather than talent, is slowly crumbling.
The hold of a few production houses in shaping narratives on what’s acceptable and what’s not is also weakening.
And it’s only a matter of time before mediocrity gives way to substance.
We have far more outsiders today in Bollywood (including stars) than before and this change is only going to accelerate, going ahead.
There are many reasons for this optimism:
First, technology is going to change Bollywood forever. The Coronavirus pandemic is giving us a little preview of what the future may look like. Some big-budget movies are now directly releasing on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar, or other video streaming platforms.
The ticket sales for movies are declining in the United States every year (though the revenues are going up due to increasing prices) thanks to digital video platforms.
This pandemic has helped quicken the pace of change.
Right now, in the industry, every Friday is a prized slot for movie releases. Holidays are reserved for releases of big stars. But with digital platforms and the emerging binge culture, you can watch 3-4 movies every weekend, instead of just one and do so at a cost which is many times less.
Technology will upend the 52-week release calendar culture (and the theatre chains, most of which will go out of business).
That means more production, more releases, and more work.
Add to it the building craze for series. Most of the top talent in Bollywood is already moving to the web series.
As of now, there is more demand and less supply of Indian content in the entertainment industry.
Good content is even more rare. All this will unleash creative destruction and the industry will have to produce more, hire more people (most of whom will be outsiders) and better talent.
It will no longer be easy to dupe lakhs of people via promotions (whose budget itself runs in crores and creates more star power).
With movies and shows releasing online, that promotion business goes out of the window.
Netflix can probably tell the makers how many people watched their movie for how many minutes.
That is an incentive enough to prioritise talent over star power.
Given that people are now able to watch a lot of content (many movies, web series, standup acts, documentaries, etc) for a price that they would earlier spend on watching one movie in the theatre, one can see the fees of stars being trimmed.
This should further help cut the big stars to size and bridge income inequality to some extent.
Once the virtual reality (VR) headsets become as common as mobile phones, the currently underway disruption will be irreversible.
People will be able to able to experience theatre like experience of watching a movie on a Big Screen from the comfort of their homes by wearing the VR headsets.
That will be the final nail in the coffin of the theatre business.
What IPL did to Indian cricket and what social media did to Indian politics and legacy news media, technology will do (the same level of disruption) in Bollywood.
Second, one of the biggest changes we are witnessing is the startup culture slowly emerging in Bollywood, which must be one of the few industries left untouched by it in the past one decade.
Many startups rose to become unicorns in various sectors, except this one. One shouldn’t underestimate the success of The Viral Fever (TVF) which started out as a YouTube channel making spoof videos mocking MTV’s show Roadies and has now turned into a mini production house producing top notch web series.
One of its actors recently featured in a major Bollywood movie.
In the next one decade, as the demand for good talent grows, we will be seeing a lot of production studio startups coming up who will present to us one of the greatest talents not just in acting but screenplay, singing, directing, writing and what not. (We are already seeing some agencies directly recruiting models from Instagram and casting them in music videos. Such lateral infusion of outside talent into the entertainment industry will only increase).
In the past 10 years, we have seen a lot of YouTubers start their own podcasts or shows. We shouldn’t be surprised if some talented youngsters in tier-2/tier-3 cities also start producing mini movies in the coming years.
They have the good stories. They will learn the tech. These are the common people Bollywood‘s establishment should be afraid of.
Third, Indian society is also changing quickly. The Indian middle class is expanding fast and this block, which will comprise of millions of people, will decide what sells and what would not be tolerated.
They are appalled at the discrimination in the industry and how the production houses treat outside talent as second-class citizens.
They see the industry up in arms against the Central government and the Prime Minister all the time accusing them of hounding the minorities while this same cabal ruthlessly suppresses any dissent, tries to silence anyone who speaks out against their consensus and narratives, and treats star kids as a privileged lot and outsiders as outcastes.
Something’s got to give.
Mediocristan, that is Bollywood today, cannot continue like this. It has to change. If not, this new India comprising of millions of aspirational Indians will mare sure that the elements running the industry like their fief or mafia territory are rendered irrelevant sooner rather than later.
Adharma productions must consider the outrage over Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide as a cease-and-desist order.
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