Creative Directors: Bollywood needs contemporary directors

With growing demand for credible and aesthetic cinema and an increasing number of advertising, documentary, and industrial films being produced, there’s a premium on creative directors

With an annual production of over 1,000 good, middling, and mainly downright bad feature films per year in 20 languages, the Indian cinema industry popularly known as Bollywood, is the largest in the world. It boasts 3.6 billion viewers per year compared to Hollywood’s relatively modest 2.6 billion. Corporate heavyweights in India and overseas are rushing into the great Indian fantasy machine. The aggregate expenditure of Bollywood is expected to rise to $5.1 billion (Rs.17,500 crore) in 2011, a nearly three-fold increase over five years. This is the best time to make great moves as legit finance is pouring into the industry making mafia money increasingly irrelevant.

In this emerging scenario, Bollywood has had to heed a wake-up call and become quality conscious. With growing demand for credible and aesthetic cinema in the country and an increasing number of advertising, documentary, and industrial films being churned out, there’s rising need for professional directors with creativity, imagination, and individuality. Fortunately, a new generation is helping to transform the world’s most popular movie industry with average age of nexgen directors falling to the 30s. Industry professionals tend to classify film-making into three major categories — feature films, documentaries, and advertising shorts/ television commercials. The production methodology and technologies are common across the spectrum.

By common consensus the premier institution for learning the art of film direction, editing, cinematography, and sound recording is the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). FTII offers a three-year specialisation course in film direction and shorter duration study programmes in other associated disciplines.

Admission into FTII’s film direction and other programmes is open to graduates in any discipline through an open entrance examination. Graduates are tested on general knowledge of India’s socio-cultural structure, general mental ability for logical and deductive reasoning, pictorial reasoning, relationships etc.

Those shortlisted in the written test are summoned to Pune for a seven-day cinema orientation programme followed by an aptitude test. FTII’s admission tests are tough. Of the 1,000 candidates who write the institute’s exam every year, only 32 are admitted. However, FTII apart, there are a growing number of institutes providing formal education in film-making and associated disciplines. Among them are:

Institute of Film Technology, Chennai

Film and Television Institution of Tamil Nadu, CIT Campus, Chennai

Indira Memorial Institute of Communication, Mumbai

Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Subhash Ghai’s film institute, Whistling Woods, Mumbai

Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata

Asian Academy of Film and Television, Uttar Pradesh

Zee Institute of Media Arts, Mumbai

“In the creativity-driven films and television business, the director is captain of the ship. He has to spearhead the entire creative process and translate a script or idea into an engaging story in the cinematic or digital format. It is his job to bring out the best in every team member while managing egos, budget constraints, weather conditions, equipment break-downs, and a hundred other problems. This combination of story-telling skills, people management, and optimising available funds is the responsibility of the director,” says Sriram Raghavan, a brilliant young director, who catapulted into fame with a video film depicting the life of serial killer Raman Raghav who terrorised Bombay city in the late 1960s.

Reminiscing about his breakthrough telefilm, Raghavan elaborates: “We had a shoestring budget and had to complete it in two weeks under severe constraints. But once done, it served as a showreel for me. It got me work on television. Ek Hasina Thi was my first feature film. Released in January 2004 it was a highly rewarding experience and was widely appreciated.”

ENTRY ROUTES. According to Raghavan, entry routes into the film medium have multiplied in recent years. They include television, music videos, ad films, documentaries etc, each requiring specialised creative skills. “Successful directors like Ridley Scott and Alan Parker cut their teeth in commercials before graduating to feature films as did Ken Ghosh who directed dozens of music videos prior to landing a directorial assignment. Many film-makers today start with television, honing their craft while awaiting the big break,” says Raghavan. As far as he can remember, Raghavan entertained a passion for the make-believe world of cinema. After graduating from Fergusson College, Pune, he was admitted into FTII in 1984 and acquired a diploma in cinema (with specialisation in film direction) in 1987. His 30-minute black and white diploma film The Eight Column Affair won the National Award for best short film and was screened at Filmotsav 1988 in Thiruvananthapuram and other film festivals. Subsequently, before graduating to television serials and feature films, he made several documentaries for the development and communication unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Ahmedabad, where he worked for three years. He also produced and directed training films for the Centre of Environment Education and Directorate of Shipping among other institutions.

It bodes well for Raghavan — and the Indian feature films industry — that he believes in the prime importance of credible storylines and scripting, the Achilles heel of Indian cinema. “Superior technique is no substitute for content. If you don’t have a good story, even dazzling cinematography can’t save a film. But on the contrary, if you have a sound storyline, good technique will transform it into great cinema. The director is actually selling his unique, individualistic vision of the world. Therefore he should have a good knowledge of music, art, photography, and a variety of interests. In my opinion the quality most required of a contemporary director is the ability to write. Writing is not easy and requires tremendous discipline, but a director who is also a writer has a better chance to make his first film sooner,” he says.

Raghavan has recently joined the A-list of Bollywood directors with his hit movie Johny Gaddar. He’s now among a small group of new, audacious directors helping define the new Bollywood cinema who are being wooed to make the type of films no one would touch a few years ago. “This is the best time for young new directors and for creative youngsters it is an exciting and challenging career,” sums up Raghavan, now working on his next film with top-ranked movie stars John Abraham and Aishwarya Bachchan.