The best people to control cinema!
Shankar, Maniratnam  

Who decides the direction in which a film industry moves? Who decides the kind of films that come out of an industry? Is it the script writer, the director, the actors ….. perhaps not, it is the producer! Why? Because it is the producer who puts his money into everything and he is the one who stands to gain or lose (more often when it comes to cinema) according to the fate of a film at the box office. We might like to believe that it is not the producer who decides what kind of movies happen; but the final decision always lies with the producer How much ever writers come up with innovative scripts, how much ever directors plot great visions, how much ever actors are willing to put into a performance, it is the producer who has the final say. A producer has to be convinced of the financial viability of a film if it has to happen. And, Tamil cinema has been fortunate to have producers who have shared visions with the artistes and craftsmen of cinema. But, producers being producers, will always have an eye on the pure commercial aspect of cinema. And that is why world over we have film industries where commercial content has always been prevalent over the type of cinema where the artistic possibilities of the medium have been explored to the fullest.

Of course, we cannot blame producers for having an eye on the commerce. At most times, it is their calculations of commerce that keep the industry afloat, their marketing strategies that take out movies to the masses; in short, they run the industry. Like managers in all our offices who just cannot understand the problems of a technical professional but still run the office, producers (mostly) cannot see the art of cinema; well, they are not built for that. That is why, year after year, decade after decade, we groan about the seemingly unending drudgery of brazen commercial masala.

So, who can change it? Well, for a movie to happen, a producer has to be convinced. And for a producer to be easily convinced a script has to be commercial (read five songs, five fights and an optional item number, love story etc….).. sight, there doesn’t seem to be a way out. Yes, there is. What if people who know the art and scope of cinema take up production? Then we get the right kind of cinema, one that entertains without numbing the senses, one that talks sense instead of pure hero worship. We already have people who have shown the way, quite a lot. And, if Tamil cinema can boast of a number of films that can stand shoulder to shoulder with many international products, it is because of people in the art of cinema who have also taken up its business.

Thinking of examples, here goes, Kamal Haasan (Rajkamal Productions), Prakash Raj (Duet Movies and Silent Pictures), Shankar (S Pictures), Mani Rathnam (Madras Talkies), Gautham Menon (Photon Kathas), Parthipan (Akira Films), Sasikumar and quite a few others. Think of a list of movies that have come from these banners. You will find that most of them, if not all, are ones that have left a big impression. Perhaps not all of them were great earners at the box office (which is what a full time producer will look at), like Hey Ram or Kannathil Muthamittal, but they are films that we are proud of.

At many times, when watching moves, we get a feeling that some of the most exceptionally talented artistes are not doing the kind of cinema that they believe in. If an artiste, especially a lead artiste, wants to do cinema of a kind that he believes in, he has to finance it himself and that’s what Kamal Haasan has been doing for decades now. He has been financing dreams that a full time producer would not have dreamt of even going close to. Starting from Rajapaarvai to Unnaipol Oruvan, interspersing all his commercial flicks, he has shown us the kind of cinema that he believes in. The same holds true for Mani Rathnam. Who would have dared to make a film as expensive as Iruvar with an actor from another state (Mohanlal) in the lead except the man who conceived it himself. Shankar, for all the commercial grandeur that he has handed us through his directorial ventures has also shown us through his production house that he too has an eye for the finer and subtle side of cinema. And, Gautham Menon, Tamil cinema’s new no compromise guy got into production very early in his career and that has reflected in his cinema. Yes, being a producer allows people to make the kind of cinema that they believe in without having to bow to anyone’s demands or opinions. The difference between being a great artiste and also being a producer is like being a great player and also being the team’s captain.

But, just like some players are no cut out for captaincy (like Sachin Tendulkar), some great artistes are just not cut out for production (like Rajnikanth). Somehow, it is a great disappointment that Rajnikanth kept away from production of movies, barring the fleeting attempt. It is surely not due to the lack of finances; he is the second highest (or even the highest, according to some people) paid star in Asia. Repeatedly over the decades we have felt that he has had to do a type of cinema that he does not wholly believe in. Commercial compulsions have kept him away from a whole dimension of his acting skills. Yet, he chose not to take up production and make cinema that he believed in. Even after more than 30 years we do not know what Rajnikanth believes in, be it in cinema or politics! Perhaps he was waiting for Soundarya to take up production to express his visions through his daughter; we will know in Rana.

When an artiste takes over complete control of his medium (production in the case of cinema) the results are definitely better. Look at the kind of cinema Aami Khan has produced in Bollywood, all of them trendsetters. It however does not seem to hold true when an actor comes up from a production house! It is heartening to see that many young and upcoming actors are keen to take up production; Arya has shown the way with ‘The Show People’ which co-produced Boss. Suriya and Karthi seem to be regularly turning to the Studio Green banner, Vikram almost became a producer along with Sasikumar, but for a last minute difference of opinion and now even Ajith has launched Goodwill Productions. Perhaps, even Vijay, who seems to get the most commercially charged scripts in the industry, might be thinking of production.

And, finally, this was not meant to belittle producers or to undermine their contribution and importance in Tamil cinema. All respect to haloed production houses like AVM and Gemini that have carried Tamil cinema aloft for decades. And, acknowledgements to stalwarts like Aascar Ravichandran, Kalaipuli Thanu, AGS for what they have done for Tamil cinema. Also, not forgetting the new production houses like Red Giant, Cloud Nine for occasionally supporting movies like Mynaa and Thamizh Padam and corporate production houses like Moser Baer for encouraging efforts like Poo.

But, with all due respect, only an artiste or technician can view the medium purely for its scope and beauty without having any eye on the commerce part of it. That’s why unfailingly movies coming from such producers always have something different to offer. Let’s hope that more and more artistes from cinema start taking complete control of the medium.

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