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Book Review: The Art and Business of Cinema by Amshan Kumar

National Award winning writer and producer Dhananjayan Govind's fourth book The Art and Business of Cinema was released recently.

Director Amshan Kumar, another National Award winner, has come out with a comprehensive review of the book:

An Insider's Viewpoint of Cinema By Amshan Kumar

"G.Dhananjayan carries forward several activities simultaneously without breaking his stride. He is a multilingual film producer, a film distributor, founder of a film school and a documentary film maker. Apart from all these he is a two times National Award winning writer on films. In his highly acclaimed earlier work `Pride of Tamil cinema` readers found to their delight, rare and comprehensive accounts of all the mainstream and offbeat films that stood out as awarded achievements since inception of Tamil cinema. `The art and Business of Cinema` is his fourth book on cinema. It is a collection of articles written over a period along with other pieces written exclusively for this book. They address a wide variety of topics ranging from film content, its economics, nitty -gritty of production to its trade and exhibition hurdles.

To start with, what is his definition of a good film? Content, cast and crew,cost, communication and charm are his five Cs that constitute a good film although the unique contribution of the film maker, namely the charm element is a variable that can`t be predetermined and hence success or flop of an otherwise well made film cannot be foretold. Since even the best of films fail at the box office and if there were someone who could predict the outcome of a film accurately, in the words of director Balu Mahendra (as quoted in the book) `then he will become a billionaire through films`.

This thread of uncertainty markedly runs through many of the articles. But how best can the people involved in films try to avoid it? Dhanajayan like many seasoned film pundits is emphatic that a film should have a good script which alone in the final analysis gives it the solid foundation. But according to him , scripting is not the activity of a single person be he the writer or the director who invariably doubles as the script writer in Tamil films. In former times, he recalls, that script work was a collaborative exercise. Story and dialogue writers sat with directors and producers and exchanged notes among themselves to enhance the popular appeal of the script. Many studios had story departments and directors even reshot scenes when producers met with suggestions. Dhananjayan wants scripts `doctored` by able hands before they go on the floors. His many suggestions regarding the script writing are invaluable. If the producer is only overzealous of acquiring the dates of a saleable actor without a well formed script then the film will well turn out to be a dud.

The film with the well honed script should entertain by all means and the strong doses of message if presented well could cast the spell in the audience. It may appear that the author is solely for the collaborative exercise and doesn’t acknowledge the authority of the captain of the ship, namely, the director. No one can deny that great classics had been the creations of auteurs of cinema. But he allays such suspicions in many places in the book. In fact whenever it is occasioned he pays glowing tributes to film makers. `A director must evaluate all the point of views of people who work with him and choose the one, which he can align with.` asserts Dhananjayan categorically. To put everything in the proper perspective, film making is emphasized as a balancing act coordinating various faculties. There are articles on the various functions of editor, art director, and music director.

Dhananjayan thinks aloud on certain lacunae endemic to Tamil Cinema. He rues over the fact that biopics are scarce fare in Tamil since the preparedness on the part of the director to walk the extra mile to do original research is lacking. Only seven biopics have been made in the long run as per his list. The point is well made but there is room for debate. Of them only Veera Pandiaya Kattabomman (1959) was the spectacular success and even it was shorn of biopic grammar. The same duo- Actor Sivaji Ganesan and director B.R.Panthulu which gave that film went ahead and created the all time great Tamil biopic `Kappalottiya Thamizhan` (1961) on the freedom fighter V.O.Chidambaram Pillai. It was a commercial failure. May be on a future occasion the author will come out more on this little discussed topic when he probes the operative mindset of the Tamil audience with its preference to mythology rather than to history. He makes a strong point that parallel cinema should be given its due just as it is given in other regional languages. He welcomes the spirit of audience to patronize films like Kakka Muttai, Visaranai and Kutram Kadithal which earned some publicity due to their participation in film festivals. Alongside he mentions that offbeat Tamil films don’t get the benefit in multiplexes like their Hindi counterparts in other metros. On the issue of reviews the author points out that despite the huge clutter of comments that immediately surface from fans through Face book, blogs, Twitter et al, organized reviews of magazines in print and online do matter and good ratings given by them result in positive outcome on a film release.

However the word-of- mouth publicity, long in practice, is given its due as it always promotes films with good content. Being an insider Dhananjayan gives us a ringside view of the film business which obviously an ordinary film critic cannot. He uses well his columns to brief us from time to time on the pitfalls and achievements of the film trade. There is an article on the need to embrace digital technology which doesn’t stop with using digital equipments in film making but the imperative to use it in fields of production and distribution in the post demonetization scenario. A study of marketing strategies of the film Enthiran and the awareness the Tamil film industry should have in the field of insurance to offset contingent perils are some of the other articles worthy of mention. The articles based on research are presented with sufficient data tables and diagrams. The summing up of the results of films produced every year has been pursued as an annual feature. Besides being informational many of them are instructive.

The uniqueness of the book is perhaps derived from the uniqueness of the person himself. Even when he is judgemental he is neither incriminatory nor indifferent nor detached in his observations. What sets him from others` writing on cinema, is that he emerges as an involved person- as one who knows and shares the pains and problems the film producer/ director/distributor faces. The title of the book reveals that it is about two entities, namely art and business in Cinema. But they are not kept apart as they overlap due to necessity in many of the articles here. The book is as much about the art of business as about the business of art in cinema."


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Actor Udhayanidhi Stalin was one of the few to point out the seeming hypocrisy in the fact that members from the film fraternity fought to ban IPL citing the Cauvery Issue, but have not raised their voice against the upcoming film releases that are to happen in the following weeks.

Producer Dhananjayan Govind has added strength to this voice by an outstanding move - requesting TFPC for a postponement of his production Mr Chandramouli's release. His announcement, which came in the form of a tweet, read:

"As suggested by @Udhaystalin sir, we have requested for a release date for #MrChandramouli after May 3rd with #TFPC when the Central Govt is expected to submit the draft 'Scheme' on Cauvery Water sharing. We are hopeful of a good solution by 3rd May. @dir_thiru .. please note 🙏"

Whether this will have an effect on the actual date of the release of Mr Chandramouli is something we will have to wait and find out.

Book Review: The Art and Business of Cinema by Amshan Kumar

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