Case in point: Rival trade unions bring film and television shooting to a halt at NT1, last week . The matter is referred to the third umpire ' Writers' Buildings ' for resolution.
Problem: Union trouble has always simmered below the glamorous surface of Tollywood. Things just boiled over this time, forcing Artistes' Forum to step in, and Writers' to arbitrate. Professionalism is the wrong password to use at the Tolly studios where muscle-flexing is more common off-screen than on it.
'Indisciplined technicians are the most problematic aspect of our industry. They get a lot of support from the unions. Hooliganism is rampant in the studios and the studio authorities are too afraid to take any action against them. Those workers who try and protest are threatened,' says leading lady Roopa Ganguly.
Solution: Allowing merit to be the sole basis of studio work. Since that brings with it its own share of problems, an arbitration committee with representation from various fields of the film-making process is being put in place.
The first step, say those in the know, is to ensure that the unions lose their teeth and the work system moves away from dadagiri and towards discipline. When that will happen is anyone's guess.
Case in point: First, a glass-top water tank explodes at Technicians 2, injuring heroine Rachana Banerjee . Then, a first-floor balcony railing at Bharat Lakshmi studio comes crashing down, sending a junior artiste into coma.
Problem: Forget about value-adds, we are talking basic necessities here. Be it safety measures, cleanliness on premises or minimum comfort for actors ' most studios lack even the bare essentials. Low budgets lead to poor, often perilous, makeshift structures. 'The shooting site is almost always strewn with nails, and no one ever feels the need to dust the ground or the carpets. There is very little awareness about cleanliness among the workers, and one can seldom find a dustbin on the premises. Inadequate maintenance of the studios is another factor,' rues Roopa.
The stuffy studios are like mini-furnaces, with only a few pedestal fans to fall back on. Make-up rooms are mostly shabby and the less said about the toilets the better. 'The make-up rooms ought to be upgraded considering that is where we spend most of our time. The condition is definitely better in Mumbai, where make-up vans are more in use,' says Rituparna Sengupta, currently juggling Tollywood and Bollywood films.
While the stars sweat it out, the producers pay through their nose for tech tools. From camera to hi-tech lens, all gadgets are hired from Hyderabad or Chennai. And for post-production, from sound mixing to film processing, camping in Chennai or Mumbai is a must.
Solution: If setting the studios right is too big an ask, can we have properly equipped laboratories, please' 'Calcutta has the edit infrastructure, but for post-production we have to leave the city. Things are likely to improve as both Adlabs and Prasad Labs are showing interest in setting up labs here. The government should upgrade its two floors ' NT1 and NT2. If need be, they can raise the rentals,' says cinematographer Abhik Mukhopadhyay, whose portfolio ranges from Chokher Bali to Bunty aur Babli.
Case in point: Mr Lagaan Money Bag came a cropper in Tollywood even before the roll of the dice.
Problem: Big funding is the shot in the arm an ailing Tollywood so desperately seeks, but money from beyond the borders of Bengal remains a mirage.
First, Subrata Roy Sahara's grand adoption plan for the industry proved stillborn. Then in strolled Jhamu Sughand with mega plans and promises. His track record: three unreleased films (including Swapner Din) .
Solution: Corporate funding, big producers and bigger production houses. 'There are 10 to 15 good production houses in regional industries like Hyderabad or Chennai. Here, people make one film and if they lose money they go back. No one sees investing in films as a business proposition,' says Shrikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh Films.
Corporate financing has begun to flirt with Tollywood, taking one step forward and two steps back. Saregama Films, which burnt its funding fingers with Mantra and Swapno, is getting its tinsel act together again. 'Even Yash Raj Films has a Neal 'N' Nikki. We are aware of the ground realities,' assures Saregama Films, business head, Sunil Bhandari. Prosenjit believes the answer lies in tie-ups between corporate firms and local production houses: 'Local people understand the public pulse better and so a tie-up will be more fruitful.'
Partnership seems to be the pitch for Planman Motion Pictures, producers of Dosor. 'For instance, hiring an AC floor is troublesome and expensive. So, if we can get together and fund an AC studio in Calcutta, it will help everyone immensely. Shooting efficiency will increase and it will help budgets too,' says CEO Subho Shekhar Bhattacharya.
Case in point: Want to shoot a Bengali potboiler' Head for Ramoji Film City, of course .
Problem: Leave alone a Film City, Tollywood can't even boast of a studio with indoor and outdoor facilities. And what's Calcutta's loss is Hyderabad's gain. 'There are only floors in Tollywood, no proper shooting spaces, outdoor locations or equipment. So, we shoot most of our films at Ramoji Film City where you get everything at one place. We take our core team and hire technicians from there,' says Shrikant Mohta.
Solution: A mini Film City with the basics is a must, feels megastar Prosenjit.
'I am not asking for something as big as Ramoji Film City. But we need a place with both indoor and outdoor facilities, where there's a garden, bustee, thana, office area and a big house. These are essential in most films. Such a facility will make it so cost-effective for our producers. It will also save the time that is lost in travelling.'
Case in point: Tolly breathes a sigh of relief over the comeback of Priyanka Saathi Trivedi after a two-year break.
Problem: Lack of fresh blood. When it comes to casting, directors and producers don't know where to look. Though there's no dearth of wannabes, Tollywood is crippled by a severe star crunch.
If Bollywood gives birth to a new hero every other Friday, Tollywood must still ride on the shoulders of Prosenjit or Mithun, with Jeet the only bankable 'young hero'.
Tollywood is still very much a man's world, and finding a face opposite Prosenjit's remains its most pressing problem. No wonder the return of Priyanka, opposite Prosenjit in a Ravi Kinagi film, has sent a ripple through the stagnant studio waters. Otherwise, it's good ol' Rituparna and Debasree from yesterday's guard, and Koel and Swastika from today's lot.
Dearth of good roles, lack of grooming and no takers for newcomers are the three main problem areas, feels Indrani Halder.
'There are hardly any directors or producers willing to take risks with new faces. Actors and actresses also need to groom themselves by reading, learning or watching good actors,' says the actress who runs an acting school. 'It's true that very few good male faces are coming into the industry. There are quite a few girls but no good roles for them to show their skills.'
Solution: Producers with punch and panache; better grooming grounds. 'A film like Gangster did so well with new actors, so why not in Bengali too' argues producer Bipin Vohra.
'Didn't Jeet make it in Saathi' I will do a film with fresh actors again in the lead in November-December,' adds a confident Haranath Chakraborty.
Text: Reshmi Sengupta
Pictures: Aranya Sen