The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Our films pitch for their funds
- Bhattacharjee basks in showman promise of Bollywood big bucks

“Though Left, we know the reality and we invite investment from various parts of the country.” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s words to India Inc. in Mumbai early this month may not have brought the megabucks rolling into Bengal. But on Tuesday, much to his delight, there was more than a hint of the big boys of Mumbai business eyeing the big screen in Bengal.

The “Tatas, Reliance and Birlas” have all expressed interest in investing in the Bengal film industry, according to showman Subhash Ghai, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) national committee for entertainment, attending Entertainment East, a meet organised by the trade body on Tuesday.

So, the Taal was just right for the chief minister to sing a film-friendly tune to woo investors. The message of his inaugural address rang out loud —private investment will find an enthusiastic public push. “We stand committed in the role of facilitator,” said Bhattacharjee, terming the investment plans announced by Sahara in the Calcutta entertainment industry as “laudable”.

And facilitator will not stretch its duties to cultural police, if principal secretary to the chief minister, Arun Bhattacharya, sticks to his word. Speaking at a session later in the day, he made it clear that films were being seen as an industry, not purely as a cultural vehicle. “There should be no art films anymore. Only good films or bad films,” he said. Bottomline: Films are lucrative business. (See also P 19)

Ghai, who follows Yash Chopra in his focus on Tollywood, said the search was on for “the right kind of people” to finance and the efforts would “show results within 18 months”. But the key ingredient for the industry that is the “backbone of Bollywood” is corporatisation. Promoting the model followed by Mukta Arts, his production house, Ghai (poised to work with Rituparno Ghosh for a film) stressed the need for the industry to get its own house in order, creating “structured, organised corporations”, to remedy the “mismatch between art and commerce”. The state, he added, could step in as regulator, and banks tapped for funds. “We could go to the box office and the Oscars, and bring back the glory Mr (Satyajit) Ray had given you.”

Lamenting the decline of the Bengali film industry over the past two decades, Bhattacharjee was earlier emphatic that private and institutional investment was needed to help local cinema back on its feet. “Since 1977, our government has been striving to rejuvenate films in the state,” he said. Subsidy schemes, the removal of the ceiling on cinema ticket prices, allowing hall-owners to levy a service charge, new production facilities, hit-tech studios, upgradation of halls… Bhattacharjee gave a detailed account of his administration’s steps to give a fresh lease to films.

Public-private, Bolly-Tolly, showman-chief minister. As the partnerships came together to resuscitate a dying industry, Bhattacharjee pledged to be there every step of the way.

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