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Indian cinema trumps TV in quality?

MUMBAI: Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman recently took everyone by surprise when in an interview he said that the state of cinema in the US was at its worst in comparison with TV, which was at its best in terms of quality of content. However, when we look at India, the situation could be that cinema trumps TV.

Indian industry experts believe that commercial cinema is at its best today with differentiated content and the right kind of investments in story and talent.

On the TV front, there has been progress from the ‘saas-bahu’ kind of soaps. There have also been shows like ‘Satyamev Jayate’, ‘24’ and ‘Yudh’. But experimentation is limited because of the fact that India is primarily single-TV households. Worse, Indian TV shows generally run for an infinite period with a much smaller budget.

Moreover, while a normal three-hour film takes around 100 days to shoot, TV producers churn out a 30-minute episode every 24 hours.

Anooj Kapoor 01MSM senior EVP and business head for SAB and Sony Pal Anooj Kapoor says, “Cinema in recent times has successfully experimented with various themes and offered a number of commercially successful films. When it comes to television, the channels still stick to a very similar kind of soap content.”

Kapoor believes that time, talent and investments do happen in TV, but since 99 per cent of TV consumption is daily soaps, TV show makers cannot put the same amount of effort as a filmmaker would put in a feature film.

It is also likely that Indian audiences have become inured to the daily soaps being played out on TV. Moreover, being unable to deliver differentiated content consistently, the Hindi broadcasters are not able to develop a loyal audience base for such content.

Meanwhile, in films, audience acceptance of quality cinema is now being lapped up in big numbers.

Vikram MalhotraAbundantia Entertainment founder and CEO Vikram Malhotra says, “There has never been a better time to be a filmmaker in India than now. Audience acceptance of newer genres of content and of varied forms of storytelling sans the conventional formula of big stars and big budget is today higher than ever before.”

In the movie space, a robust ecosystem is evolving. The movie studios now announce four to five films per year that are quite distinct from each other and from anything one might have seen in the recent past.

On the other hand, in the television space, with 8–10 mainline channels needing over four hours of original content daily, the creative team does not have the time to produce differentiated content.

A top executive of a Hindi broadcaster states, “There have been some isolated attempts at quality. But to consistently deliver quality content, the TV industry needs a certain amount of investment in talent. It is quite the opposite in the US where the TV industry is really growing, where all the series are finite so you can get great talent to work for a limited period of time.”

nitin vaidyaDashami Creations founder and director Nitin Vaidya, who earlier headed Hindi channels at Star India and Zee TV, feels differently. He says that TV is doing much better in India, both in terms of reach and in terms of volume.

“Experiments are happening in the Indian TV space as well. TV is creating impact and that is why you see all the big stars lining up to promote their films on TV. Yes, it is a challenge to produce daily shows, but it is a good challenge, something that we enjoy. We have a commitment to deliver content every day, and if people are watching that content, it must be good and relatable,” he says in defence of TV.

However, the reality is that Indian TV is unable to get the right kind of talent because of the infinite nature of the shows. Hit American shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ take breaks between seasons, thus giving the writers time to develop the script.

“Can you get Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar to write for TV? Talent is there in the country, but the investment is not being made. Sometimes people from films come to TV to earn some quick money. The intention should be right, which is when the medium will get its due,” says Malhotra.

“With the remote control now in the hands of the younger generation, we would expect TV content to change. However, as we all know, the young audience has moved to personal devices like smartphones for content consumption. As long as we have platforms like OTT in the country, a quantum improvement in the quality of content being made for television is still some time away,” he adds.

Nevertheless, it is not just the talent. The economics of the business also poses a challenge to the broadcasters.

“We are unable to get subscription money as nobody is willing to pay a premium price, which is why there is no big scale up in investments. And because nobody is investing big monies in quality, nobody is willing to pay a premium. It’s a vicious circle that somebody needs to break. For a long time, American TV didn’t produce great content, but for the last 10 years, it has been producing content that is better than Hollywood movies,” the programming executive of a leading Hindi general entertainment channel said.

International markets have become an important part of both American film and TV. After the US, Turkey is the second-biggest exporter of content in the world. India is yet to be able to work on that aspect.

“In the US, a few years ago pure-play TV was proclaimed dead. If you look at it, what is working in the West in big numbers is not conventional television. It is new-age, original content that is being created for newer, disruptive forms of delivery,” Malhotra adds on a concluding note.

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