Monday, 25 November 2013

Film City, a technicolor dream that turned sour due to changing times

Early this month, members of the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI) made a demand to the chief minister to revive the Film City here. They claimed that it would help film makers and cinema technicians in the state as there was a genuine need for one. 

Exactly 21 years ago, a similar idea was mooted and within two years, the first ever full-fledged film city was inaugurated at Taramani.  Situated amid sylvan surroundings in a sprawling campus stretching across 86 acres of greenery, the Film City that was constructed at a cost of over Rs. 21 crores. It boasted of Italian, Japanese and Mughal gardens and even a cascading waterfall besides the quotidian sets of police station, court set and the gigantic Ayyanar statue that is so familiar to Tamil moviegoers. 

When it was inaugurated in 1994, the Film City was a big hit among movie makers as well as the general public who could tour the place for just a few bucks. “During the first year of its operation, the film city made a whopping revenue of over Rs. 3 crores, almost twice the sum that it was expected to generate. Almost all film makers used the sets here,” said a senior film maker associated with the project. 

Japanese gardens then and now
During the following year, revenues dipped by half and by the the third year of its existence, the revenue generated by the film city further plummeted. While the common perception for the failure of the film city is change of political climate in the state, industry insiders pointout that the main reason behind its failure was in the conceptualization itself.

“The Japanese, Italian and Mughal gardens were a rage among film makers during the first year. By the second year of its existence, movie goers had seen enough of the film city and its sets and film makers felt it was getting redundant. Since, most of the infrastrure were permanent, there was little scope for altering them and the dream merchants soon moved elsewhere to execute their dreams,” says a veteran teacher at the Film and Television Institue here.

In five years, film makers had exploited every nook and corner of the film city and returned to the hillocks and meadows at Ooty and elsewhere to do their shoots. With revenues dipping from the Film City, successive state governments chose to hand out large chunks of land towards software parks and multinational firms.

“Today, only 13 acres of land remain with the ministry of information where the Film and Television Instiute is located,” says N. Srinivasan, principal-in-charge and head of cinematography at the MGR Film and Television Institue here.


Small screen steals the available shooting space from filmmakers

With the first film city venture evanescing away to give rise to IT skyscrappers, is there a need for a new film city? Absolutely, say film makers here in one voice.

“The problem with the earlier film city was that it was built on brick and mortar. Cinema does not work like that. Just give us the space and we will create the dreams,” says a leading filmmaker and member of FEFSI.

He points out that with the mushrooming of TV channels, most of the shooting floors available in the city are being gobbled up by the TV channels for their shows. “The channels book these floors and studios for a minimum of six months or even a year. The floor owners find renting space out to TV channels as a more stable source of income and less damage to the venue. Hence, we filmmakers have to go scouting for venues to shoot even simple indoor locations,” he says.

Most amateur film makers find getting permission to shoot in public places such as wide roads or in a court complex or even a police station a cumbersome process. They point out that if permanent sets are available with the equipment in a single location, it would be of a great use to them.

“For instance, we cannot shoot peacefully in a city street when a big star like Vikram or Ajith are acting. A huge crowd gathers always and make our life difficult. Shooting a quiet street scene needs a whole lot of paperwork if shot in real location while it does not add any value to the movie,” says Srinivasan, principal-in-charge of the film institute. “We get a lot of requests for such shoots but are unable to accommodate.”

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