Making Movies: Bobby Bedi, India
(Photos: Courtesy Bobby Bedi)
Born: 1956, New Delhi, India
Education: Masters Degree in Management, University of Bombay, BA in Economics, University of Delhi
Professional activities: Film producer; Founder and Managing Director of Kaleidoscope Entertainment in Mumbai; Advisor to the Industrial Development Bank of India and India’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting; Member of the Governing Council of the Film & Television Institute of India; Founder of the “School of Convergence,” India’s first post-graduate school teaching content creation and management
Film achievements: Ten feature films, including Bandit Queen, Fire, Saathiya, Maqbool, American Daylight, The Rising; received two National Awards from President of India
Bollywood evokes instant images among movie fans: music, dance, Indian traditions and brilliantly colored costumes. With some four billion tickets sold annually – one billion more than Hollywood – India’s film industry is the largest in the world, enjoying immense popularity from Southeast Asia to Africa, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.
Among the prolific creators in the Indian film industry is Bobby Bedi, a film producer from Mumbai*. His film, Bandit Queen, won critical acclaim at the Cannes Festival in 1994. The film broke the mold of mainstream Bollywood movies, and generated a fair share of controversy, portraying the plight of Phoolan Devi, a real life character who fought against the exploitation of India’s poorest. In 2003, he released The Rising, a historical epic on the rebellion of native soldiers serving under British rule in the late 19th Century. Bobby Bedi is also a strong advocate for the recognition and enforcement of intellectual property rights, as he explains in this interview with WIPO Magazine.
Your initial training was in the field of finance. What first attracted you to the film industry?
I had worked with Philips and Sony after my MBA so there had been a fair amount of exposure to the entertainment sector – albeit from the hardware side. Film is an industry where order needs to exist side by side with chaos – and the whole idea of bringing order in the lives of a bunch of “mad” people, and yet be able to create good stuff, was a challenge.
What highs and lows have you experienced as a filmmaker?
The success, critical or financial, can be a great high. Sometimes the two go off together. That is easily the best high and we experienced it with Bandit Queen and Saathiya. The lows are of course deep, long and frequent. As a filmmaker, one has to be “predictably” uncertain about one’s next act. It can be great or bad, but irrespective of the artistic quality, it can be rejected by the audience. That is the worst low – failure hitting you in one night after 15 months of work.
The Bandit Queen
Can you describe the creative process in producing a movie like the Bandit Queen?
In the Bandit Queen, we were very clear about the script. Farrukh Dhondy [the screenwriter] and I had worked on all the material to extract the story and script and to make sure the film was accurately captured in that script and vice versa.
The real treat was the magic that [the director] Shekhar Kapur created by converting a good hard hitting script into a “lethal blow in the solar plexus of the world.” It is when you see the film that you realize how many people contribute to converting an idea into a movie. And that it is the perfect harmony of these creative contributions – script, camera, sound, art, performances and direction – that creates a great film. Every time someone contributes to a film, it evolves. It really is in itself a gratifying process.
You have spoken out as a strong advocate of intellectual property (IP). What does IP mean to you as a filmmaker?
It is unreasonable to suggest that, just because my property is not made of metal, cement or fabric, but is of a creative kind, it is not worthy of being protected in the same way. Theft of IP is theft, and should be universally condemned.
The abuse of IP prevents the receiving of credit where credit is due, and cash where cash is due. How important is IP to me? Its main manifest is in piracy, which accounts for over 50 percent of the money I never make. It accounts for the money that criminals and terrorists use against me.
Tell us about the Mahabharata project
Illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra from the Mahabharata epic.
The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian epic with over 74,000 verses. There is no conflict or resolution known to mankind that is not reflected in the verses of the Mahabharata, no known personality or character trait that is missing, no relationship unexplored and no lesson untaught.
The project will include 150 one-hour long TV episodes, three films, mobile and PC gaming, picture books, animation, [toy] action figures and hopefully a live [theme park] experience. Our Mahabharata is a 360 degree vision that tries to engage with world audiences through all of the above.
The Mahabharata is conceived to do all of the above and in that order. The mere scope of the project reflects why IP is important to me. If my rights as a creator are not respected and enforced, it will be impossible to realize this formidable project.
India has the largest film industry in the world in terms of volume, but is frequently cited as generating less than 1 percent of global film revenues. What is the problem?
There are various reasons: purchasing power parity, low per capita income, cultural and linguistic diversity, taxes, lack of development – read this as making films that would be rejected due to problems encountered in the development stage – and a country that has been poor for too long. And finally – piracy.
What do you see as the reasons for film piracy in India?
Neither the public, nor the Government and law enforcing agencies genuinely believe this to be theft. It’s not lack of the law; it’s the frivolous way in which our law enforcers view IP theft.
What more should be done to promote the exploitation of IP in India’s film industry?
We need to be taught proper rights management and rights monetization.
Do you have a message for aspiring filmmakers?
Make movies. Make good movies.
*Mumbai was previously called Bombay, from which came the play on words with Hollywood to create the term Bollywood – used as an identifier of the Indian film industry as a whole.
Sylvie Castonguay, WIPO Magazine Editorial Staff, Communications and Public Outreach Division