For a very omnipotent title, what exactly does a producer do? The different tradesmen - writer, music director, or a light boy - have their job descriptions well defined and to some extent, (even if it doesn't often apply to the telugu film industry), even director has his duties laid out. But what does a producer have to produce, other than the obvious hard money out of thin air? If money is the only tangible asset brought into an otherwise intangible mixture of talents, abilities and skills that go into the making of a movie, what difference does it make if one deep pocketed supplier of money bags is replaced with another? Is producer just a glorified financier, someone who can pool resources to cause the production to run smooth and eventually see the sum total of all the efforts come to fruition. Ironically, as the movie production got more and more transparent from remaining an absolute mystery till not so long ago, where, now, even a layman could understand the intricate technicalities involved in movie making, the only (and the most important one of all) aspect that has become more hazy, more obscure and more uncontrollable is producing. Traditionally, the job never came with well defined rules, guiding principles and boundaries, and consequently, a producer, new to the trade, never knew what constituted the job and where it begun and ended. Had the film industry been any regular for-profit venture in the real world, for the kind of dismal success to investment (not just monies, but time, resources and talent) ratio been produced for the last two to three decades, it would have been bankrupt many times over, positively repelling any prospective investors.
It was never this bad to start with. In fact, it was exactly opposite to how it is now - organized, planned, and importantly, controlled, and it had nothing to do with the budgets, the cost of film-making or the latest technical advancements. All it took was a man with a whip and a vision, shepherding his herd along a pre-determined route. Quashing the oft held notion that movie making starts with shooting the movie and ends on the last day of it, visionary producers of yester years gave only a minor importance to the proceedings on the sets, while paying much attention to the groundwork that was done before the camera was even switched on. Technically, by the time the movie went to the production floor, every little detail had already been worked out, and the prospective obstacles and hurdles, accounted for. The writer came up with the idea and approached the producer, the duo then developed it further before bringing the director for further creative enhancements. After all the 3 creative heads came to a mutually agreeable point, the dialogue version of the script was commissioned. It was then split up into logical production units to assess the cost structure of the venture. At this point, the producer became the devil's advocate, arguing with the writer and director against his own ideas, extricating any extraneous items, retooling the existing structure, making the script tight and taut (this has the added advantage of making the editing process even simpler during the post production). The casting process followed and while the actors prepared for the roles, the creative heads got together once again for the music sessions. When the principal photography began, the director was ready to take on the reigns from the producer, armed with a refined shooting script, inclusive of all the musical segues. Owing to all the efforts in the pre-production, editing became a breeze, as everyone knew the length of the scene along with the content and intent. It is no exaggeration that the producer knew the fate of the movie even before it was released. So what role did a producer play back in golden age of telugu cinema? Everything, except may be during the shooting part.
And the result? "mAyabazAr" is a Vijaya movie, than an NTR's. "tODikoDaLLu" is an Annapoorna movie, than an ANR's. And the audiences recognized and went by the banners (and there by, the producers) more than for the people on the screen - Vauhini, Bharani, Prasad's, Gemini and the like.
The decline of the telugu film industry coincided (or, in fact directly related) to the growing greed of the producer. Seeking a quick buck and unwilling to put in any creative, artistic (and even to save his own investment, the commercial) effort upfront, the producer put the horse before the carriage and bet it all on the star power of his horse to see him through, right from the starting gates all the way to finish line. In this scenario, the writer, again, came up with the idea and the producer, by passing all the stepping stones in between, rushed to the star immediately for the dates, who then, chose his cast, his director and the start of his movie. The producer didn't know the drawbacks of the story (which might had called for the start of a chase sequence in Kashmir and ended in Kanyamkumari), he had no idea how much finance to secure to see through the entire project, and had no say or control whatsoever, in the day to day proceedings of the production. By the time the movie was released and completed (and there is even a big IF in that statement somewhere), the producer was in no position to assess the merits and demerits of the movie. If the movie clicked at the box office, for the same reason as to why it wouldn't at some other time - UNKNOWN - he would thank/curse his stars, and depending on his wherewithal at that point, would return to repeat the same faulty procedure as above, in a bid to add to/recoup his earlier production costs, all this while, learning nothing. In just a brief span of 10-15 years, it was as though the industry had completely forgotten its foundations, ditched its operating rules, procedures and guidelines and ultimately dug its own grave.
The star should never be faulted here, as he was only cashing his craze making his hay, while the limelight still beckoned upon him. The rest of the creative and technical crew could not be blamed for being opportunists, as they were only trying to make use of the chance to cement their positions. The plight of the present day producer, though pitiable, is squarely of his own doing, blinded by the greed and glamor that came along with the position. And the big 'art vs commerce' debate hasn't even entered the picture yet.
Even more than a director, it is the producer who has to don many hats, siding with the business aspect of the movie when the artistic side tries to run over, and propping the art side when commerciality threatens to sideline it. Even more than a director, it is the producer who should be able to envision the whole movie, even before it is made. And his job description is assembling the right people who could bring his vision to fruition. In this business, where good efforts do not automatically translate into successful results, the producer should have the capacity and the capability to rebound from his failures, not just to recover his costs, but to continue making his brand of movies (artistic or commercial). A producer should be knowledgeable enough to impart business knowledge to the creative side, and have the acumen to show the business side, the artistic way of doing things. The producer should be a heartless miser, in the face of extravagance, and large hearted, when taking care of the needs of his team. For a period of over a decade, from the early 80s to the early 90s, only one name fit that bill, only one person, who was unfazed by the then dominant and prevalent star system, made movies in a way they were meant to be made, and made movies that were remembered long after. Whatever his movies lacked in budget, they more than made up for it in content and impact. For more than decade, it didn't matter who the actors were, who the director was and who the crew were, as long as the film was branded by that vanity credit "A film by the Usha Kiron unit".
continued in the part 2
Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article.