“Arthouse or commercial?”

There you go. Pigeonholing starts from the day you conceive a film and reveal your idea to a friend. There isn’t any shade of grey available. It has to be black or white.

You would hope that this is a layman’s view on cinema. But you will be surprised to see most insiders too resorting to such stereotyping. As a filmmaker, I struggled initially with this concept. Then I tried hard that my movie doesn’t get either of the labels. Finally, I completely ignored this notion and that was the wisest thing to do. Why even worry about a categorization that you don’t believe in?

Really, how does one define “parallel” or “mainstream” – specially at the production stage?

If “parallel” means ‘realistic’, no cinema is realistic. Cinema works like a magician’s trick. A perception is created using images and sound. A filmmaker tries hard to present to the viewer the vision he has in his mind. His vision is never fully represented because of several constraints of filmmaking. But he tries to get as close as possible. He does not aim to achieve reality. ‘Realism’ is used, just as a magician does, only to trick a viewer so that he ‘feels’ the movie and not just ‘sees’ and ‘hears’ it. You don’t have background score in real life. So why then adding a song makes a film “commercial”? A song is as much a part of sound design (and in some cases visual design) of a film as is the background score.

Some say that films which are made for festivals are “arthouse”. I find it difficult to imagine that any filmmaker will set out to restrict his film to festival audience only. Filmmaking is one hell of a job. It not only requires extraordinary diligence and patience, it puts enormous strain on your finances and relationships too, particularly if you are new to the game. Who would not want the outcome to be seen and appreciated by many after all that?

The terms ‘mainstream’ and ‘parallel’ represent two extremes of audience-centric and filmmaker-centric films respectively. Any random film will sit somewhere in this spectrum and very rarely at any of the end-points. So in reality it’s almost always a shade of grey.

It eventually comes down to the balance a filmmaker settles at between what he has to offer and what he thinks the audience will like. Or the degree to which a filmmaker surrenders to his perception of what the public wants. Now the fact that he could go wrong with feeling the public’s pulse is a different matter. Each filmmaker is different in where he strikes this balance. As the audience evolves with time, what they like and what the filmmaker has to offer aren’t always very different from one-another.

What the audience like in films depends on a number of factors:

– star(s)
– story
– presentation
– production value
– genre
– other factors intrinsic to the film (that might be escaping me now)

And finally there is this extrinsic factor ‘nothing succeeds like success’.

Of the intrinsic factors, stars and production value have a huge impact on the purse. The extrinsic ‘buzz’ factor is increasingly being controlled by marketing these days. Naturally therefore films leaning towards the ‘mainstream’ side of the scale are big budget films by big studios who can take care of all the factors which makes a film ‘likely to be’ liked by majority of the audience.

We are however entering an era where smart filmmaking is increasingly being rewarded. It’s about playing to your strengths in the areas you can control and mitigating risks associated with areas you cannot influence. And that gives one hope that everything after all is not just about money.

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