A new kind of talent endorsement! (Column: B-Town)

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) enters the Indian entertainment sphere. Among its other activities in the cause of recognising and promoting the medium, BAFTA is more commonly known for its film awards, and is considered to be a precursor to America’s Oscars. Though the Indian chapter was announced in November last year, the jury has been announced only now.

BAFTA’s India initiative, Breakthrough India, will identify and support new talent in creative fields of cinema, television and games.

In the film industry, credentials go a long way towards earning recognition. For example, earlier, which maker launched an actor mattered, whom a director assisted meant a lot before he earned his break and so on. You could not just parachute drop into filmmaking. A big production house or a film director were considered like an institution, and learning on the job was the norm.

Then came the system of film institutes. They sprang up all over but the Film And Television Institute of India (FTII), based in Pune, promoted by the Government of India, was the premier choice of the aspirants wanting to be in filmmaking.

Earlier, technicians, directors, cinematographers, and editors learnt their craft on the job, training under or assisting one or the other established names. If one was an assistant to Raj Kapoor, Raj Khosla, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and such respected masters of their craft, that was endorsement enough, and qualified one to be assigned work independently. Coming up this way was like passing through a grind mill.

The FTII changed all that as some, if not all, aspirants were trained at the Institute, as it started churning out actors, directors and other technicians, ready to make film careers. Oddly, most of those trained for film direction, though getting a good start, failed to make the mark. The faculty that gave many successful candidates was the acting.

A horde of acting graduates were able to carve out successful careers and many names still adorn film credit titles — Shatrughan Sinha, Mithun Chakraborty, Danny, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Asrani, Anil Dhawan, Navin Nischol, Vijay Arora, Shakti Kapoor, Kiran Kumar, Subhash Ghai, Jaya Bhaduri, Shabana Azmi, Zarina, Rehana Sultan, Rameshwari, Ranjeeta, Reeta Bhaduri and many others came ready to make their careers in acting.

Strangely, a lot of directors who graduated from the FTII, did not enjoy the same success as actors as they could not deliver the goods. Although they may have won awards, they just did not have the bend for commercial films. A great lot of good actors also came to films from the National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi.

The FTII tag had its season but then came the era of launching the scions of film families. If you were the son of Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Dharmendra, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar and so on, you had brand equity. Since, in most cases, these scions’ films were bankrolled by the family funds, the break was easier for them. This trend still continues.

While, many film actors, directors and producers may have wanted their sons to take up acting or even direction, surprisingly not many wanted them to take up film production for that was the toughest field to work in, with a lot of hard work and risk. Acting, luck permitting, was a lucrative field, with monies flowing in only one direction!

There was also a time when popular awards meant a lot for an actor as it added to his acceptance graph. They were called popular awards because there was supposed to be a public participation in the selection of the nominees and, eventually, the final winner. The awards, however, did not make much difference to a film’s box office because they came much after a film’s theatrical run.

Now these same awards don’t enjoy the credibility it did earlier, when the whole film fraternity trusted them. Although these awards did not launch careers, they were a help for furthering one. I remember when Govinda was a newcomer with just one or two nondescript assignments on hand, though unknown in the film fraternity, he was asked to perform a dance routine at one of these popular awards that the Who’s Who of the film industry attended.

That one performance launched Govinda into stardom as he went on a signing spree. A non-entity, Govinda was asked to perform on a stage where legends like Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar as well as winning music composers of the year performed. His dancing talent worked for him.

Sadly, now instead of promoting filmstars and technicians, these award function promote sponsors and distribute awards like confetti.

Now the scope of the entertainment industry has widened so much and includes films along with television and OTT. It has become easier for filmmakers to spot talent. The small screen-big screen barrier has been broken, and talents from both platforms are interchangeable.

One doesn’t know if it is a good thing for the emerging talent that some of these talents will be chosen by Breakthrough India for stamp of approval. A jury has been formed to spot the talent. Earlier, the target was five persons but considering that Indian entertainment industry is so vast, 10 persons will be chosen now. To be announced shortly, those chosen will be provided mentoring and guidance, besides other benefits — something like a student earning a scholarship to study abroad and getting other benefits.

The jury members include AR Rahman, Anupam Kher, Mira Nair, Monika Shergill, Shonali Bose, and Siddharth Roy Kapur — all related to filmmaking activities — besides Krishnendu Majumdar (BAFTA chair and TV producer) and Charu Desodt (erstwhile BAFTA games producer). A curious mix. Also, the process and the selections made will throw more light on the purpose and utility of the exercise once announced. Since the whole concept is about honouring creativity, one would also wait to see how it is defined. Netflix, the OTT streaming platform, is the backer of this initiative but it happens to be one of about four dozen OTT players in India at present.

BAFTA Breakthrough, as the description goes, ‘showcases and supports the next generation creative talent in film, television and games’. The kind of next generation in the Indian way of filmmaking has been detailed above. How far this Breakthrough endorsement helps those selected, as well as the entertainment industry, remains to be seen.

After all, film and television especially, and the entertainment industry overall, are teamwork professions.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)