Kinship networks have always mattered in the film industry in Bombay. As Tejaswini Ganti’s ethnographic accounts of the industry have shown, kinship serves as the most important “principle of organization and hierarchy within the industry” and that it “functions as cultural capital, symbolic capital, and a form of risk-management or insurance within the industry.” Every aspect of the film business, including the crucial activity of tracking a film’s revenues, determining its box office success or failure, and developing an understanding of the “audience,” relies on a web of personal contacts and relationships developed over a long period of time.
Is this the case today? Do families matter in post-1998 (when the government granted “industry” status to filmmaking) Bollywood Inc.? Consider this opening paragraph of an article in Mint which provides an overview of who the major players are (link):
Over the next two years, India’s film industry will actually start functioning like one. In this period, business groups and companies such as Network 18, the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-Adag) , UTV Motion Pictures Plc., Percept Holdings, Carving Dreams Entertainment Ltd, Eros International Plc. and Saregama India Ltd have lined up between 120 and 140 projects at a total cost of around Rs. 4,000 crore.
It is striking to note that large, established, family-run production banners like Yashraj Films and Rajshri Media are not even mentioned here. Of course, personal relationships continue to determine who gets plum acting breaks, a chance to direct a big budget film, and so on. At the end of the day, surnames like Kapoor and Khan do matter. But it is no longer possible to ignore the establishment of a network of social relationships defined not in terms of kinship, but through new circuits of capital. More from the Mint article:
The Indian Film Co. and UTV Motion Pictures raised around Rs. 450 crore and Rs. 300 crore, respectively, from the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market earlier this year. And Prime Focus Ltd and K Sera Sera Productions Ltd raised around Rs150 crore and Rs60 crore, respectively, from the Indian stock markets last year. Executives in the entertainment industry say that while funding matters, companies are moving to a studio model to address issues such as shortage of talent, rising demand for content, better cinema (or exhibition) infrastructure and emerging revenue generation opportunities.
The shift from mercantile capital (often, tax-sheltered “black” money) to what everyone likes to call a “corporatized” funding model is, however, only a part of the picture. The other key transition involves the development of television, mobile phones, and the Web as significant revenue streams. To be sure, established banners like Yashraj and Rajshri are responding creatively to these shifts and have even led the way forward in some respects. But it is abundantly clear that media execs like Ronnie Screwvala (UTV) are the ones restructuring the institutional framework of the film industry and Bollywood families have little choice but to keep up and figure out where they belong in the mix.