Monday, March 18, 2013

TOIFA, payola, and the straw that broke Filmi Girl's back...


We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business.

-Vineet Jain, managing director, Times Group as quoted in the article “Citizen Jains” by Ken Auletta from the October 8, 2012 issue of The New Yorker

My friends, I am not a naive person. I recognize that there is a certain level of corruption built into any entertainment industry. Whether it’s stars selling their image to advertisers for buckets of cash - yes, even “serious” Hollywood actors, who just to go to Japan or Europe to do it - or starlets (male and female) earning an audition on their backs. When power, money, desperation, and greed all come together, the mixture can be rather disgusting.

I mean, I live in Washington, DC. I should know, right?

But I had no idea to what extent payola and media consolidation had permeated what we may as well call the Bollywood Industrial Complex until I started looking a little closer at the scandal and lack of scandal surrounding the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA). Why was the English language press, so outraged at every slight against a Indian actor at an American airport, remaining silent on “ethnic-gate”? Why weren’t the allegations put forward by Vancouver Desi about TOIFA insisting on no South Asian staff acknowledged? Or picked up by any other news organization? Usually the tabloids are happy to send the rumors flying round and round, especially if there is chance of real scandal and outrage. (More page clicks!)

And why do I care? I’m neither living in British Columbia, where this is all going down, nor am I of South Asian background.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Here is the story so far, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Vancouver, Canada was widely rumored to be hosting the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) this year. Instead, it was announced that Vancouver would be hosting a new awards show sponsored by the Times Group. In April. The Times of India Awards.

With me so far? Here’s where it gets messy. A 17 page internal memo detailing the ruling party’s “multicultural strategic outreach plan” of gaining “easy votes” by pandering to minority groups was leaked to the press. And guess what one of the prime tentpoles in this pandering was going to be - the Times of India Film Awards.

The Globe & Mail tracked down a spokesperson for Wizcraft who had this to say:

Sabbas Joseph, a spokesman for the International Indian Film Academy Awards, said provincial government officials made a “request that was almost a demand” that the glitzy awards take place ahead of the provincial election scheduled for May 14.

“We were very clear that it wouldn’t happen before the election,” Mr. Joseph, a founding director of Wizcraft International Entertainment, said in an interview from Mumbai.

It seems pretty clear that the B.C. government has committed a figure somewhere between $9-11 million dollars (depending on the news report) on a sop to South Asian voters.

At the very least it’s an extreme misuse of taxpayer money and B.C. residents are really not happy about it.

It also reveals the very lazy way that white government officials in places like Canada, America, Australia, etc. think about their minority populations.

Shachi Kurl put it best in an op-ed for the Vancouver Sun:

What exactly do these outreach strategists, including the premier’s, think of voters who come from non-Judeo-Christian cultural backgrounds? That they are sheep? That the endorsement of one so-called community leader at a government announcement automatically persuades all? That they have no individual minds or values of their own?

Nor did these outreach strategists take into account that the “ethnic” vote they were hoping to reach was mostly Punjabi, who would probably prefer to see their own stars rather than the Hindi ones booked for TOIFA.

And then there were the pay to play auditions for dancers.

Organizers froze out Surrey - home to large number of South Asians - until that was leaked to the public.

And, finally, today’s story about how TOFIA didn’t want South Asian staff at the event because of fears that they would be “too starstruck.”

What was the purpose of these awards again? To gain votes from the “ethnic” community?

Seriously, though, what is the purpose of these awards, since, clearly, the Times Group doesn’t see its mission as community outreach in the diaspora and there has been not even a whiff of critical appeal.

Who is making the money? The stars (including Shahrukh Khan) hired to attend? The Times Group owned news outlets (including Filmfare Magazine, iDiva, Femina, Grazia, Times of India, Economic Times, Times Now, ZoomTV, and Radio Mirchi) who will (presumably) have a monopoly on content coming from the event? Or is it the Times Group’s own event planning subsidiary - a direct competitor with WizCraft, who puts on IIFA?

The deeper I fell into the Times Group swamp, the more everything started to stink. The organized system of payola that keeps dimbulbs and no-talents like Poonam Pandey and Jackky Bhagnani in the “entertainment news;” the pressure on women’s magazines to keep their contents inane and full of diet and skin lightening tips because Times Group pollsters found that it’s mostly men who buy them and men don’t want their women getting “ideas;” film producers held hostage to what could only be called extortionist demands - you no pay, we pretend your movie don’t exist.

And that’s JUST the entertainment news!

So, of course nobody is going to cover the disgusting saga of the TOIFA because they can’t. Nobody stars except maybe the Three Khans can afford to be blacklisted by Filmfare and no journalists want to chance getting blacklisted by all of the Times Group or even sued for libel!

Well, I have no desire to be actor, director, item girl, scriptwriter, nor transcriber of “advertisal” interviews with Shazahn Padamsee.

I’m drawing my little line in the sand.

I love heroes and heroines but I’ve come to loathe the manufactured gasbags who populate the films of the Bollywood Industrial Complex exactly as much as the ones who populate the Hollywood Industrial Complex. Finally, something is on par with Hollywood.

I’m no Pollyanna who expects a perfectly fair and non-profit film industry to emerge but they’ve gone too far. I mean, in the end it doesn’t really matter if Rishi Kapoor pushes to get Ranbir a debut if Ranbir has the talent to back it up. (He does.) But I think it does matter to have an unelected, unaccountable corporation with this much power of the information people receive - and making money off of their ignorance.

This isn’t about an awards ceremony - everybody knows those are all just fluff anyways, yes, even the Oscars - but about what’s not being said.

I know it’s not just India. America has nearly identical problems with a few media companies exerting a lot of power over the information that gets out.

And look how well that has worked out for us.

(Clean coal and pink slime, anyone?)

Look, I write about films because I love them. I love stories; I love razzle-dazzle; I love forgetting my little life for a few hours and becoming part of an audience, swept up into a heightened world. That’s never going to change.

But I think the Bollywood Industrial Complex really needs to take a second look at the corporate business practices they’re swiping from Hollywood and start treating audiences like people instead of a collection of consumers. If I want a movie trying to sell me an upscale, consumer-product filled life, I’ll watch a Hollywood film. The theater is closer and the movie will have better production values.

1 comment:

Moimeme said...

You tell 'em, Filmi Girl! Way to go!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl