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How Indian cinema went global after liberalization


PV Narasimha Rao’s LPG changed many of the rules for Indian cinema. The latest technology became more easily accessible, the stranglehold of loan sharks and the underworld was loosened, several new avenues for commercial exploitation of a film’s potential opened up, and even the movie-going experience changed.

Our Correspondent

This has been a tumultuous year for the Indian economy. History will probably record it as the year of demonetization. But 2016 was not the first year in which India saw momentous economic change. A tectonic shift had taken place a quarter century earlier, when a decrepit politician on the verge of retirement and a retired bureaucrat turned novice politician took charge of the doddering economy and turned India around from its Socialist past to an open-market future.

The liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation programme, LPG for short, helmed by prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and finance minister Manmohan Singh succeeded in turning the country back from the brink of economic ruin. It freed up Indian entrepreneurship and allowed the country to compete in the global marketplace. Among the beneficiaries of this process of unshackling was Indian cinema.

In the first flush of Independence Indian cinema saw a golden age, with socially committed filmmakers and artistes producing some enduring classics, often in collaboration with litterateurs. But as India lost its way economically and politically in the 1970s and 1980s, so did Indian cinema, degrading to mindless entertainment. The socially committed filmmakers remained, but they were now relegated to the sidelines with the pejorative ‘art’ attached to them. The divide between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ was complete.

Narasimha Rao’s LPG changed many of the rules for Indian cinema. The latest technology became more easily accessible, the stranglehold of loan sharks and the underworld was loosened, several new avenues for commercial exploitation of a film’s potential opened up, and even the movie-going experience changed.

The purists may yet lament that we have nothing comparable to a Guru Dutt, a V Shantaram or a Bimal Roy, and musically the past still endures beyond the present, but technically Indian cinema is now comparable to the best of the world, the divide between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ has narrowed, and many filmmakers even in the ‘commercial’ space are now willing to take risks and tackle new subjects.

In a special report spread over three parts, we examine some facets of the changes that have come about since that historic year 1991. Hope you find the series worthwhile. We would love to hear from you.

When liberalization changed film production and distribution in India

Tech improvement after 1991 was no illusion