If you are in the media and entertainment (M&E) business in India or want to understand it, then Ficci's Frames, held annually in Mumbai in March, is the place to be.
This year 2,000 people walked in on March 16, or day one. Most came back over the three days of the conference.
I have been attending Frames since it began, about 10 years ago, and have enjoyed every single year. It is simply the best forum if you want to meet everyone in the business, under one roof.
Over the years many things changed -- the length (from half a day to three), the geographic spread (it is now held in Chennai as well), and the number of foreign delegates (roughly one-fifth now).
In many ways it reflects the growth of the $16 billion M&E business in India and the rising interest of Indians and the rest of the world, in it.
There are however three things that haven't changed -- the filmi influence on the event, its tepid content and its time management. If Frames has to move on to the next level then Ficci needs to work hard on these.
Take each of them. One, the event remains a predominantly film-based affair. That doesn't mean it doesn't discuss other industries, it does. It means that the faces and personalities that come to the fore remain those from the film industry. For instance, Yash Chopra has been chairman of the Ficci Entertainment Committee for several years now.
The stars and directors, especially from Hindi films, are the face of the event. So there will always be one actress (who is not asked to say anything), Yash Chopra, and a few others who are the fixtures on the stage on day one. Nothing wrong with that.
However, the fact remains that TV, which forms roughly 40 per cent of the M&E pie, is very badly represented on this forum. There is publishing, the second-largest chunk, that barely gets mentioned. There will be some sad session on regional media or a senior editor might be called to talk.
This year it was M J Akbar. But there were no discussion on any part of the print business and TV had fewer sessions than films. This is not just about the number of sessions; it is about the focus of the organisers.
If Frames has to be relevant to the market place and to where the money is flowing, then other segments need to be better represented.
Maybe getting a popular TV star to do the decorative number -- lighting the lamp, looking pretty -- may help. At least it will tell TV firms, among the biggest sponsors of Frames, that this is also about other industries.
The second thing that remains constant is the mediocrity of the content. You could easily substitute one year's programme schedule for the next year, shift the speakers and lo and behold, you have the Frames content code.
So many of the speakers (usually the Indian ones) end up making corporate presentations and/or speaking way beyond their time. You could argue that this happens at all conferences. Maybe. But it leaves no time for a discussion or for taking the whole point forward. This leaves many in the audience who pay to attend Frames (like yours truly), feeling a little cheated.
You just wish that someone had spent time thinking through what was being discussed. Some of this can be corrected by designing the content better, choosing good speakers and getting moderators who can spark a discussion.
The third thing that remains constant is Frames' abysmal time-keeping. Nothing begins or ends on time. Again, this happens to most conferences in India, but with a rising number of foreign delegates, it induces some cringe-worthy moments.
I saw Martin Sorrell, chairman of WPP, waiting in a corner for his turn to speak, while an earlier session just went on and on. Lawrence Bender, a Hollywood producer (Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Bastards), even made some crack on stage about how things don't seem to start on time.
Maybe Ficci could spend some time fixing these hygiene issues, instead of trying to get the biggest stars to light the lamp.
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar