As 2015 ends, there will be lists galore that would argue how, once again, it were the small or the mid-range films, rather than the expected big-ticket entertainers that not only entertained the viewer more but also barely missed the mark when it came to the box-office.
This trend has been in play for a few years now and everyone, especially the trade pundits, are aware of this. The thing that stood out in 2015 was how the sure shot A-List hit was no longer a certainty. If 2014 was the year when woman-centric films came of age (Queen, Mary Kom, Bobby Jasoos and Mardaani) and indie emerged from the sidelines (Sulemani Keeda, Ankhon Dekhi), then it would be safe to say that 2015 was the year that might push the typical big-budget extravaganzas to take a relook at their strategy.
In a list of the year’s standout films that isn’t based on only box-office collections, one can see how only a handful are the so-called big releases - Baby, Badlapur, Qissa, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, NH 10, Court, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Dil Dhadkne Do, Baahubali, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Masaan, Dhrisyam, Welcome Back, Talvar, Titli, and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.
Bahubaali, being a dubbed film might not technically qualify as a Hindi film. Even with it's inclusion and the year’s last two big releases - Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani, both of which have fallen short of expectations – the case for big films missing the mark is quite strong.
Unlike the last decade where smaller films consistently performed better, the manner in which a shadow of doubt has now surrounded the invincibility of the typical-Bollywood-Hindi-film-with-stars being a hit might make some sit up and take stock.
Also, the pointlessness of the supposed swanky productions such as a Shaandaar or a Singh is Bliing that fell flat made the case stronger. Even though Singh is Bliing netted a whopping Rs 90 crore and sits pretty in the top-10 grossers, it’s far from the kind of success one would imagine when thinking of top stars.
The other aspect that sticks out when looking at these big films that failed this year is the cost-to-income ratio, which, incidentally, is also the very reason why trade favours them over everything else.
Take the case of Singh is Bliing. Even with a collection of almost Rs 100 crore, the film is a "flop" because to be a hit it should make at least twice it’s investment, which in this case happens to be around Rs 90 crore as well. So, typically, a film like Singh is Bliing ought to have made more than Rs 200 crore to breakeven.
By the same logic, a Bombay Velvet (budget Rs 120 crore approximately) should have made almost Rs 300 crore instead of the Rs 30-35 crore that it managed to make. Compare this to a Tanu Weds Manu Returns (Rs 240 crore at the box-office over Rs 39 crore budget), Piku (Rs 79 crore at the box-office over Rs 35 crore budget) or NH10 (Rs 33 crore at the box-office over Rs 13 crore. budget) appear to be better bets.
Apart from being an uneconomical business model, the formulaic big budget films are beginning to look jaded and their stars tired. Earlier a star would try doing a smallish film every now and then to keep the freshness alive but the business has changed to such an extent that as soon as a star, irrespective of stature, is signed on, the project becomes big.
Considering the narrative, there is no reason for a film like Gabbar is Back to have a budget of approximately Rs 70 crore or Drishyam to cost over Rs 60 crore or Bombay Velvet over Rs 200 crore. But the presence of stars elevates the entire production cost. Unless this notion changes, this genre might cease to be a sustainable proposition on such a scale going forward.
Of course, when it does work, it works beyond expectations – Bajrani Bhaijaan (Rs 600 crore and counting) and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (Rs 430 crore and counting) - perhaps that’s why Rs 100 crore-plus budgets are a common phenomenon and the number of such films might not reduce any time soon. While the star might not chuck the template, the good thing is that he/she is now ready to at least experiment within its realm.
In Fan, Shah Rukh Khan combines the allure of his stardom along with an intriguing role where he plays his own biggest fan. In Dangal, Aamir Khan plays a real-life wrestler who coaches his daughters. R Balki’s Ki And Ka explores gender roles in today’s society where Kareena Kapoor plays a working woman to Arjun Kapoor’s stay-at-home-husband.
In Jai Gangaajal, Priyanka Chopra plays a tough cop who guns for the local MLA. With the proliferation of the smaller, indie films and stars shifting gears, the audience finally seems to be getting the best of both worlds.