PK, coming towards the end of the year, has perked up spirits in tinsel town after a rather lacklustre year. The box office (Hindi films only) is at best stagnant at last year’s figure of around Rs 3,000 crore. This, in spite of a string of super hits – both large extravaganzas (Kick, Happy New Year, Bang Bang etc) as well as smaller, edgy films (Ek Villain, Queen, Ragini MMS 2, etc.) doing great business. If it was the Rs 100 crore club last year, it’s the Rs 200 crore club this year and who knows PK might create the Rs 300 crore club. What is interesting is the diversity of the successful films from Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, Hansal Mehta’s Citylights to Abhishek Verma’s 2 States, Sajid Nadiadwala’s Kick and Omung Kumar’s Mary Kom.
Although Bollywood has had more than its share of flops this year, the mood remains upbeat. Swanky new multiplexes continue to attract hordes of people, specially youngsters, week after week. Ancillary rights like satellite TV, DTH, home video, digital downloads are beginning to contribute significantly to a film’s earnings even as music rights (actually digital downloads and ringtones) are once again fetching good returns.
What makes this year exciting is that success has not come to one genre or star or even budget. This diversity is giving a new resurrection to creativity but the defining trend of the year is the advent of a generational change in Bollywood. Young and spunky filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Bahl, Vikramditya Motwane, Mohit Suri, Ritesh Batra, Abhishek Chaubey and Ayan Mukherji are willing to push the envelope. Even the younger stars like Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar, Arjun Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Alia Bhatt and others are willing to move into the penumbra of creative expression.
The problem is that there are just too many attractions chasing the same eyeballs. Leisure options from TV, internet, gaming, amusement parks to hangouts like Café Coffee Day and Starbucks, all want a share of the same wallet. Even in a 24x7 world there is this only so much you can consume. Or afford. We are the largest producers of movies (1,200+) in the world but we are a hopelessly under screened market (less than 1,200 screens). We have high capital costs and poor infrastructure. We also have vestiges of a long, outdated system of tradeparts of which are still clinging onto the modern corporate stuctures. Two other major problems are poor scripts and a rotten star system. While every other branch of cinema has seen the advent of new attitudes and approaches to work the stars (and wannabes) are doing the same what their predecessors did 50 years ago and often more greedily. In no other film industry do the star salaries account for 50 to 70 per cent of the budget like they do in India. Large retinues, chartered planes, and unreasonable demands from hapless producers have sent production costs soaring.
If our top stars want to imitate Hollywood then they must also realise that however big a star, he cannot once the film starts, just on a whim leave the sets to shoot a commercial, or to do a show, attend a cricket match. All stars are bound by strict completion bonds and insurance covenants. In India, star tantrums and personal interests always come before a film. This is not tenable. The other sad part is that today’s top stars live in isolation and rarely work with the industry bodies to solve the industry problems (this despite the fact that nearly all of them are producers themselves). This malaise requires a rethink.
The other problem is that there is an acute shortage of good scripts because not enough time and money is invested in them. No film industry can survive on remakes and sequels. We need to invest in new writing talent and some time in catching up with world and our own literature and cinema. I find a large section of today’s industry far less read and informed than those of the earlier generations. If one film clicks everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon of that genre. In any case, not enough time is spent in writing or revision of scripts.
We also tend to be imitative. See what is happening to promotion. The same redundant routine is followed by cast and crew of every film: the same first look revelation, the same press interactions, the same news channel interviews, the same visits to reality shows and cinemas. Little realising that there is very little to prove that any of this actually helps a film. There is hardly any positioning differentiator or real innovation. Just because one filmmaker or star has gone a particular promotional route others must follow? Crores of rupees go down the drain.
Similarly, stars imitate each other and follow up what they believe is the path to fame often rubbing the rest of the industry’s nose to the ground. Producers and directors waste crores on reccees and location hunts that it makes a mockery of any planning. On most shoots you find an army of vanity vans and countless hangers on mooching on producers' expense. This has to stop. And not surprisingly most films end up going beyond their budget!
The other important thing to do is to tap newer markets overseas. There is no reason why we cannot double our export income in three years. In India, we have to lobby with the central and state governments for cinema friendly laws so that we can increase the number of screens by at least 100 per cent in the coming three years. In future, 60 per cent of a film’s revenue must accrue from streams like TV and online rights, product placements, and digital downloads, video-on-demand and merchandising. The much-talked about overseas market is expanding by the week. A small but acclaimed film like The Lunchbox (marketed by Sony Pictures Classic) has earned more than $20 million in overseas. We must tap the non-traditional markets aggressively.
We’re standing on the cusp of a major change. With an economy on the mend and a lot of new money flowing in, it is up to Bollywood to seize the opportunity. Fortunately, as more multiplexes screens open up and non-theatrical revenues rise even niche films will find an audience. As we are already witnessing with films of different genres and budgets doing well. In fact, creativity in a way gives an unfair advantage to the talented even in a market driven scenario. To exploit their USP, filmmakers must keep their target audience in mind while they make and market their films.
Bollywood, forget the fake awards and smell the coffee.
Have a sparkling 2015!