Trade Tutor: How Bollywood became complacent and is it becoming irrelevant for audiences?
Trade Tutor Vishek Chauhan discusses how most of Bollywood's audience has shifted to watching South Indian movies and Hollywood movies
22 year old Lalit is an avid movie watcher and he prefers to watch on the big screen. He saw Spiderman: No Way Home four times. Today, I opened advances for Dr Strange and he booked the first day first show. He is a hardcore Marvel Fan and can tell you crazy trivia that would make Mr Feige proud. On the other hand, 37 year old Anshuman, another movie buff, swears by south films. He has watched KGF2 seven times in my theatre and had loved RRR and Pushpa. He argues that Bollywood isn’t the same anymore and makes films that do not excite him as an audience. There are many like Lalit and Anshuman, across the hindi belt that Bollywood has lost out on.
Since, Movie theatres opened in August post the Delta wave. Bollywood’s track record at the ticket counters has been pathetic to say the least. Barring Sooryavanshi nothing seemed to work across the territories. 83 and Gangubai Kathiwadi managed decent numbers but didn’t work across as the content wasn’t universally appealing. The last few weeks have been disastrous to say the least and what has rubbed salt in the wounds is the tremendous success of RRR and KGF2. The latter just might hit the 400cr mark in Hindi, that no hindi film has ever done. Today, the hindi film industry finds itself alienated from its core audiences as there is a clear cut disconnect. It seems as if Bollywood isn’t able to read the pulse of the audiences and keeps dishing out films that no one wants to watch in theatres.
Over the last 12-13 years Bollywood has gradually shifted from making Universal films to niche films. The growth of the national chains, especially in the metros and bigger cities aided this process immensely. The belief in Mumbai was that multiplex films are the future and this led to the rise of some filmmakers that thrived on making niche films. These film makers were hailed as the new generation heroes and were given enormous budgets and tremendous casts. Most of them tanked but the belief had set in and massy popular cinema was looked down upon. A big budget content driven film failing was the fault of the film but a massy film failing was due to the genre being dead. Most stars, even the action heroes, shifted gears and started doing niche films and found success in the urban pockets. Young actors didn’t want to be stars and started experimenting too early before building an audience. The result being that a star driven industry diluted its existing stars and forgot to create new stars.
Content also started becoming niche and even more niche. Studios bankrolled proposals and absorbed all the losses. It became all too easy at some point and many films made money even before a single ticket was sold. Theatrical wasn’t needed and that made most filmmakers clumsy. The pressure of the box-office keeps filmmakers on their toes and if you could circumvent it and still make money, it is bliss!
The whole atmosphere in Bollywood turned elitist. A cozy nexus of studios, upmarket producers and national chains became the mainstay of the Hindi Film Industry. The top bosses who mattered were all English speaking educated elites who didn’t understand small town India. This led to more elitist content being green lighted and with the grace of satellite and digital, they made money too. The sensibility of Bollywood changed from a national industry to an elitist industry. Even when it tried to make massy films it made them with contempt and most importantly without conviction.
Theatrical medium has an audience potential of 3-5 crores for a Blockbuster. That constitutes only 3%-4% of the population. Bollywood started targeting 1-1.5 crore footfalls if the film hit the mark and if it didn’t, it had no safety net of star power or franchise. Theatrical medium needs to be universal and need to target the whole audience to get maximum footfalls at the theatres. As an industry, they forgot to make large scale escapist cinema and when we did, there was no conviction. An industry can be either franchise driven or star driven. Bollywood took the other route and is paying the price. Today, a major issue with Bollywood that no one talks about is the lack of connect with the young audience and that audience is majorly shifting towards Hollywood. Loyalty can be created through brands and Bollywood isn’t building them anymore. Still relying on 90’s stars to do the heavy lifting won’t help the cause. Even the film makers in Bollywood aren’t capable enough of dishing out Pan India films barring a few as the whole atmosphere has turned niche. The young feel that Bollywood isn’t ‘cool enough’ anymore and it doesn’t connect with them as it dishes content that is preachy and dull for them.
Bollywood today finds itself in a very tough position. As South and Hollywood both are breathing down its neck. Its core audience is shifting to other industries and its perception is taking a beating. It needs to desperately start making big universal films and belt out big hits. It needs to capture the imagination of the youth and impress the masses, as they were its loyalists. The audience its chasing is the Saturday and Sunday audience that turns up in theatres after reading upmarket critic reviews and their loyalty lies with content. It needs that morning show crowds back , it needs the masses back and it desperately needs the single screens to fire. I am waiting!!