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Beyond boycott calls, Hindi cinema going through content crisis- Cinema express

Beyond boycott calls, Hindi cinema going through content crisis

Trade experts talk about what sort of content people are responding to, why there is a hate campaign against Hindi film industry and how actors’ fees impact business

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Published: 18th August 2022

The Hindi film industry is being associated with a new word these days: boycott. Since the release of Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, Twitter has been rife with hashtags urging people to “save money” and not watch the film. Videos of Aamir’s seemingly “hinduphobic” scenes from PK (2014) are being shared. A 2015 clip, where he talks about his then-wife Kiran Rao thinking of leaving the country because of rising intolerance, makes the rounds. Even an actor like Hrithik Roshan, who is rarely part of any controversy, became a target of the boycott brigade after he praised Aamir’s film, and #BoycottVikramVedha started trending. Of late, memes are being shared against Arjun Kapoor for saying that the film fraternity “made a mistake” by keeping silent against the trolls. Another campaign, #BoycottPathaanMovie, is also trending.

Numbers scarcely lie in the film business. Aamir gave Hindi cinema’s biggest commercial hit in 2016, Dangal, whose domestic box-office collection stands at about Rs 387 crore. Six years later comes Laal Singh Chaddha which made just Rs 48 crore in six days after its release. The film was made at a budget of Rs 180 crore. Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan had hopes of roping in audiences, owing to its release during a long weekend. It cost Rs 70 crore and is struggling to reach even Rs 50 crore. Writer Kanika Dhillon, who penned the Aanand L Rai film, alongside husband Himanshu Sharma, recently deleted about 17 previous tweets. This comes after calls to boycott Raksha Bandhan started gaining momentum. In the tweets, Kanika had opposed the Modi government and Hindutva.

The question that now arises is, are boycott trends hitting business?

Content is king, social media trends a fad

“Hindi cinema is going through a content crisis,” says trade analyst and journalist Komal Nahta. “These boycott trends can only affect the business about 2-5%. The real problem is that the stories have lost connect with the people. Both Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan have big stars like Aamir and Akshay but they can only pull in audiences if the script is strong.”

“It’s not just boycott trends. It’s also content. Gangubai Kathiawadi was also boycotted but it managed to earn over Rs 150 crore,” says Himesh Mankad, a trade analyst.

The pandemic has also become a factor in what people wish to see in theatres and what can suffice on a TV screen. The films which made big money like RRRKGF 2, Pushpa: The Rise can be defined as spectacle films. “A family won’t spend about Rs 2k in a theatre to watch a drama film. Pure dramas won’t work in theatres. Their audience has shifted to OTT,” says Vishek Chauhan, a Bihar-based exhibitor. “It’s not just Hindi cinema. When it comes to Hollywood only big spectacle films like Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness is getting business. A film like King Richard, for which Will Smith won an Oscar, was a commercial dud.”

What sort of content is working?

After the pandemic, two Hindi films that made money on the big screen were Jugjugg Jeeyo and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. “Both these films are happy films. They are not preachy. Jugjugg Jeeyo is a family entertainer while Bhool Bhulaiyaa got the masses nostalgic and pulled them into theatres as it was part of an already hit franchise. People go to cinema to have a party. They don’t want to learn lessons,” Vishek adds.

While Laal Singh Chaddha  and Raksha Bandhan are struggling in the market, a lesser known Telugu film, Karthikeya 2, sequel to the 2014’s Karthikeya, helmed by Chandoo Mondeti, made waves after its collections jumped about 300%, even in North India, just two days after release. The film is about Dr. Karthikeya Kumaraswamy (Nikhil Siddhartha) who goes to Lord Krishna’s birthplace Dwarka and gets caught up in a mystery. “Audience is connecting with the content of Karthikeya 2,” says Manoj Desai, Executive Director of G7 multiplex and Maratha Mandir Cinema in Mumbai. “It’s not just that the film is rooted in Indian culture, it also serves as a spectacle. In fact, I am considering increasing its number of shows in my theatres.”

Trade analyst Himesh, however, feels the Telugu film has a long way to go. “It opened at Rs 6-7 lakh, jumped to Rs 28 lakh on the second day (Sunday) and Rs 1.10 crore on Monday. The collections, however, fell to RS 60-70 lakh on the third day. For a film with a budget of Rs 30 crore, I guess it is too early to say anything,” he says.

But why the hate comments?

“Actors like Aamir Khan should steer away from political commentary. Even if a trickle, it does impact people’s perception of a film,” cautions Manoj.   

On top of that, people discovered South Indian cinema during the pandemic, states Raj Bansal, an exhibitor from Rajasthan. “OTT introduced viewers to South films. Laal Singh Chaddha is a remake and people know that. To add to it were Aamir’s comments in 2015 and videos showing that he apparently portrayed the Indian Army in a bad light in the film.”

Skyrocketing star fee impacting business

Akashay Kumar, as per a recent report, charges a fee of Rs 135-114 crore. Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgn pocket about Rs 70 crore with each film. The Khans—Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh—are into profit sharing. Aamir takes about 75 per cent, while Shah Rukh gets 65 per cent of the profit a film makes. Salman takes away either the profit or the satellite and digital rights of his films.

“Actors’ fee has increased and as a result the rest of the film appears cheap,” says Raj. “This impacts business ultimately. Moreover, people have started waiting for an OTT release of a theatrical film and the footfall is low. In such a scenario, such a high fee from stars is not justified,” he adds.

(With inputs from Shilajit Mitra)

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