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What’s ailing Bollywood?- Cinema express

What’s ailing Bollywood?

Trade experts talk about the state of Bollywood and what can be done to bring more success

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Published: 23rd August 2022

Bollywood is being associated with a new word these days: ‘boycott’. A new entrant into trending hashtags concerns concerted campaigns against upcoming releases. We saw one target Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, and there are already tweets attempting to hurt Shah Rukh Khan’s next, Pathaan. Even an actor like Hrithik Roshan, rarely part of controversies, seems to have become the target of the boycott brigade after praising Aamir’s film—and the result: a trending hashtag that goes #BoycottVikramVedha. Memes have also been created against Arjun Kapoor for saying that the film fraternity “made a mistake” by keeping silent about the trolls.

So, what’s going on with the film business? The truth is, numbers rarely lie. Aamir gave Hindi cinema’s biggest commercial hit in 2016, with Dangal, whose domestic box-office collection stands at about Rs 387 crore. Six years later comes Laal Singh Chaddha which made just Rs 54 crore in 10 days after its release, though made at a budget of Rs 180 crore. Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan hoped to attract audiences with a release during a long weekend, but the film, made at Rs 70 crore, seems to be struggling to hit Rs 50 crore. Writer Kanika Dhillon, who penned the Aanand L Rai film, alongside husband Himanshu Sharma, recently deleted as many as 17 older tweets. This comes after calls to boycott Raksha Bandhan started gaining momentum. Among the deleted tweets are those that had Kanika speak up against the Modi government and Hindutva. The big question: Are boycott trends hitting business?

Social media trends not the cause

“Hindi cinema is going through a content crisis,” says trade analyst and journalist Komal Nahta. “These boycott trends can only hit about two to five percent of the business. The real problem is that the stories have lost a connection with the people.” Another trade analyst Himesh Mankad agrees. “It’s not the boycott trends at all. It’s the 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 been a factor in dissuading people away from the theatres, and now, it appears that audiences prefer the theatre for a certain kind of cinema.  Films that have made big money in recent times include RRRKGF 2and Pushpa: The Riseall that can be called ‘spectacle films’. “Families don’t seem comfortable about spending Rs 2000 on a drama. Pure dramas don’t work in theatres anymore, with the audience having shifted to OTT platforms,” says Vishek Chauhan, a Bihar-based exhibitor. “It’s not just Hindi cinema really. Even when it comes to Hollywood, only the spectacle films like Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness are bringing business. A film like King Richard, for which Will Smith won an Oscar, turned out to be a commercial dud.”

What Indian content is working?

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

While Laal Singh and Raksha Bandhan are struggling, a lesser-known Telugu film, Karthikeya 2, sequel to the 2014’s Karthikeyahelmed by Chandoo Mondeti, seems to have made waves, with its collections, even in North India, jumping just two days after release. The film incidentally is about Dr Karthikeya Kumaraswamy (Nikhil Siddhartha) who goes to Lord Krishna’s birthplace Dwarka and gets caught up in a mystery. “Audience has connected 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.”

The problem of Laal Singh Chaddha

Manoj believes that “actors like Aamir Khan must be careful about including political commentary, as it impacts people’s perception of a film.” A bigger factor seems to be that people have discovered South Indian cinema during the pandemic, according to Raj Bansal, an exhibitor from Rajasthan. “OTT has introduced viewers to South films. Laal Singh Chaddha is a remake and people know that. And then, there’s the whole campaign based on comments he made in the past.”

Skyrocketing salaries

Akshay Kumar, as per a recent report, charges a salary in excess of Rs 100 crore. Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgn are said to pocket about Rs 70 crore for each film. The Khans—Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh—believe in profit sharing. While Aamir is said to take about 75 per cent, Shah Rukh apparently makes 65 per cent of the profit a film makes. Salman is said to engage in profit-sharing or the satellite and digital rights of his films.

“Salaries have increased dramatically, and the result is, there isn’t much money left to spend on the actual film,” says Raj. “This impacts business. Moreover, people, these days, wait for films to reach OTT platforms. In such a situation, a high salary from stars is simply not justified,” he adds.

With multiple factors causing an impact, including star salaries and the type of stories being told, it remains to be seen how filmmakers adapt themselves to the changing dynamics of Indian cinema.

(With inputs from Shilajit Mitra)

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