Crisis. This is a word that has been thrown around a lot in the Film business over the last year. Big films have failed regularly. Small films garner no interest. There seems to be no respite in sight. Critics savage films every week. Audiences seem apathetic and are seemingly being driven away to digital platforms for their entertainment. The Film industry is lying on the edge of an abyss and if corrective measures are not taken soon, over the whole apple cart goes. I am certainly not going to deny that the Hindi industry has not had a rough 18 months, it most certainly has, but a lot of the doom and gloom bandied around is well, slightly overstating the problem. Hindi films are not going off any cliffs. The industry is suffering from a cold and it will recover soon enough. To what level of health, that depends on the industry itself.
There are large issues. Script writing is an issue. Script selection is an issue. Film education is an issue. Lack of bankable actors are an issue. Too many films releasing every week is an issue. Screen density and volume is an issue. In big cities and towns, ticket prices are an issue. The ability to develop, produce, market and distribute within a viable budget is an issue. Then there are external issues, taxes, associations, levies, etc. Add into this growing competition of Television, Digital VOD services, Mobile networks plus English and Regional films and you can see why fewer people are venturing to the cinemas to see films that they have grown up watching. Obituaries of 'formula' films are written and everyone is seeking a new mold to redefine.
Perhaps they should be doing just this. There is no doubt that the film watching audience is a different audience from 20 years ago. They are unwilling to accept what was once gospel. We are told the 'youth' are fed up with cliches of Hindi films and prefer to indulge in the 'freedom' of digital channels and that content. We are told that more mature audiences find ticket prices for families difficult to stomach and prefer to stay at home and watch TV as well as wait for films to come on that medium. We are told the smaller towns and centers aspire to the big cities and are being overwhelmed by the amount of content on their phones and with the advent of 4G, this has become their primary viewing device. We are told all sorts of things including the eventual decline and demise of theatre viewing.
I for one, find this all slightly dramatic. Yes, cinema is facing its toughest challenge to its primacy as an entertainment media. Outside of India too, this concern beckons as VOD content continues to pull audiences due to its pricing and convenience. Netflix is investing more money on content than all US studios put together. Amazon, Hulu and any others are pulling more and more 'A' list talent to their series and shows than ever before. It's a bruising time for cinema across the world in terms of occupancy and box office. But all is certainly not lost. Here all TV shows need Film stars. KBC, Big Boss, all reality shows are pulling audiences based on our stars. Ads too need film stars as brands and the number of brands signing up stars has increased greatly. This shows that cinema or not, our film stars continue to be primary brands for the audiences across the country. These digital platforms that are apparently now a youth addiction - what of their content? Which has seen unmitigated successes? Without question the platforms hold huge value but surely, they are struggling with the content question just as much as films. In the smaller centers and towns, collection of so called 'formula' films continue to blow away everything else. People are still flocking to the kinds of films critics give 2 Star ratings to and are therefore immune.
In the last 18 months the biggest successes have been films that have tapped into & reinvented the formula and have not discarded it. 'Sultan', 'Dangal', 'Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya', 'Rustom' and of course 'Bahubali' have been films that have served up all the cliches that people tell us are no longer accepted. They have just done it by keeping the audiences in mind and connecting with Indian audiences. This connection has brought in the audiences. The future of Hindi films does not have to be divergent from what Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, David Dhawan etal did. It perhaps needs to be an update of this genre and I can safely say that whenever that has happened, these films have worked fantastically. This will continue as these films are in our blood, we understand them and we will always patronize them.
Cinema in India is not in decline. It's no-where near a demise. As in previous points in its history, it needs reinvention. That reinvention though will probably not come by looking to what America or Europe is doing. It will probably come by looking at what India is doing.
- By, Rahul Puri, MD of Mukta Arts Ltd., on behalf of Mukta A2 Cinemas