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Business of cinema: A nail biting climax

Moving beyond the glossiness of Rs 100 crore film groups, the year 2017 has been a bad year business wise for Bollywood, as new Hollywood releases are eating away the profits of B'town films. Piyush Ohrie finds out why.

'Lo aaya aaya main hoon movie madaari
Khatte meethe kisso ki laaya fulwaari
Kaise sabke sar pe chadhi yeh khumaari
Yeh kissa hain cinema ke jaadu ka
Akkad bakkad bambe bo,assi nabbe
poore sau
Sau sau baras ka hua, Yeh khiladi na boodha hua'
This song from the film Bombay Talkies released in 2013 was aimed at the celebration of Indian cinema turning 100 years that year. The theme of Indian cinema having crossed a century and still going strong forms an integral part in the progress of India. There may have been various challenges yet at the end of it the country's cinema has evolved over the years and today the industry is characterised as one of our foremost soft powers.
An example was recently displayed in a meeting between Xi Jinping President of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Astana, Kazakhstan in June this year at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. Despite major differences between the two countries, President Xi mentioned to Prime Minister Modi about his liking of Bollywood film Dangal. Dangal, that had released in May this year in China has broken several records in the Chinese movie industry and in the process became the first top-grossing foreign film that is not from Hollywood. Dangal, however, is not the highest grossing film in its own country, its record was beaten by Baahubali 2 : The Conclusion, a movie that has been hailed for its grandness in storytelling. Movie lovers are expecting that hit combination of technology with creativity will again be witnessed when 2.0 will hit the screens later this year.
Not only the mainstream cinema but smaller budget films like Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dhanak have also received appreciation from the jury and audiences in foreign film festivals. While there may be a lot of positives there are also various challenges in the business of Indian cinema that needs to be dealt with. Moving beyond the glossiness of Rs 100 crore film groups, the year 2017 has been a bad year business wise, especially for Bollywood.
A recent report in a leading business daily highlighted that the Net Box Office Collections (NBOC) had reduced drastically. It stated that excluding the dubbed version of Baahubali 2 the NBOC in terms of revenues from theatres had fallen by over 19 per cent from Rs 1022 crores in 2016 to Rs 823 crores in 2017. Moreover, the losses are not a phenomenon concerning only this year. Citing heavy losses due to huge flops, foreign production houses like Walt Disney and Warner Brothers have stopped producing Indian films. The same business daily which highlighted diminishing box office revenues in 2017, also published a list of leading media and communication firms. As per Media Partners Asia, even though India is the world's largest film producing country, none of the film production or distribution firm ranks in the top 10 globally.
The domestic production houses rely on one blockbuster or produce movies in collaboration with other stakeholders to stem the losses and keep afloat. The challenges for Indian filmmakers to make their film profitable further increases with movies from the West now slowly gaining market share. Popularly known as Hollywood, American film industry has surpassed the domestic film market of most of the countries across the globe. Cultural differences and slow understanding of the potential of Indian market may have prevented it from achieving greater business but the situation may be changing as it often does in the climax of potboiler film of mainstream Indian cinema.
Even though Mom had big names like Sridevi, Akshaye Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and was marketed extensively as Sridevi's 300th film, Hollywood film Spider-Man Homecoming was able to do much better business. In times when multiplexes have faded out the single screens and accessibility has become easier with mobile data, movies from the Hollywood have found their audiences and a new way to generate revenue. Various Indian film makers have acknowledged the superiority of top Hollywood films in terms of technology but also in terms of idea generation. Can western movies prove to be a major threat to the commerce of Indian movies in the future?
"Threat is an extreme word especially in a creative medium, but yes, it is market forces today which determines the content and today there is a demand for the cinema of spectacle. In this genre, Hollywood does have an edge over our cinema. Our mainstream films are able to do well as our audiences are more attached to the stars and also relate with our story telling," says award winning filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor.
Media analyst and columnist Vinita Kohli Khandekar in one of her columns opined that the reason domestic film production houses are losing out is due to fewer movie screens to monetise the films. She stated that more than 70 per cent of the industry's Rs 14,200 crore revenue comes from screens. While US/Canada has more than 43,000 screens there are around 9000 screens in India. The shortage of screens is more likely to impact the small budget films of Nagesh Kukunoor that loses to a big budget Indian or a massively marketed Hollywood film. Already well known for his films like Hyderabad Blues, Dor and Iqbal, Nagesh was not able to earn enough revenues from his latest film Dhanak, as opposed to the high budgeted ones, even though it received rave reviews in the foreign film festivals.
Highlighting the challenges that independent film makers face, Kukunoor says, "There is a lot of talent in small budget films and they must not lose out because their art is not being viewed by the audiences. Though there are risks involved, I will want the government to step in and revive the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). Some of the finest works of Indian cinema was undertaken under NFDC." Echoing the same sentiment, Bengali film-maker Ranjan K Ghosh mentions, "Unlike the West, audiences in India must mature and view cinema as an art, rather than as a form entertainment." Ghosh has uploaded his movie Hrid Majharey online with English subtitles with hopes that new audiences will emerge. While external market situations may be out of control for the film makers, there are also experts who mention that the intent to improve and grow further lies within. "Films from the West are made not simply with their own audiences in mind, they are truly looking at global markets through various channels, whereas all discussions about Indian films begin and end with Indian audiences, and this discussion has become rhetorical a long time ago. Bollywood needs to understand that in a globalised world, things are easy to access and therefore, there are larger markets to be explored," says Suraj Prasad from Lightcube film society.
"We have failed and are consistently failing in terms of writing. That is one single defining factor behind major successes and failures in this industry. Good writing has not been appreciated recently. From television to the big screen everywhere you can see the West impress the audiences with their writing. In filmmaking everything is secondary to writing, and that's the way it should be. We need to understand the importance of text," he says. Illustrating further on how the quality of poor writing is resulting in poor cinema, Prasad elucidates, "We haven't seen a single film in the last decade which people would like to see again, all of them seem to be one-time-watches. This is sad; stars, marketing, and promotion can drive your viewers to the theatres for the first show, but bad reviews spread like wildfire."
In highlighting that market potential of Indian cinema is still untapped, Prasad runs Dhenuki cinema project, an initiative that aims to create film clubs in rural areas. "I may concede that Hollywood movies have more money and even better creative talent, yet, I cannot accept that our quality can never be better than them. The pinnacle of Indian cinema is about diversity and about various talents coming together to meet the sole objective of telling a good story. It is not and should never be only about Bollywood. The focus should also be there on enhancing our regional cinema," says Raghav Mehra, a frequent cine goer.
"I feel somewhere our film makers feel that they are not as good as their western counterparts and thereby rather than focusing on our strengths we try to copy them in order to look stylish. In this situation, I am only reminded of RD Burman's music composition for the posthumous film 1942:A Love Story. Despite loudness in music that time, he focused on Indian musical instruments like sitar and flute to make a musical album which in turn made it valuable," he adds. Action, romance, melodrama, and emotions are the key ingredients that every Indian film maker wants to have in his film to earn the label of a blockbuster. Indian cinema has always connected with its people in one way or another as it has always been seen as a form of modernism, dynamism and a medium of giving hope for a better tomorrow.
As Indian cinema has moved ahead over the years, the challenges to its business model have also increased. Yet, the belief of a cine goer to keep these virtues alive makes him confident that after a tense climax it will ultimately be a happy ending.

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