It was a year when the dubbed Hindi version of a Telugu film surpassed the box office collections of many a big-ticket, star-studded Bollywood flick. At Rs510.99 crore in domestic collections, the Hindi version of director S.S. Rajamouli’s epic fantasy Baahubali 2: The Conclusion beat several high-profile offerings from India’s more expansive Hindi film industry, including Jab Harry Met Sejal (Rs64.33 crore), Raees (Rs137.51 crore) and Tubelight(Rs119.26 crore). The three together feature two of the biggest stars of the country—Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan.
“A big star cast may guarantee an opening on the day of the release, that too, if the promotional material has been liked. Post the first show, word-of-mouth takes over which, in many cases, can affect the evening shows on the first day of release itself,” said Vijay Singh, chief executive officer, Fox Star Studios. “Audiences have become very selective and with newer avenues such as the over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms opening up, there is no dearth of entertainment and unless there is a compelling reason to hit the theatres, audiences will refrain from doing so.”
That, Singh added, clearly puts more pressure on corporate studios and production houses to push themselves harder. The phenomenal success of the Baahubali franchise has only established that good content has no regional or linguistic limitations. A great narrative can break all barriers and a good film does not need a star cast to bring people to theatres; a compelling story backed with robust marketing and distribution can do the trick.
Apoorva Mehta, chief executive officer of Dharma Productions, categorizes the standout themes of the year into two main types—franchise films (Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Fukrey 2, Golmaal Returns, Baahubali 2, Judwaa 2, Jolly LLB 2) and small to medium-budget, content-driven films (Newton, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Hindi Medium, Lipstick Under My Burkha) that have something substantial in terms of a story to tell.
“What traditionally happens on good box office days is that the dominant share of the business comes from relatively urban, affluent territories like Mumbai and Delhi,” said Jyoti Deshpande, group chief executive of Eros International.
“Extremely high concentration of cinemas in very few places, lack of theatre roll-out and compressed windows (for a film to perform) mean that people are picking and choosing what they are watching in the cinemas. Secondly, because of social media, the verdict on a film is almost instantaneous and unlike earlier, there is no breather of even a weekend. That means only meritorious films survive and a film is unlikely to sustain at the box office just on the basis of marketing and hype.”
Industry experts such as Deshpande refer to a situation of rapidly falling footfalls not as a theatrical crisis but in terms of the need to rethink and resurrect the film business. At the same time, the one avenue, apart from digital that has opened for Indian films this year is the overseas territory. Traditionally seen as the stronghold of stars like Shah Rukh Khan in countries like the US and the UK, there is now clearly a wider universe to be explored. While Aamir Khan’s sports drama Dangal earned close to Rs2,000 crore in China, regional offerings like Mersal (Tamil) and Jai Lava Kusa (Telugu) have threatened the reign of Bollywood overseas.
“With overseas, I think it’s been a learning curve this year,” said Shobu Yarlagadda, co-founder and chief executive officer at Arka Mediaworks, the producer of Baahubali. “Every year, you learn a little more about how and where to release films. Traditionally it was the US, UK, Middle East and Australia. Now we’re slowly going into smaller markets where there’s an Indian diaspora.”
However, Yarlagadda emphasized that apart from Dangal that cracked the Chinese market or Sridevi’s English Vinglish that did well in Japan, the success story of Indian films overseas remains restricted to the Indian diaspora and needs a meaty story and an emotional connect across countries. While Eros is currently eyeing a movie co-production with China, Deshpande hopes they can replicate similar models in newer territories like Turkey and South Korea as well.
“Filmmakers are definitely looking at newer territories and better distribution (in those territories),” Yarlagadda said. “Because basically each new rupee counts as an addition to the recovery of your cost of production.”