Rock On is a good film. In fact the trade is calling it a hit, but there were barely two dozen people at a show that I went to last week. More evidence then that there is something fundamentally wrong with the film business and that the industry is refusing to see it.
The proof, that this is a bad year, has been piling up for some time now. Take Hindi films, the largest segment (by revenues) of the business as a sample. Of the 100 Hindi films released this year, only eight qualified as hits at the box-office, compared to 15 in 2007 or 13 in 2006. The really big hits, Jodha Akbar or Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, are way below the big ones from 2007 in collections (Om Shanti Om, Chak De India) going by trade portal boxofficeindia.com.
Why? The reason it seems is that we aren’t making enough films for the Indian market.
That sounds odd, especially after years of hearing how India is the largest film producing country. Sure it is; it is also the largest ticket selling (3.3 million a year) one. By all accounts the $2 billion-odd Indian film industry is doing wonderfully well.
Over the last five years or so, it has cleaned up its disorganised act and corporatised rapidly. The markets that Indian cinema reaches out to have expanded to include more than two billion people outside of India, from Afghanistan to Finland. Indian film companies such as UTV, Yashraj or Rajshri have worked hard to pry open these markets as well as to plug revenue leakages in the domestic market.
Much of this stems from the big changes at the retail end. Multiplexes, digital screens, satellite TV, home video and the Internet offer lots of avenues to monetise a film. They help segment the market, cater to different audiences at different prices and times. Since they are compact, the need to make one-size-fits all film and fill cavernous 1,000-seater theatres does not warp film-makers. This has unleashed creative energy. Notice that many of the successful films are from debutant directors (A Wednesday, Jaane Tu..., Rock On).
Yet, the film industry’s revenues grew by only 14 per cent in 2007 over 2006, against 24 per cent the previous year. By all accounts it won’t go over 10 per cent this year. Why is the success rate not higher and why is growth not faster? “It all goes back to content,” says Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO UTV Motion Pictures.
That is true — the industry has become an elitist, upmarket clique that is catering to only one segment of the audience — ‘people like us’. Of the 12,000- odd screens in India, about 700 belong to multiplex chains. From the kind of films coming out of Mumbai, it would seem as if these 700 screens are the only ones that matter. An entire generation of executives, scriptwriters and filmmakers are making films for just one segment of the audience, the one that pays Rs 150 or more per ticket.
For instance take UTV. It has had a great year — almost every successful film was either produced or distributed by it, beginning with Jodha Akbar and ending with Welcome to Sajjanpur. But all of its films target the same multiplex or overseas audience.
What about Bhojpuri films for digital screens in C and D class towns and even in multiplexes in Mumbai, where a bulk of the population is migrants? What about Marathi, Bangla or Telugu films?
None of the major film companies venture beyond Hindi, leaving the rest of the market to thousands of individuals. Forget languages, think genres. What about a mass market entertainer, creature films, action films, among dozens of possibilities. Now go past genres to audience clusters, take just one — children. India has arguably the worst record on making films for children, a huge audience in a country where producing them is such a big business.
The variety in a multiplex these days is a treat; especially if like me you have been brought up on ’80s dismal fare. But film companies today are doing exactly what 6,000 individual producers were doing then — creating films for only one type of audience. Those producers were making it for the ‘masses,’ whereas the film companies are making it for people like ‘you and me’.
If they don’t manage to mix and match the kind of films to the variety of audiences and the number of retail options, there is no way it will ever leverage the opportunities the Indian market offers.
Every good thing about the Indian consumer market stems from two things — its heterogeneity and volumes. The Indian film industry seems to be ignoring both.
7 months ago