In July, along with your typical mass entertainer, Singer, three very different films — Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Murder 2 and Delhi Belly —were released.
They worked at the box office. Murder 2 is a sex thriller, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is like a pre-wedding bachelor escapade, more for the urban upper middle and above audience in its flavour; and Delhi Belly is urban, filled with profanities, entertaining. None of these films are formulaic or big budget. Yet they appealed. Delhi Belly has so far grossed Rs 80 crore at the box office, estimate industry sources.
While many in the film industry and media are willing to call such films “art” or “new age” or “experimental” that they agree are coming increasingly into the mainstream, slotting them under some heading in order to differentiate them from what has conventionally been called mainstream or commercial cinema could well be missing a very interesting emerging picture.
As film critic Taran Adarsh pointed out: “The concepts of commercial and arthouse have blurred today, making them things of the past. People don’t go to see films as one or the other anymore.”
Film director Rajkumar Gupta of the Aamir and No One Killed Jessica fame said, “Commercial is anything that sells. An audience watching a film is going by what promise was made by that film.”
Certainly, a number of these kinds of films are low budget. It is also true that the bigger films continue to work, even though 2010 saw a number of large, expensive films tank at the box office — Guzaarish, Raavan, Kites. But mass biggie Dabangg was a runaway hit.
Tanuj Garg, CEO, Balaji Motion Pictures, said: “As industry people, it’s we who have dichotomised and compartmentalised what we create. But the audience doesn’t care whether it is a Rs 1 crore or a Rs 50 crore film. It will see whatever gives it the promise of entertainment. It just wants the right bang for its buck, whether it is a Ragini MMS or a Ready. These are all commercial films, but not all of them are the usual potboilers.”
Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures, said: “Today, people are buying into films, not stars, budgets or foreign locations.”
Film buff Arun Goel, CEO, LIC HFL Asset Management, agreed: “People are looking for an experience, engagement. In the 80s and 90s, art films attempted to show a real India almost as a reaction to too much of the escapist cinema that mainstream films represented. It was also a time when sensibilities were more common. Today, we have multiple sensibilities.”
“Today’s films, irrespective of their size, starcast and story lines, are presented in an entertaining manner,” said Kapur.
Vikram Malhotra, COO, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, said: “Earlier, films got to be labeled under ‘art cinema’ because they weren’t understood by too many people, so held smaller appeal. Today, it’s not about the growth of art cinema but a willingness by audiences to consume differentiated content. Unlike earlier when film vieweing was a community or family affair, today’s viewing has more dimensions — family, friends, colleagues, individual. The same audience is willing to see different kinds of films.”
Referring to the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap, he said, “Hindi cinema had never before seen a 70-year-old hero. This would have been impossible to do five years ago. But with the proliferation of what we consume on TV and the internet today, our minds have opened out to much more.”
With its forthcoming film in English, That Girl in Yellow Boots, UTV is confident of finding an audience. “We’re targeting the same audience in India that saw Black Swan and will release it like a Hollywood niche film,” Malhotra said.
Most of the industry agrees that multiplexes have allowed people, especially the upper middle class and above audience, to go out and watch more films. This is allowing for of differentiated content.
With smaller budgets comes the realistic expectation of smaller earnings, but still profitable. The need is for good marketing and promotion, something we’re seeing a lot of today. As Adarsh said, “If a good film does not get the right release, it will not work.”
Balaji’s Garg added: “These kind of differentiated films are only as good as the price they’re made at — they need correct, tight pricing to make money back.”
Malhotra said: “The promotion money spent on lower budget films would be larger in ratio to the production cost, compared to big budget films. So a Rs 6 crore film could well see a Rs 3-4 crore promo spend, against a Rs 50 crore film with a Rs 8 crore promo spend.”
Goel observed that the development of differentiated content is part of a transformation going on for some time. Already the lines are blurred. Big stars and big budgets are also participating in this transformation — Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots; big stars in small budget films — Amitabh Bachchan in Bbuddah…; upcoming stars in bigger budget films — Ranbir Kapoor in Rajneeti. All three films had non-formulaic, non-mainstream content.
Last year, the film industry’s performance dipped as big films tanked. But going forward, the growth projections are firm. Gupta concluded, “In a growing industry, you can’t just have certain kinds of films. Differentiated filmmaking will accelerate with the infusion of new blood, new ideas, new investments and a more receptive audience.”