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Bollywood earns big bucks

Over the last four years, box office figures have escallated as hits have accumulated. In 2009 alone, besides the phenomenal 3 Idiots, we’ve had four big earners including Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Wanted and De Dana Dan.

entertainment Updated: Jan 23, 2010 16:42 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

3 Idiots

In four weeks

3 Idiots

has grossed Rs 375 crore worldwide making it Bollywood’s biggest hit. A year ago, another Aamir Khan film,

Ghajini

, ruled with estimated collections of Rs 114,80,00,000, sprinting ahead of

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

(Rs 86,78,00,000) released just a couple of weeks earlier.

Over the last four years, box office figures have escallated as hits have accumulated. In 2009 alone, besides the phenomenal 3 Idiots, we’ve had four big earners including Love Aaj Kal, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Wanted and De Dana Dan.

Going by a Top 20 list compiled by Box Office India, 2008 had a total of seven blockbusters while 2007 and 2006 tied with six grossers each. Of course, this list is not adjusted for inflation and consequently 87 per cent of the films (22 in all) featured on it have released post 2000. Films prior to 1994 do not appear in this list because inflation, population size and ticket purchasing trends are not considered.

Recession proof
Still, it is bemusing that cash counters have been jingling merrily in a world hit by the economic slowdown over the last 24 months. “Our entertainment industry is completely recession proof,” argues veteran film distributor Balkrishna Shroff of Shringar Films. “And 2008 was worse than 2009 with stock markets falling below par. Yet Bollywood delivered seven big hits.”

According to Shroff, 60 per cent of the film-watching audience today is under 35 and hungry for a good film. “They don’t mind splurging since money to not an issue,” he points out, undoubtedly referring to the fast-rising Gross Disposable Income (GDP) of this generation. Young people today spend freely on lifestyle products, and that includes a good viewing experience.

The expansion of multiplexes has bumped up box office figures considerably. With government sanction, these multi-screen theatres have upped ticket prices considerably. So, while they are one-fourth the size of a single screen theatre, they add more to the kitty.

Ticket prices up
Utpal Acarya, vice president, Inox Leisure Ltd., informs that while the number of prints per release has gone down with even B-town cinemas opting for the digital prints to check cost and piracy, the number of screens has gone up. “In the current scenario, a Gadar that grossed Rs 70 crore, would net in at least Rs 500 crore today, with ticket prices having gone up by at least five times,” he reasons.

A large share of the profits also comes from the overseas territory. Vinod Chopra, whose 3 Idiots has netted Rs 70 crore overseas, says, “Overseas was not considered Aamir’s strong market. But we have crossed all film collections by 50 per cent.”

Trade analyst Amod Mehra attributes the spurt to the patronage of the youth. “This segment that was once divided between Hollywood and Bollywood is now veering more towards the latter. And entertainment is almost completely centred around a movie in a multiplex now,” he reasons. “Business is definitely up. If the industry is not prospering, it is because 60-70 per cent of the revenue is eaten up by star fees.”

For me there’s no formula for success, I just follow my heart: Aamir

A list of 30 highest grossing Bollywood biggies includes six Aamir Khan starrers, and one Aamir Khan production, Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na. So, tell us, what makes a blockbuster?
As an actor, or even as a producer, I don’t set out to make a blockbuster. Nor do I pretend to know how to make one. For me there is no formula for success, I just follow my heart. I make a film I like and hope that others will enjoy it too. Take Taare Zameen Par and Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na, on the face of it they had nothing to contribute to their commercial success. But I loved the stories they told and in this field, basic storytelling works. It’s not about manufacturing ‘hit’ clones but being innovative each time.

Did you honestly think that the two movies would be so successful?
For the last 20 years, I’ve consistently given the audience something new and that has built a bank of goodwill for me. So even though Taare Zameen Par seemed slightly bizarre, people came to see it because of the faith they had in me and my films.

Ditto for Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na that opened well even though I wasn’t acting in it. A big star cast may get you a good opening, clever marketing can add to it, but at the end of the day, if a film is no good, it will tank. I believe that our business is governed by Saraswati who does not follow the natural rules of economics and logic laid down by Lakshmi.

Three blockbusters — Taare Zameen Par, Ghajini and 3 Idiots — in three consecutive years, do you see Dhobi Ghat continuing with this success story?
Before Dhobi Ghat there will be Peepli Live and yes, I hope to see it in the list too. Written and directed by journalist Anusha Rizvi, it’s a quaint satire on Indian society, funny yet heartbreaking. The actors are all new faces from the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. There’s nothing formulaic about it but today, the audience has changed so drastically that if you were to give them formula, it would be rejected outright.

Just 12 months ago, Ghajini with gross collections of Rs 114,80,00,000 crore was touted as Hindi cinema’s biggest hit. Today, 3 Idiots that is fast sprinting towards the Rs 400 crore mark, has more than tripled Ghajini’s business. Did you expect the film to do so well?
When I saw the film for the first time, I was happy that Raju (director Rajkumar Hirani) had made the film exactly as we had set out to make it. The response at the test screenings was overwhelming and I was hoping it would surpass Ghajini’s figures. I’d have been happy even if it had touched them given how big a hit Ghajini was. But Rs 300 crore plus was way beyond my imagination!

A section is sceptical about these unbelievable figures believing them to be fudged?
I don’t know about others but unless I’m sure about the figures myself, I don’t release them. There may be some confusion in people’s minds about gross and net collections, and the distributor’s share, but I can promise you that I would never misrepresent figures and promote a sham hit.

Talking about promotion, how much does it contribute to a film’s success given that you’ve been tagged the ‘master of marketing’?
When I go out to market a film, I’m honest to the material and look to it for creative ideas that will make it stand apart in the clutter of releases. Today, everyone needs to sell his film but before that you have to believe in it and not have to woo the audience with false promises.

Wasn’t the Chetan Bhagat controversy that broke out just before 3 Idiots entered its second weekend in the theatres, a clever marketing gimmick?
I take pride in my work and promote my films on the basis of quality and not controversy. I’m not interested in this kind of negative publicity. Unfortunately, some things are beyond your control.

There was talk of banning the film in the state for promoting ragging and student suicides.
That’s like saying Sarfarosh promoted terrorism. The world is made up of people with differing opinions and some have strange ideas. Fortunately, 99.9 per cent of those who saw the film believed that it was supportive of students and showcased their problems.

This was not the first time your film was embroiled in a political controversy. Fanaa had a no-show in Gujrat following your support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Weren’t you apprehensive of something like this happening again with 3 Idiots?
Once the Censor Board that is a government body clears a film for public exhibition, there should be no room for dispute. If after that someone tries to stop a screening using force, its illegal. If the law and order machinery of the state is strong, it can prevent that from happening, if it’s weak, it’s ineffective.