Time to rework economics of filmmaking

New Delhi:  Looking at the first half of the year, January to June 2023, one would believe that the film industry has yet to come out of the Covid-19 lockdown effect. The films just don’t seem to work. Nor do the top-billing stars.

Were it for the Covid-19 hangover, how does one explain the blockbuster success of ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘The Kerala Story’? How does one account for the success of ‘Pathaan’, ‘Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar’, ‘Zara Hatkke Zara Bachke’, and the last year’s release ‘Drishyam 2’?

As against these successes, what explains the failure of such massively budgeted vehicles such as ‘Adipurush’, to cite the very recent example? Looks like the Hindi audience is not lured by films that are mainly made on computers with VFX!

Indians miss the human story, emotions, humour and music. Something closer to their heart, what they can identify with. The viewers want normal fun and entertainment in their films.

Of course, Ramayana is closest to most people but not the way it was presented in ‘Adipurush’. Just don’t take your audience for granted. People are lured by their favourite stars initially, then by the film and its content.

So, it may be wise not to make your hero fly, kick 10 people in one go. Hollywood films are doing it and so are some of the South Indian films. Only, the South Indian films make sure they include family emotions and give the hero a cause for his flying kicks.

The operative word in the film industry is ‘trend’. And the trend seems to be changing, veering towards stories that appeal to all, or what was referred to as a film with universal appeal. That is, a film that appeals to masses as well as classes, frontbenchers as well as the gentry and Hindi belt as well as the other assorted linguistic states of the country.

The 1950s, 60s and 70s had numerous hits every year. And all those films catered to audiences of all kinds all over the country. There are too many to list here. Of course, they also made action films and they were rated as B-grade cinema, made for a specific audience. More than the film and its action, what excited the viewer was the background sound of dhishoom … dhishoom in the yesteryear action films!

I think it was post ‘Zanjeer’ and ‘Deewaar’, both Amitabh Bachchan films, that the barrier between action and family films was finally demolished.

The top-billing stars did not indulge in doing such films. Their films saved action for the climax, where the hero dealt with the villain. By the time the action scene would take place, the viewer would have started detesting the villain so much that he would be cheering the hero as he beat up the bad guys. Today, it is kosher for every big actor to do action movies.

‘Zanjeer’ and ‘Deewaar’ paved the way for all actors to do action films. Still, the fact remains that even the tough guys, he men and the ones labelled as action heroes (such as Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and Salman Khan) have had a better record with love stories or family films and not action films.

There came a phase when the so-called corporate houses came and turned the multi-lakh film production business into a multi-crore enterprise. And the multiplexes turned the film-viewing experience from a Rs 2 to Rs 5 outing to one priced from Rs 200 to Rs 2,200! The era of creative individual filmmakers was over. Films were now being made for the multiplexes; audience taste was incidental.

The fun lasted for a few years as some films worked and many did not. The economics of filmmaking had gone haywire! Every actor wanted to make an action film. Even the romantic hero as he was branded, Shah Rukh Khan, came up with his personal version of ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ with ‘Pathaan’!

The problem was the ‘Baahubali’ effect on the Hindi filmmakers. Each one of them wanted a ‘Baahubali’-like blockbuster of his own. Though dubbed from Telugu films, the franchise shattered all box-office records. The idea was to make visually grand films, preferably with top stars.

There, however, came the catch: The film had to have a huge budget to afford the extravaganza. Top stars and top budgets were expected do the trick along with spectacular visuals and special effects.

So we had the first project, ‘Thugs Of Hindustan’ (2018) followed by ‘Padmavat’, ‘Vikram Vedha’, ‘Sooryavanshi’, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, ‘War’, ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’, ‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Kalank’, ‘Samshera’, ‘Brahmastra: Part 1’ and the recent ‘Adipurush’. Some makers preferred to make films based on a chapter from history or mythology; at least that would provide a semblance of a story.

As it turned out, the bigger the budget, the louder the thud with which they fell. Ironically, while many top-billing Hindi films failed, the intermittent dubbed versions from the South, such as ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, ‘RRR’ and ‘KGF’ grossed in multiples of crores.

You may want your multi crore grosser and invest high. But, with high budgets, such projects also entail high risk. You make a big film for the sake of it, Thugs Of Hindustan or Brahmastra, but if the viewer does not identify with the subject, a disaster is guaranteed.

That makes one think. Why are films such as ‘Zara Hatke Zara Bachke’ or ‘Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar’ are scoring big at the box office? If one takes films from the time ‘Baahubali’ released in 2015 and some filmmakers tried to match it, there have been a number of smaller films that have proved to be hits.

These films are: ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, ‘Drishyam’ and ‘Drishyam 2’, ‘Aye Dil Hai Mushkil’, ‘Hindi Medium’, ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya’, ‘Sanju’, ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’, ‘Golmaal’, ‘Chhichhore’, ‘Badhaai Ho’, ‘Padman, Good Newwz’, ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ and ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’.

‘Zara Hatke Zara Bachke’ is a nice mix of the old and the contemporary. The problem a newly-wed couple face in a small accommodation was seen in Rajshri Production’s ‘Piya Ka Ghar’, which has been very well done in this film, and blended with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana to give it a contemporary touch.

These films are acceptable to all, family and youth, middle class and upper class. The advantage with these kind of films is that it limits the risk factor, and quickly recovers the investment. What is more, it need not be viewed on the big screen. They are as much fun to watch on an OTT platform, where they can be enjoyed with family and kids.

It is time to go back to your roots — to films like ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Jab We Met’, ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’.IANS

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