bollywood unplugged - what say you to this??
The economics of Hindi cinema was turned on its head while we were not watching, and scripts, sets, locations, language, heroes and heroines are all no longer what they were. That is because the demograpic profile of the audience has changed and with it a reorientation of values which makes Bombay cinema less and less
representative of the people as a whole.
by Sudhanva Deshpande
The more things remain the same, the more they change. Hindi cinema is no longer what some of us grew up on. The last ten years, the decade of economic liberalisation, has transformed Hindi cinema quite thoroughly, though not beyond recognition. As a result, what seems to us to be the same old fare, merely suitably repackaged for our globalised times, is actually quite new stuff. So what has changed?
The financial foundations of the film industry, for one. Consider this: in the 1960s, Rajendra Kumar, star of films like Mere Mehboob, Arzoo, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Dil Ek Mandir, etc, was called Jubilee Kumar. The legend goes that several of his films did a silver jubilee run—25 consecutive weeks—while some went on to a golden jubilee (50), and a few platinum (75). Old timers talk of films like Awaara, Mughal-e-Azam, or Mother India, all with incredible runs. About one such film, it was said the touts who sold tickets in black outside the theatres could save enough for their daughters’ or sisters’ dowry. That may be hyperbole, but one based on some element of truth. I remember, quite distinctly, as a boy of eight or 10, when I saw Sholay for the first time, the film was already in its 23rd week, and was simultaneously running in half a dozen or more theatres in Bombay.
You do not get those sorts of runs any more. Now, posters are put out to celebrate a film’s run of 100 days. That is just two days over 14 weeks. In fact, in June this year, Satish Kaushik’s eminently forgettable Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai, the launch pad for former hero Jeetendra’s son Tusshar Kapoor (pairing him with Kareena Kapoor), in its third week, was running in nine theatres in Delhi. Later the same month, in the week that saw the simultaneous release of an Aamir Khan and a Sunny Deol starrer (Lagaan and Gadar, respectively), the number of theatres screening Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai was already down to three. But who cares? Certainly not producer Vashu Bhagnani. The film, trade magazines tell us, has already been declared a hit. Which is very good news, because the industry has not really seen a proper hit so far this year. So young Tusshar Kapoor has brought cheer to the industry, and is reportedly flooded with offers. No one can say how long he will last, whether five years down the line anyone will even remember his name (one barely remembers even yesteryear’s Jeetendra these days), but no one is asking either. As the industry cliché goes, you are as good as your last hit.
The new celluloid economy
In the old days, it was relatively simple. You made a film after raising money from film financiers and merchants, and you sold it to distributors. Once the film was released, masses of people flocked the film halls, and over several weeks, their money found its way into the pockets of distributors, producers, and sundry other elements. Or it did not, and led to lost empires, nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, even *******s. The financially disastrous performance of Kagaz ke Phool reportedly drove Guru Dutt to *******. The essential point, however, is that the success or failure of a film was directly dependent upon how many people bought tickets in cinema halls. In other words, numbers mattered.
Numbers still matter, of course. But not of people who buy tickets. You can, and do, have films that would have been considered flops by earlier yardsticks, actually raking in profits, sometimes of huge magnitude. Or even more bizarrely, films today can start making profits even before the shooting begins. Here are some examples. J.P. Dutta’s Refugee, which launched star kids Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor, reportedly grossed much less through ticket sales in India than the 90 million Indian rupees that went into its making. Dutta was unruffled. He bundled the film with his earlier hit Border, and sold their telecast rights for INR 100 million. Or take super-showman Subhash Ghai’s forthcoming Yaadein, with the hottest young stars going, Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor. The film, long before its release, is reported to have grossed upwards of INR 200 million. Ghai is also said to have sold limited telecast rights for eight of his earlier films and earned a cool INR 140 million in the bargain. Even more amazing is the case with Karan Johar’s still-under-production Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, with the most spectacular casting coup since Sholay: Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, Hrithik Roshan and (you guessed it) Kareena Kapoor. The film, through the sale of its music rights, overseas distribution rights, and telecast rights, had mopped up a staggering Rs 35 crore even before a single shot was canned.
The equations have changed dramatically. According to producer Tutu Sharma, the overseas distribution rights for a big budget film are roughly double that for the largest Indian ‘territory’, Bombay. In other words, if a distributor forks out INR 35 million to buy the rights for the Bombay territory, he will pay about INR 70 million for the overseas market. In a case like this, the price for all-India rights (including Bombay) will be about 120 million; that is, the financial returns to the producer from distribution in an overseas market of about 20 million people is roughly 60 percent of the volume realised from distribution in the entire Indian market of one billion people. Just music rights alone are big business. Yash Chopra sold the music rights of his son’s Mohabattein to HMV for INR 75 million, while Sanjay Leela Bhansali has given his Devdas, which is still under production, to Universal for INR 95 million. It was not always so. In the mid-1990s, music rights of a big film could be had for a mere INR 10 million. Today, there are the additional revenues to be had from the sale of DVD and telecast rights.
Then there is the more recent trend of selling advertising space in the movie. Remember Daler Mehndi and Amitabh Bachchan dancing in front of Liberty shoes billboard in the latter’s comeback flop Mrityudaata? The logic of corporate sponsorship for films was taken to a new level a few years later by Shah Rukh Khan. When Dreamz Unlimited (a company he floated along with Juhi Chawla and Azeez Mirza) produced Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (with the first two starring and the third directing), the company raised a fair amount of money from corporations, which in the bargain got entire scenes devoted to their products. So Shah Rukh Khan woos Juhi Chawla in front of a Swatch kiosk and drives around in a Santro car, and so on. This takeover of space by corporations is called ‘synergy’ between industry and entertainment. While such synergy is still in fairly low key compared to Hollywood, where entire films have been produced by corporations (You’ve Got Mail is a recent example), it seems set to grow in Bombay.
Aggregate the revenues from all these sources and the returns from the domestic viewing public (which we always think of as the primary market) as a proportion of total revenues shrink pretty drastically. According to one estimate, only about 35 percent of the revenue earned by a film is from the sale of tickets in the domestic market. Little wonder that producers are buoyant. “Raising money is not an issue any more,” exults Subhash Ghai. The CEO of Reliance Entertainment is even more forthright: “We are talking big money. Traditional cinema is in its terminal stage”.
What is big only gets bigger. Arthur Andersen’s study on the entertainment industry commissioned by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry comes up with figures sure to gladden the hearts of those with stakes in the film business. The study cites a figure of INR 13 billion for the total yearly business conducted by the film industry in 2000, which is expected to grow to 40 billion by 2005. Ghai’s figures are even more dramatic: INR 60 billion in 1999, which will go up to 330 billion by 2003.
The chavanni audience
If you thought that the money dished out by the rickshaw puller, the industrial worker, the vegetable vendor, the domestic servant, the urban unemployed, is what accounts for the turnover of the Hindi film industry, you could not be more wrong. “What matters today are ‘A’ grade centres—about 15–20 big cities—and the overseas centres,” points out director Azeez Mirza. “Who cares about the rest? Even Pune is now a ‘B’ grade centre. When the overseas centres gross 15–16 crores (150-160 million), why would a town like Bathinda be important? The time is past when people made films for the chavanni (25 paise) audience.” Hindi cinema is funded today in overwhelmingly large proportions by the rich, whether in India or abroad.
PART 2 and 3 comming up
"Take my hand, my child of love
Come step inside my tears
Swim the magic ocean,
I've been crying all these years"
"I liked the world where i used to live
I never really wanted to live"