A new blow for Bollywood: No Hindi film in India’s Top 5 earners of 2022
Movies made in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, even English feature among the year’s top five grossers in India. The first Hindi film, Brahmastra, comes in at No. 6.
Deep introspection and drastic change: these are my hopes for Bollywood in 2023.
Last year ended with a whimper. Rohit Shetty’s Cirkus was dead on arrival. James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water became the third-highest grosser of the year in India, after KGF: Chapter 2 and RRR. The fourth and fifth positions were taken by Kantara and Ponniyin Selvan: I. That’s a list of films originally made in Kannada, Telugu, English and Tamil. Brahmastra: Part One, at No. 6, is the first Hindi film on the Top 10.
This is a new blow, and a new low, for Bollywood. The Hindi box office was worth an estimated ₹3,500 crore in 2022, down from ₹4,800 crore in 2019. The share of revenues from South films dubbed in Hindi has shot up, in that period, from 5% in 2019 to 32% last year.
It’s a full-blown crisis, and there is hand-wringing across the board. A leading actor tells me that the need of the hour is creative producers, not businessmen who are simply reverse-engineering films based on how much they need to recover from a streaming platform.
A publicist at a leading studio says the issue is that most directors no longer have a sense of what the masses want. The current lot are too influenced by Western cinema, and are functioning within what the mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik calls “Bandra mythology”, a derivative, elite-urban idea of storytelling that, incidentally, has little resonance even within that posh Mumbai suburb.
A digital marketing head insists that content has taken a back seat and corruption is rampant. “Marketing agencies and OTT executives are all taking kickbacks,” he says. Reviews are being bought, he says, and everyone is making money while the audience loses interest.
The audience is far more discerning than it was in 2019. Shailesh Kapoor, who heads Ormax Media, points out that viewers rejected films such as Laal Singh Chaddha (Aamir Khan), Raksha Bandhan (Akshay Kumar), Cirkus (Ranveer Singh) and Samrat Prithviraj (Akshay Kumar) as soon as the trailers dropped. They were never this brutal with star-led projects earlier. “This means that the focus must shift from saleable actors to subjects that are new and compelling. The days when one could buy ads, hoardings or paid PR and get audiences to come to the theatres are gone,” he says.
Ajay Bijli, chairman of PVR, offers a solution. “In any business, consumer insight is vital to success. The retail end of the business provides consumer trends and preferences and that information is fed back to the supply side to ensure course-correction. In our industry, this basic business practice is completely missing. We must begin to closely monitor what’s working and what’s not and why. One can’t get feedback from one’s own bubble and attribute success or failure accordingly. Demand is robust,” he adds. “Movies continue to be the number one form of outdoor entertainment. It’s the supply side that needs to dive deeper into the headspace of the moviegoer.”
This coveted headspace is a thing of mystery. To penetrate it will require innovation, integrity, passion, conviction — and humility. I hope the Hindi film industry can dig deep and emerge with some real resolutions in the new year.
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- Ht Wknd