For some years now, economic and strategic think tanks at home and abroad have been abuzz with predictions of India rising rapidly as an economic – and by extension, a geopolitical – powerhouse in the near future.
This heartening prophecy is based primarily on the back of India’s favourable ‘demographic dividend’. Simply put, with the overwhelming majority of the Indian population being young i.e. potentially productive, the country should benefit not only from the increased output of its growing workforce, but also their rising purchasing power, which in turn expands demand and economic activity – a virtuous cycle if ever there was one.
In other words, India is a land of the young and it is they who shall take the country to its intended place at the head table of the comity of nations. Amen to that!
But we don’t need to wait for the future to appreciate the power of the youth. Even in the present, young consumers rank as the most important market for a host of commercial vocations, including for the Indian film industry. And that is by no means an Indian phenomenon alone. In North America, for example, 63 per cent of all tickets sold in 2015 were to those in the below-40 age group and that number rises to 75 per cent when you expand the selection to those under the age of 50.
However, while we should certainly go all out to attract, retain and grow the young constituency for our films, that doesn’t mean that we should treat them as our sole audience. Yes, the market may be dominated by the young demographic, but the sheer size of our population means that while the not-so-young may constitute a minority in relative terms, they still translate to significant numbers in absolute terms.
Consider this: the Census of 2011 estimates the number of Indians aged 50 and upwards at more than 192 million. If for some strange reason (age rage?!), these folk were to align together and collectively secede from India to form an independent country, that hypothetical state (Greyland?!) would be the 7th most populous nation on earth. You read that right – India has more people in the 50-plus age group than the entire populations of major countries like Russia, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Iran, Turkey, the UK, France, Italy, South Korea, Canada, Argentina and Australia, to name only a few.
Ironically, while we, the Hindi film industry, have been trying to tap into some of these countries mentioned above, even though our likely audience there is likely to be a very small niche – predominantly the People of Indian Origin (PIOs) settled there – we seem to be ignoring the much, much larger opportunity present right in our backyard in the form of the mature/senior citizen audience.
And what makes this strange reluctance even more surprising is the fact that, by and large, we have had a fairly successful track record with the relatively few films that we have made to cater to this audience. When one randomly jots down some titles that come to mind of films that either addressed issues concerning senior citizens or had them as key protagonists– Piku, The Lunchbox, Baghban, Club 60, Baabul, Cheeni Kam, Virudh, Avtaar, Amrit, Shararat, Saaransh, Aandhi, Khatta Meetha (1981), Shaukeen, Sansar, Daddy, Duniyadari – the impression one gets is that while this may not be an exhaustive list nor one without its share of box-office disappointments, it still indicates a better success-to-failure ratio than many genres can boast of.
Indeed, even the highest-grossing Hindi film of all time, Dangal, besides being a gripping biopic with marvellously shot wrestling action, is also the tale of a man past his prime hoping to achieve his unfulfilled ambitions through his children and the tussle between his traditional methods and new techniques.
Moreover, when you really think about it, reaching out to the mature audience makes sense from so many angles. For one, the older crowd is likely to have both more money and leisure time at their disposal than youngsters living off pocket money or on starting salaries. Second, they are more likely to have a much narrower bouquet of entertainment options than the younger audience, who can choose from live events, sporting activities, gaming, amusement parks, clubbing, lounging and what-have-you. Finally, even in terms of audio-visual entertainment, while the tech savvy Generation Next is increasingly turning to digital platforms and apps to get their fix, it is the senior audience that is more likely to remain loyal to, and comfortable with, traditional media like television and films.
While films that cater to the mature audience may be few, a frequent theme in such narratives is the unfortunate tendency of younger generations to neglect the elderly. We have to ask ourselves: are we, the Hindi film industry, also guilty of the same, even though in this case, it is we ourselves who stand to materially benefit by providing (entertainment) for them?
Moral of the story: While we should undoubtedly do all we can to catch them young and watch them grow, let’s not forget that old too can be gold.