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Adapt or Perish

It is becoming increasingly challenging to attract movie-goers to cinemas even as audiences turn to the digital medium for their entertainment fix. Here’s how we can stay afloat


Over the past few months, we have seen a con­founding trend at movie theatres. Audience just isn’t showing up most weekends, and are then ‘miraculously’ thronging cinemas in hordes on a select few! Movies that earlier would at least have a guaranteed base level of ticket sales to start with, purely driven by the star cast, the scale, the pro­motional campaign or the banner, today can’t even take a Friday opening for granted.

And, correspond­ingly, the very few movies that work are getting bigger than they ever were. This is most clearly evident in the astonish­ing fact that, in the last two years, there have been no Hindi films in the `130-crore to ` 300-crore box-office range – they have all either grossed below `130 crore or above Rs 300 crore. It’s been all or nothing. The growing income inequality divide is not restricted only to our macroeconomics, but to our movies as well!

Further, the total Hindi box-office collections of the top 50 movies has been on a constant decline since 2014, with collections estimated to decline by almost `800 crore this year over last year. The overall film industry growth from 2015 to 2016 was a dismal 3 per cent, the lowest amongst all sec­tors in entertainment and media.

Why is this happening? Simple. MORE CHOICES! Choices that are making the audience much more discerning about how they spend their valuable leisure time, and that are a tempting and very viable alternative to a trip to the cinema hall.

Competing for their time and increasingly short attention span is a plethora of options they never had in the past – malls, coffee shops, amuse­ment parks, casual dining options, bars… the list goes on. And now further narrowing it down to pure entertain­ment itself, the options and volume of media content available to the audi­ence today is simply staggering. With bandwidth speeds increasing and data prices dropping rapidly this year, they can (and do!) spend countless hours on social media on their personal devices, watching all kinds of bite-size content.

They can easily access and binge-watch tens of thousands of hours of content on advertiser-funded OTT platforms, with no need for any subscription payment, or can subscribe to a paid digital service and access a range of premium, high-quality, award-winning content including the very best of movies and series from India and around the world. Not to mention the old faithful cable and satellite television, with hundreds of general and special interest channels catering to them 24x7. So, basically, it’s an entertainment overload with “Netflix and chill” becoming the new form of recreation today.

Amid all of this, it is questionable why anyone would go through the trouble of all the logistics involved in watching a movie in a cinema hall – coordinating with friends and family to arrive at a consensus on which movie to watch together and at what time, booking the tickets (which makes a big hole in the wallet), taking the trouble to get off the couch and get ready, making the trek to the cinema, dealing with travel and parking, standing in lines to get in, getting frisked and getting popcorn, enduring irritating ads and social messages and an interval! All this compared to sitting back, swiping a few options and watching what you want, when you want it, uninterrupted – ‘on demand’ in the truest sense!

For cinema to compete with the other entertainment options on offer and to adapt to the changing times and viewership preferences, we need to rethink the way we look at making mov­ies – and at the movies we make. With mobile video traffic expected to grow 12 times and the number of video-enabled devices and connections estimated to reach 800 million by 2021 in India, cinema-going has, and will, become more of a rarity than the norm. It will be an event, more than it ever was in the past, and if as content creators we intend to make movies geared towards a the­atrical release, we need to first understand and to then cater to what will drive someone to take the trouble to come and watch our movies IN THE CINEMA.

Simply put, there are two types of movies that will work and justify the trip to the cinema. Either movies that are a complete cinematic experience - like Baahubali, Dunkirk or Dabangg, or movies that are ‘just have to watch it now!’ experiences – like Dangal, Pink or Wonder Woman. Movies that fall into the category of ‘nice’, ‘sweet’, ‘time-pass’ and ‘charming’ will be watched when they appear on television or digital platforms in a couple of months, on pirated cable in a couple of weeks or on a USB drive or torrent in a couple of days. That’s the ‘survival of the fittest’ sort of times we are living in today and we have to adapt to it or perish.

As filmmakers, should this scare us? Only if we are not up for the challenge. These are the realities of the times we are living in and we need to keep pace with the change or be left behind. For anyone who wants to create great con­tent today, it couldn’t be a better time. The sky is the limit when it comes to the sort of formats and narratives we can explore – from short films to series to feature films.

For good writers, there hasn’t been a more exciting time. In fact, superior content backed by good writing is the most precious commodity today, considering the decline in the box office guarantee of star power as exemplified in the recent spate of releases. In this context, good ideas will fetch a premium and talent associated with these ideas will be richly rewarded.

If all this sounds like a ‘cup half-full’ argument, it is. For all the negatives of declining box office revenues and dwindling footfalls, there is no denying that the audience’s need for quality entertainment is as much as ever before – if not more! They’re asking us to deliver to them truly cinematic experiences for them to make that trip to the cinema, because they’ve got multiple alternative options today. They’re telling us they’ve gotten more perceptive and can sharply distinguish between good and bad content, and aren’t prepared to buy old goods dressed up as new. The message is loud and clear.

So let’s meet our end of the bargain. We have the minds, the talent and the resources to do it. We just need the will to break out of our earlier ways of think­ing and to embrace the new!

(Written by Siddharth Roy Kapur, Founder, Roy Kapur Films & President, Film and Television  Producers Guild of India)

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