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With small, breakout hits clocking surprising numbers, this year has forced producers to rethink their content strategies

The box office has collected major sums of money through various genres of strong, content-oriented films this year and many filmmakers are happy with the outcome. The belief that producers had in smaller, story-driven films proved right as these diamonds in the rough shone on the big screen, enthralling the audience with diverse content.

There are only a couple of weeks left for the year to come to a close but the box office is still ringing and producers in the Hindi film industry have already ranked 2018 as one of the strongest years the fraternity has seen in a very long time.

With producers clocking good numbers this year after delivering, on average, at least one `100-crore film every month in 2018, we asked them to round up the year for us. From their thoughts on the year gone by, to which films they think stood out, and to what they are looking forward to in 2019, here’s what they had to say:

Mukesh Bhatt, Producer

2018 was a very good year because this year proved decisively that content is king, and if you make films with good content that do not have the so-called ‘big stars’, they will still do massive business. More and more films with medium budgets have performed wonders at the box office. The so-called big-budget films with big star casts have bombed. I think this is a very good sign for the industry. This implies that new and fresh talent will come in. This is the need of the hour. For the health of the industry, we need more talents. We need new talented directors, writers and actors to make more saleable projects. We have been concentrating on a handful of people for the last 30 years.

AndhaDhun, Stree and Badhaai Ho were the landmark films of this year. They did not have a so-called big star cast. I would not put Raazi in this category because it had my daughter Alia (Bhatt) in it and she is a big star. Last year too, we saw smaller films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan doing very well. Very fresh narratives will score 100 per cent. People are not interested in content that is dated. They are not interested in stories that are predictable either.

Bhushan Kumar, Chairman, T-Series and Super Cassettes

2018 has been one of the best years for the Hindi film industry. In fact, it has been one of the best in the last decade with an unprecedented success ratio of Hindi films. What is also gratifying is that different genres of films – Padmaavat, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Raid, Baaghi 2, 102 Not Out, Parmanu, Sanju, Satyameva Jayate, Stree, Badhaai Ho etc – have worked at the box office and have been appreciated by the audience. Clearly, we have seen that good, entertaining and relatable content from across genres has worked.

Modern-day relationships are no longer what they used to be. Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety mirrored the changing dynamics of society remarkably well, which today’s youth could relate to. Raid was a subject that people had heard of through newspapers but had never seen on the big screen. It was fresh, so people lapped it up. Badhaai Ho dealt with an unconventional topic in a humorous, entertaining way. It has proved to be Ayushmann Khurrana’s biggest hit.

I hope 2019 is going to be an even better year for the Hindi film industry. At T-Series, we have a very interesting platter of films – Cheat India and De De Pyaar De in first quarter, Bharat in second quarter, and Batla House, director Anurag Basu’s next, Jhund with Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan), Marjaavaan directed by Milap Zaveri, an exciting dance film starring Varun Dhawan and Katrina Kaif, period drama Taanaji with Ajay Devgn, Kabir Singh starring Shahid Kapoor and several more. I am extremely hopeful for our production house as well as for my other colleagues in the industry. 2018 has shown us that good, engaging, entertaining content works and I am sure all of us, as a fraternity, are going to strive to give the audience that and much more.

Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios

2018 has been a good year for our industry after a couple of disappointing years. More importantly, 2018 has reinforced that audiences are seeking good content, both massy themes as well as high-concept films. It has proved that varied subjects can work, audiences has developed an appetite for diverse stories, and interestingly, the total watch time of content across theatres, television and digital has increased. Audiences will come to theatres if we give them a very good reason to.

2018 has been a great year for us at Fox Star Studios with diverse content that includes a commercial action-thriller like Baaghi 2 and a biopic like Sanju. Both received a strong thumbs-up from audiences. Besides Sanju and Baaghi 2 which are in the Top 5 films, there were several films which impressed audiences like Stree, Andhadhun, Badhaai Ho, Raid and Raazi, among others.

2019 promises to be an exciting year with some very diverse and promising films. We have a massive release calendar of over 20 films across Hindi and Hollywood. We have aligned with different creative partners like Dharma Productions, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sajid Nadiadwala and Akshay Kumar, and our line-up comprises a mix of masala entertainers, high-content cinema and slice-of-life films. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Total Dhamaal, The Zoya Factor, Student Of The Year 2, Kalank, India’s Most Wanted, Misson Mangal, Panga, Chhichhore, HouseFull 4 are some of our Bollywood biggies, and the Hollywood list includes James Cameron’s much-awaited Alita: Battle Angel and X-Men movies Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants to name a few.

Sneha Rajani, Head, Sony Pictures Networks Productions

2018 has certainly been a great year, with scripts emerging victorious at the box office. This year, it was strong writing that won hands down, and the audience was treated to a variety of movies spanning genres, which clicked like magic.

Four films stood out for me this year – Sonu Ke Tittu Ki Sweety, Raazi, Stree and Badhaai Ho. The fact that such diverse films left their mark at the box office is extremely heart-warming and very encouraging. With the audiences’ acceptance of innovative and ‘high-on-content’ cinema, filmmakers and writers have more liberty to express their creativity today. If 2018 has been great, I expect 2019 to be an amplified version of this year, and I truly hope that writers get their due in the coming year.

Priti Shahani, President, Junglee Pictures

I think 2018 was a fabulous year for the business. There have been many successes that have broken out every quarter. A wide range of movies in terms of content have done very, very well at the box office. We have had every kind of genre. Every form of storytelling has met with great success at the box office.

2018 has been a very, very good year for both the business and storytellers. Many films have stood out this year. Look at the mix! The first film that took everyone by surprise was Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. Then we had Raid and Padmaavat that did fabulous business. That continued with Raazi, Sanju, Stree, AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho. When do you have a year where you are rattling off names of films so easily? These are films that have completely stood out.

2019, from our business perspective, has the maximum event and big-budget films that are coming out, which is very exciting. It will see a mix. You have Super 30 with Hrithik (Roshan) next year. We will see a lot of films based on true and inspiring stories. Our talent is doing a range of them. I am very excited because I think that all our big-budget and event films have the ability to test the box office and push the envelope over there. 

Vivek Krishnani, Managing Director, Sony Pictures Entertainment India

I think 2018 has been an eye-opener for the film industry. It has been a year where we have been kind of forced to rethink our content strategy. We have seen that there have been many small-budget but high-on-concept films that have been breakout hits. I think it also suggests that the audience is going out to theatres in large numbers if a film’s concept and its content connect in a big way. The thing is that it has given us a tremendous food for thought about what kind of content will bring people to theatres. I think it has been a great year. Small films have hit big box office numbers, 100-crore-plus. It is a fantastic thing for the industry and it contributes to the growth of the industry.

The good news is that the audience is kind of going out and there is a huge appeal for Hollywood content. It is similar to what is happening in Hindi films; it is either high-concept films or tech films or franchise films; visual spectacle films. At Sony, we have had a great year with Venom and we have Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse that has been nominated for Golden Globes in the Best Animated Feature category. We have seen people embrace the content in a welcoming way. So it is good news for Hollywood as well as local content films. It has been a good year.

It is very difficult to identify one film that has stood out this year. As I mentioned, the films that have done well are because of their strong consumer connect and word-of-mouth. They may not have opened big but word-of-mouth gave them long tails. This only shows the power of content. It is a good benchmark for us for next year to go back to our content strategy boards and come with content that is appealing to the audience. It is also important to understand the movie-going audience and cater to their tastes.

There are high-action films that are working with certain audiences and there are high-concept films that are working with a certain audience. There is content that works in single screens and content that works in multiplexes. It is about identifying the right target audience for which you are making the film. It is pretty much having that focus about who are you making the content for and going after that audience in a systematic manner.

So 2019 is going to be a good year because you are going to see a lot of fresh content in terms of films that you have never seen before, and films that are a visual spectacle as well. So it is exciting times for the industry and we are waiting with bated breath to see how that unfolds. As producers, we hope we contribute to the growth of the industry next year as well.

Dinesh Vijan, Producer

2018 was a year that completely belonged to content and good films. It also belonged to women’s empowerment with Raazi and Stree. It showed that ultimately it is the story and the content of a film that is the winner. The year 2018 was better than the last one, with high-content stories such as Raazi, Stree and Badhaai Ho. With Stree earning `130 crore at the box office, it gives us at Maddock Films validation to keep doing.

From Badlapur to Hindi Medium and now Stree, it reinstates that content is the path. 2019 will be an even better year for content. Among our films, we have Luka Chuppi, Bala, Made In China and Arjun Patiala. It is a year with four of our releases, which implies a lot of growth.  Among the others, I am really looking forward to Varun Dhawan starrer Kalank and Meghna Gulzar’s next.

Raj Nidimoru, Writer-Producer

2018 has been a defining year for our cinema. In the last quarter, we have had three really super successful films and all of them were very well-deserving. It is not even like picture chal gaya. Three very deserving films have come out, such as Stree, AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho. That is how I will remember 2018.

The smaller, content-driven films have made it to the list of top ten earners at the box office. Sometimes small films go wrong too. And sometimes big films go wrong. Sometimes, small films work and sometimes big films do. A movie, irrespective of whether it is small or big, does not work because of its core or content.

I hope in 2019, the trend is carried forward. I hope the audience will get to see a healthy list of films by the success of various subjects. If a small horror-comedy can make it all the way to the top, I am hoping to see a variety of genres coming up.

Ramesh Taurani, Producer 

2018, overall, was a good year for the industry. One thing that was proved in 2018 is that content is king. Some very good films with a reasonably good star cast worked very well at the box office. This is a healthy trend and now producers are caring more about scripts. The industry has seen two to three big flops, but that is a part of a game. It happens. It is not a big deal.

2018 was especially good for us at Tips because we released Race 3 which was a very profitable venture for us, for Salman Khan and for everyone involved in the film. I think some distributors lost or recovered some amount in India. But, overall, it was a good experience for us. One bad thing that happened in 2018 was whenever a big event film released, there was a lot of negativity surrounding it that was created by the industry itself. That was a disturbing trend.

We have to work on this and make sure we stop negative thinking. A lot of films stood out this year. Raazi, Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun were very good films. They also performed very well. A lot of good films had released this year. GOLD was a very good film, but it underperformed. That film should have done more business. Satyameva Jayate did good business. I am very hopeful about Zero and Simmba. We have a very good line-up of movies in 2019. I am 100 per cent sure that 2019 will be better than 2018.

Vikram Mehra, MD, Saregama India

From a business point of view, 2018 has seen a golden run at the box office. While you have had the quintessential big-budget, magnum opus arrive at the box office with its usual noise and thunder, the eye opener was the extent of success that the smaller, high-content driven films have received. Typically, these films would have been limited to critical acclaim and niche appreciation in certain quarters, but the very fact that some of them crossed the 100-crore box-office target or were at least near it, is testimony to the changing times of Hindi cinema.

Good scripts and interesting subjects will find takers, no matter what. The abject rejection of the big blockbuster films – mounted with pomp glamour and star value but falling woefully short on story – further proves how important it is to find a good script and to empower writers.

It is also important to see how the influx of OTT players has added a different dimension to the consumption of content. With big names producing and acting in films and web series that premiere over here exclusively, 2018 has been an influential year in deciding audience tastes: what are they watching and where are they watching. Our own production house Yoodlee Films itself has had five of its films streaming on Netflix, with three of them being released directly there.

The film of the year for me has to be Badhaai Ho, undoubtedly. The one line description of the film had me hooked and the deft treatment of perhaps a thorny subject made it the well-deserved success of the year. And to think at the heart of it all is a story about an over-the-hill, middle-class couple. It’s a triumph of clever filmmaking and storytelling. There’s also a personal connect with Amit Sharma,  the director of the film, since he directed the very first brand film of our digital music player, Saregama Carvaan. So his success is special to us.

More content-driven cinema for sure is platform agnostic. Edgy subjects that refuse to toe the tried-and-tested line will be seen more and more. You will watch them either on an OTT platform or in theatres. I am not suggesting the demise of the star-driven, popcorn entertainment vehicle but there will be a greater number of small- to medium-budget films with unusual storylines and they will be something to watch out for. We, at Yoodlee Films, also have an interesting slate of films for the coming year – a ready mix of genres, interesting storylines and talented actors and directors, all making for exciting content for viewers.

Shaailesh R Singh, Producer

It has been a great year for the movies, rather, the best year. Movies like Stree, Badhaai Ho, Raazi and AndhaDhun not only got appreciation on paper but also great numbers at the box office. Due to the accessibility of worldwide content through Netflix, Amazon and all other platforms, the audience is getting a lot to watch. So they are less forgiving than they were earlier. Now you cannot hook them without content. You can make a big film but you have to support it with a good story, good content.

Still, there will be films that will work at the box office but the numbers will reflect only the first three days’ performance. From Monday onwards, they may completely collapse. Now people want films that will work on Monday and sustain. Only then will it actually work at the box office. A big star in a film is an advantage and if supported with a good story, it is a greater advantage. Films like Raid, Parmanu –The Story of Pokhran worked and they got the numbers as well.

In 2019, it will be the same. Films with a good story and great content will work. Earlier, people would not consider a Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Kartik Aaryan or an Ayushmann Khurrana. But slowly they are becoming bankable stars. The only thing is, I hope they continue to do the kind of films that made them successful. That is most important. I am looking forward to many more Stree, Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun kind of films, not just a few but 20-30 such films. Only then can we call it ‘change’.

Sohum Shah, Actor-Producer

2018 has been a very encouraging year for filmmakers who have come from outside, are making small films and making the effort on their own. Since these films have done big business, producers too are looking at films like them. This gives more opportunities, not just to these filmmakers but also to actors. So if the content is strong and even if there are no big stars, such films will get the green signal. This has opened a lot of opportunities within the industry especially for those who have struggled to make it for several years. People in every field of cinema will benefit. This year has been a lucky and path-breaking year. Talent has been appreciated, content has been appreciated.

I loved Stree, AndhaDhun, Raazi and Sanju. My expectations from 2019 are the same as they were from 2018, that good films do well. I hope new directors get a chance and studios get the power to green-light content-driven projects. I would like to see new producers come in and make different kinds of films. I hope new actors and new talent is given a chance, and that new stories reach the audience. In 2018, that was the specialty, that new stories were told. People heard and saw new stories in Tummbad, Raazi and Stree. Of the films in 2019, I am excited about Brahmastra.

Aleya Sen, Producer

2018 has been very satisfying. This is a much awaited time where writers and directors are taking the centre stage. As a maker, I feel when you are catering to a much exposed and aware audience of today, one needs to catch the pulse of their expectations, which may not be a star-studded, larger-than-life film. Badhaai Ho, for sure, set the bar up. The audience reaction not just in India but all over the world was amazing. Stree, AndhaDhun and Tumbbad also stood out because of very good content and making. I am sure that this trend will continue with 2019, and producers and studios will be more open to out-of-the-box ideas and explore new talents. I am looking forward to my next directorial venture under the Chrome Pictures banner.

- Bhakti Mehta, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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