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A New Narrative

The Hindi film industry appears to have made a fundamental shift – filmmakers are steering clear of trends and formulae, and are going with their gut. The only requirement is a great story

We are just over five months into 2018 and the industry has already had a very successful run at the box office. Putting the gloom of 2017 behind them, filmmakers appear to have changed their game while delivering quite a few successes at the ticket counter.

The most interesting story of this year is that filmmakers have steered clear of the tried and tested. Bollywood is notorious for following ‘trends’ such as making sequels or biopics or potboilers when these deliver great numbers. But now filmmakers seem to have finally struck out on their own.

They have gone with their gut and, placing their faith in great stories rather than in any specific genre, they have delivered on content and conviction in the last five months. This shift has also created an exciting palette of offerings for the audience, which has embraced it wholeheartedly.

This change in perspective is refreshing and has resulted in a mixed bag of films making big bucks at the ticket counter. We had a historical drama like Padmaavat as well as a commercial entertainer like Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety clocking great numbers. Similarly, a diverse mix of films like Raid, Raazi, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran and 102 Not Out, along with paisa vasool films like Baaghi 2, hit the bulls-eye.

The year of 2018 also had many Hollywood films striking a chord, like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, which created box office records.

We spoke to some noted filmmakers from the Hindi film industry as well as some distributors, to get an insight into this trend-breaking path that has marked the first half of this year.

Sajid Nadiadwala, Producer

The key to a commercially successful film is one that is all-inclusive and meant for a larger base of the audience. Whatever bracket or genre we put these films in, one thing that is common is that they entertain a large section of our diverse society.

Bhushan Kumar, Producer, T-Series

The year 2018 has been a good year for Hindi films. It has been a good five months for us as well. Our films, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Raid, Blackmail and Hate Story IV, did good business at the box office. It was a year to try not clichéd films but all kinds of cinema and find success in projects that were true to the heart.

Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety became a sleeper hit for us by crossing `100 crore at the Indian box office and a success on digital platforms too. On one hand, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety was a youth film, while Raid, which was inspired by real underdog story, became a box office hit. T-Series experimented with Blackmail too. The films that won the hearts of the audience and became box-office winners like Padmaavat, Baaghi 2, October and even the recently released Raazi, are of different genres, storylines or subjects and yet they were accepted by our worldwide audience.

It is time producers, storytellers and directors realise there is no one formula to make a good film. There is just one trend, that is, to make a film that you believe in. That’s when you have a successful film in hand. This will be visible in the next half of 2018 as well.

Nitesh Tiwari, Director

It is very heartening for someone like me to get to see these kinds of results and it is very reassuring that audiences are becoming more mature. They are going out and celebrating good content. It is a very welcome sign for us all.

The trend that is emerging has very clear implications. It is something that is not just happening this year. It has been happening consistently for the last three or four years, where you see films that may not have opened well go on to do very well because of great word-of-mouth. What has changed this year is that films which traditionally would not have opened well have started opening well too. That is a very happy sign. At the end of the day, it is word-of-mouth that carries a film.

A great opening always multiplies the effect with good word-of-mouth. The multiplication factor has increased. What is very welcome is that people have begun coming to the theatres now. Earlier, people used to not come to the theatres. Today, they are coming to the theatres purely on the basis of the promise which they see in the promos.

Filmmakers have always been making films of different genres. Sometimes, the films are more accepted in terms of box office numbers. They have always worked well if they have great content. But the extent to which they have done well this year, as we have seen, is immense. The numbers are very rewarding. I would also like to attribute this to all the films which may not have done that well in the past, box office-wise, but have slowly cemented themselves in the minds of the audience, telling them that such content is worth their money and worth watching in the theatres. That is why people have the willingness to come out and watch these films on opening day now.

Sneha Rajani, Head - Sony Pictures Networks Production

The first half of the year has seen varied genres of movies succeed and in my view there is one common thread – and that is strong and varied content. As clichéd as this sounds, content rules over any other formula. With such a wide variety of movies being accepted by the audience, it indicates how their preferences have evolved and sharpened over the years.

The preference of the contemporary audience is very encouraging and will bring about a good mix of films exploring various topics, which would earlier not even be considered. I truly believe that it is time for us to revel in an exciting era, where filmmakers are truly focused on bringing great stories to the audience.

Priti Shahani, President, Junglee Pictures

I think this (diverse content) is fantastic. It started in the late ’90s, when multiplexes started sprouting, and the slicing and dicing of the audience stepped up. Over a period of time, that has only amplified. It has allowed writers and filmmakers to tell the kind of stories they want to tell.

In the 2000s, we were making mass entertainers and there is nothing wrong with that. To entertain a nation requires not only courage, but it also requires one to be very clever. You knew that your films had to travel across nations. Initially, you were catering to a single kind of audience. Today, when you are making a film, you understand the potential of the story. There are many times when you hear someone say ‘this is an urban multiplex film’. That is perhaps not the right way to slot it, but you understand that it is a story that is not going to go beyond six cities. Hence, you need to make it in a manner and on a certain budget that you will be commercially safe. That number seems to be growing, which means that the audience is consuming.

If that didn’t happen three or five years ago, and people didn’t go into the cinema, they found those films when they released on television or through DVD. But they were exposed to it. The barriers among the audience have also shrunk and they are going to watch those films, which is fantastic. This is the best time to be in the content business for anybody who is excited to tell their stories. 

Shibashish Sarkar, COO, Reliance Entertainment

This has been happening for a year and a half. There is a definite trend in the successes and failures. There is quite a drastic transition in consumer preferences, in the kind of content they want to see on the large screen and the kind of content they want to watch on a smaller screen.

They decide whether to watch a feature film in a cinema hall or on an OTT platform or a television screen. Honestly, the audience is quite forgiving. Audiences will come to the theatres as long as the film appeals to them, even if the fare is average. And as a filmmaker or as a partner in the industry, we need to understand what is actually working in the box office space.

What is working is not necessarily a subject or a subject orientation. But what is working is the thing that makes an audience inquisitive. That inquisitiveness can be visual appeal, the scale of the film, it can be a star or an entire star cast; it could be anything. Movies that are working are the ones where we give them situations which appeal to their inquisitiveness, to see such a product on a large scale. It doesn’t necessarily depend on the genre. 

If the audience feels from the trailer of a Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety or a Veere Di Wedding that this is going to be a fun, enjoyable film, then they don’t mind giving it a fantastic opening and constantly patronising it while it is there in theatres. The audience is quite positive.

If we look to other extreme, there is Avengers: Infinity War coming and doing business of over `200 crore. There are fans of the genre who are coming and watching this film but it is also the larger-than-life factor, of the film being a huge spectacle on screen that makes it so successful. That happens irrespective of language. It happened last year with Baahubali: The Conclusion too. More people come to watch a film when there is visual appeal, a spectacle, and also a huge star cast as an attraction.

Let’s take the example of Raid. If we take out Ajay Devgn, who is a big star, from that film, and imagine if there was a lesser known actor portraying that role, the film might have done less business. The audience came to the theatres for the star and then they fell in love with the content. Same thing happened with Raazi too. When people came in to see Alia Bhatt after a brilliant trailer, they wanted to see something different and liked the content of the film.

Keeping this in mind, I think that movies which opened small and went on to clock huge numbers, like Queen in 2014, do not have space in the industry today. If that was the case, then movies like October, Aiyaary and Hichki would do very well too. I think the audience is deciding whether to watch these movies in theatres or on Netflix or Amazon. They think that they don’t need the large screen because there is not much visual appeal and spectacle for them.

So, while it is great for the box office that so many films have done so well this year, so many different kinds of films, I think filmmakers and producers have to understand that the format has already changed. They have to make films either for cinema halls or for digital platforms. There are no rights or wrongs. It has just happened. The transition has happened. I think it gives way to what kind of product one should make for audiences to go to cinema halls.

Ramesh Taurani, Producer

Filmmakers have been attempting to break the mould for the last three to four years, and the quality of films has kept improving. Every year has been better than the previous one for the industry. It is a good sign that filmmakers are not following any trend and making the same kind of films when a particular genre is successful. They are now showing conviction and that is why they are opting for good stories right now. When you have a good story and a good script, your film will do well irrespective of its genre.

From 2011 till around 2016, people lost a lot of money. They have learnt a lesson now. They know that a star is not the reason to make a movie but it should be the other way around. You should go by your story and your conviction in it. You should take the story to the actor, not vice-versa. Producers have finally realised that, ultimately, it is the story and the script that hold the attention of the audience.

Rudrarup Datta, Senior Vice-President, Marketing, Viacom18 Motion Pictures

The year 2018 has been encouraging for the Hindi film business. Padmaavat started the year with a thundering boom, both in India and overseas, demonstrating the ability of Indian films to match grandeur to a strong storyline and that to technology. Padmaavat was the first Hindi film to release in IMAX 3D .

Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety proved that good content can work without star value, and Pad Man and October showed that the stars don’t need to play safe. Raid, Raazi and Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran showed that the country comes first even in cinema. While the youth rule with Baaghi 2 and Veere Di Wedding, old is still gold with 102 Not Out. And while Hindi films thrived, Hollywood proved that it can be as big with Avengers: Infinity War. The first half of the year has been nothing less than an entertaining potboiler, proving once again that content is king and audiences will have ‘at the movies’ as their WhatsApp status if we as makers can offer them quality cinema.

Remo D’Souza, Director

Yes, there have been many movies like Raazi, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran and even 102 Not Out that have done well at the box office. It is the best time for the industry right now. Woh kehte hain na, the golden period.

Women-centric films like Raazi and even Veere Di Wedding are doing so well. I think we have the audience accepting this kind of cinema. They are saying, ‘Boss, you make a good film and we will accept it.’ They want us to either make a good film with content or make an out-and-out masala film for them to be entertained. They don’t want us to be caught in between these two sides. Dono karne jayenge, then the balancing will do no one any good. So, either you give an all-out Veere Di Wedding or Raazi with content, or give something like Golmaal Again!!! or a larger-than-life film like Padmaavat.

Tanuj Garg, Managing Partner, Ellipsis Entertainment

Most filmmakers stopped conforming to trends years ago when an alternative menu emerged and drew success. If anything, several filmmakers have become non-conformist and are steering away from convention. The idea is to do what hasn’t been attempted. This is the age of concepts, and the only trend that exists is that diverse, compelling, entertaining and relatable content is sure to find an audience. We’ve already witnessed that this year with the success of multi-genre films of different shapes and sizes.

Abhinay Deo, Director

As a filmmaker, right from my first film Delhi Belly, I have believed in pushing the envelope. We as filmmakers or as industry influencers should put our necks on the line to take the craft and the audience forward, because our audience is as good as the influencers and vice-versa. We should take a step towards either educating the audience or taking them into a space where they’re not very comfortable.

The entire idea of trying diverse genres is a risky one, keeping in mind the comfort factor of our audience. But as influencers, it’s our responsibility to take that risk and provide variety, so that the audience gets to choose. Filmmakers are responsible for taking the industry and the audience forward, especially when viewers are open to experimenting with films.

Kalapi Nagada, Founder, Cinekorn Entertainment

Ace filmmakers have been rocking the industry. As distributors, we bank on such filmmakers and place our bets while acquiring films that have the right formula. Yes, conviction in their content and packaging it well is the key to a film succeeding at the box office.

Filmmakers who have moved with the times and have kept audiences tastes and sentiments in mind, and packaged them with modern tools, have been winners. Genres and subjects have remained the same across all cinemas but the acceptance of a mixed bag of movies by the audience is only dependent on how well the content is created and packaged, which I believe our industry’s ace filmmakers know well and hence we bank on them.

Besides Hollywood and Bollywood films, there are some small films that have also clocked extraordinary numbers in Gujarati and Marathi cinemas. This again proves that content-driven films made with the right conviction will bring success. So, as a distributor, I believe a filmmaker has to develop the right thought with conviction and packaging it correctly to make a good product.

Filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajkumar Hirani and Sajid Nadiadwala are a few ace filmmakers who have proved this time and again. Their movies are excellent examples of design, packaging and, of course, the right concepts.

Anjum Rizvi, Producer

Filmmakers are making movies with conviction. The genre no longer seems to matter. Whether period films like Padmaavat or Raazi, there are always takers. The only requirement is that the content is engaging. I always believe that when you think out of box and you make something relatable, people will identify with it and it will work. When we made A Wednesday! in 2008, the movie was relevant at the time and it is relevant today too.

The films you mention are easy to relate to for the audience and that is why they have worked. Filmmakers are an intelligent bunch today, and it’s not as if ek formula leke you start churning out movies one after another. Even when making a full-on commercial action film, there is a lot of thought that goes into making it. These movies have moved beyond mindless action and violence and the audience can connect with the characters.

That is one major reason different kinds of films work today. With the kind of access and therefore choices the audience now has, filmmakers can’t dish out average fare. It would also make them the laughing stock, internationally.

Omung Kumar, Producer-Director

I think the tide is changing but not quickly enough. This year has shown hope, that directors can now believe in themselves and make movies that they like and that the audience will accept if they are well made. But the process has just begun, so it will take some time. The trend will only show once the films release. Having said that, some will continue to choose the easier path of a proven formula while there will be others who will want to buck the trend.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice-President, Yoodlee Films

I feel the audience is maturing and there is a genuine demand for differentiated and authentic films. Audiences are also narrowing, and by that I mean it is possible to make a film targeted at a smaller demographic group. If it finds appeal within the target audience, it translates into good word-of-mouth publicity and makes the film snowball into something bigger.

Ajay Kapoor, Producer

Today’s audience has opened their minds and has started looking at different genres of movies, which have turned out to be very successful as filmmakers. Movies have a dynamic power to change us, teach us. They present a visual lesson to a captivated audience that lingers in the very consciousness of thoughts and could potentially translate into action. Whether it’s by moving us to tears or giving us courage to keep going, some of the best motivational encouragement can be found on the big screen.

Brijesh Tandon, Distributor

The audience today is interested in different types of subjects, especially original subjects and original stories. They don’t care very much about star cast; all they want are good subjects and good stories. That’s why filmmakers are trying out all types of subjects.

This year, most films are not big-budget films. They are small- or medium-budget movies. Budgets and star cast are not very important for today’s audience; all they want are good subjects. This is illustrated very well by Veere Di Wedding, which has done very well. It’s a new subject and there is no hero in the film.

Before that there was Parmanu, which too did not have a very big star cast and it is the same with Raazi. Instead of stars and budgets, the audience is hungry for stories that touch the heart. It is a good opportunity for filmmakers and a very good time for the Indian film industry.

The audience is definitely maturing. Last year, Tubelight featured Salman Khan and it released during the Eid holiday period, but it failed because the audience didn’t find any substance in it. In contrast, take an actor like Rajkummar Rao. Despite his lack of star power, his films have been doing well. His acting chops have proved that the audience likes good acting, good performances and good subjects.

Rajesh Thadani, Distributor

I think people have started focusing more on content and scripts. All these recent movies had strong content and good stories. Those that did not have good content, did not work. I think producers are realising this and focusing on content-driven films. They are realising that the films that did not work lacked content and the presence of big starts did not help. In contrast, small films with good content are catching on quickly. So, above all, the content has to be strong; the genre does not really matter.

Debashish Dey, Distributor

The audience wants films that are good, that are content-oriented and offer something new. The audience today cannot be taken for granted. You can’t serve them the same old food with a lot of garnishing. I believe that all these movies did really well at the box office because of their content and because they offered something new. And they offered variety.

Raid was a different genre with a background in tax, which is an unusual subject for a film in Indian cinema. Hichki had education as its background. Since the average movie ticket costs around `300-380 in a multiplex, the audience is looking for value for money. Unless you give them something that is content-driven, they will not watch it. Movies that didn’t do well flopped due to a dearth of content.

Arijit Dutta, Distributor

Filmmakers have started being innovative and not a moment too soon. The industry has new filmmakers, new directors, new ideas and fresh minds, and this has shown results in the first half of 2018. It’s an excellent situation. Filmmakers are experimenting, which is extremely exciting and a good thing for the industry as well as the audience, who are enjoying content-driven cinema.

Jaspal Dhingra, Distributor

If filmmakers continue to use dated formulae, audiences will get bored. The industry will stagnate. If you make movies about revenge or comedy again and again, you exhaust your audience. As many as six movies are released a week and many go unnoticed.  But when there is something different being offered, audiences take note and those movies click at the box office.

Look at John Abraham. He made Madras Café, then Vicky Donor and now Parmanu. There was not much publicity before or after the film’s release but people are going to see it. When the content is good, word-of-mouth publicity drives the movie. A film by an actor like Shah Rukh Khan fails because the content is average. Four songs and an oft-repeated formula will not find success. People don’t turn out for such films. Look at Veere Di Wedding; I also released Carry On Jatta and the movie has done well.

Hats off to those people who are experimenting and finding success as well. Some experiments may fail, but when a movie like this clicks, it is amazing. There was a time when people wanted to see a Shah Rukh Khan film or Amitabh Bachchan film. I have released 102 Not Out. There is no heroine in the film, but audiences are coming to the theatres to see it. Morning shows may not bring in the audiences for these films, but by the time of the evening shows, these movies turn around and the business grows.

In the future too, movies which have repetitive plots may get the openings but they will not be able to sustain themselves at the box office for one to three weeks. Veere Di Wedding has no hero, but the women have done wonders. Two of the songs are also hits. The film reminds you of Pyaar Ka Punchnama and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. In Gurgaon the film made `45 lakh on the first day. Imagine a film with no hero making `11-12 crore across India on the first day. This is happening now because the audience today is intelligent. You cannot take them for a ride anymore. Only movies that are different will work going forward.

Emraan Hashmi has had hits with Mahesh Bhatt but has not been as successful with other filmmakers. That is because they chased the trend and did not try something different with him. The strength of Vishesh films was the subject. Movies will continue to surprise as Hindi Medium did last year, and there will be more such films. When films don’t work it hurts the business, but when good content does well, it is a wonderful surprise.

Sakshi Mehra, Distributor

When a filmmaker makes a movie he believes in, his creativity, ideas and energy are channelised optimally in making a better product irrespective of its box office result. Good content has always attracted audiences. In fact, a big budget/big star movie with good content especially catering to all sections will result in blockbuster collections.

Sujay Kutty, Business Head, Zee Studios 

From big-budget, marquee films to content-driven cinema, it’s been a great year at the movies, so far. As a studio, we believe in creating and backing good content, in the same way that we collaborate with filmmakers who are astute storytellers. Good content always comes out a winner, as we saw with our latest film, John Abraham’s Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, which is doing so well at the box office. We will continue to support filmmakers who are committed to bringing good content to life on the silver screen.

Shaailesh R Singh, Producer

I think it’s a good sign that filmmakers are not sticking to formulae. The best part is that the non-formula films are working. Filmmakers are making different kinds of films and the audience is watching them. This is a sign that audiences are accepting different kinds of films.

It is a good time for the industry and for filmmakers. And this has a lot to do with the influence of foreign films on the audience. They now have access to so many types of films. Content-driven films like Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, Raazi, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and Padmaavat have done very well. Veere Di Wedding is also doing well. Most content-driven films are doing well, which is very good.

And they aren’t doing well only because of the stars in them. It is their stories rather than just the stars that are making them a hit. People are crediting Alia Bhatt for the success of Raazi. She is definitely a big star. But the film worked because of its content too. Parmanu has also worked because of its content as have Veere Di Wedding and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.

Audiences are evolved because they are exposed to world cinema now. They are also watching content on Amazon and Netflix. That is why they are used to different kinds of content. Everything is opening up. Filmmakers and audiences both have an opportunity to experiment. The only formula is honesty. Whatever filmmakers do, they should do it with honesty instead of trying to manipulate the audience. Audiences like anything that is well made. 

Jeetu Khandelwal, Distributor

Initially, we used to watch films that followed a set pattern. There used to be a hero, a heroine and a villain. The hero used to save the heroine from the villain. There would be violent fight sequences between the hero and the villain. Films like Mukkabaaz, Raazi and Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran follow a very different pattern. Raazi had an unpredictable plotline. People did not know what was going to happen from one scene to the next. The same goes for Parmanu.  All we knew about the film was that it was based on the nuclear test of 1998 but nobody knew the details.

These are the kinds of films that evoke interest among the audience. Upper-class audiences spend a lot of money to watch movies in multiplexes. They want to watch different kinds of non-formulaic films. These audiences might be smaller but these films earn big at the box office.

There are still commercial films like Baahubali: The Conclusion, an out-and-out action film, that have universal appeal. But these films are not churned out in large numbers. Making a superhero film is very expensive. The sequences have to be beyond our wildest imagination. These films automatically become a narrative with a different pattern and that generates a lot of curiosity among audiences. Everyone wants to see it, be part of the spectacle.

But not everyone can make big, commercial films like Baahubali or Avengers: Infinity War because they don’t have the budgets. So they have begun making films on budgets of `60 crore to `100 crore. But these films do not do massive business.

Coming to films based on real lives and historical events, people will watch them only if they have an interesting plot. Historical films can never give you 100 per cent success. Jodhaa Akbar wasn’t a 100 per cent successful film. Padmaavat was a successful film, but not a 100 per cent successful film. Raazi is a 100 per cent success because it is a small film that has earned `120 crore. Since non-formulaic films are working, other producers want to follow suit. They want to make smaller films with strong content.

There was a time when a lot of horror films were being made. But a big film like Vikram Bhatt’s Creature bombed at the box office. It was made in 3D. It didn’t work because people had already seen that kind of film. In today’s times, if the multiplex audiences get the content of their choice, they will favour the content over the stars.

The focus today is on true stories. People want to watch biopics like M S Dhoni: The Untold Story and Sanju because we are interested in these lives. People want to watch Sanju because they feel for the hardships that Sanjay Dutt has encountered. They have heard about the life that he has led. This is the first time that they will get to watch his story on screen. Hence, people are curious about the film. If biopics can involve us and are relatable, the hype surrounding them becomes huge. Sachin: A Billion Dreams didn’t work because it failed to touch the hearts of the audience. If the content is good, every film will work.

- Bhakti Mehta, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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