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Safe & Sound?

Anyone in the trade will tell you that there are no safe bets, just as there is no formula for making a successful film. This was only underlined by the underdog films of last year – films like Hindi Medium, Newton, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Bareilly Ki Barfi, which were winners.

But, these films had one thing missing. Despite the critical acclaim and audience appreciation that they received, they did not bring in huge box office numbers. Even those that did well commercially were unable to rack up anything next to the numbers that successful, big-banner films achieve – those larger-than-life commercial, masala entertainers.

Moreover, the recently released Baaghi 2 has taught us that commercial movies are always going to be the first love of the Indian audience. No doubt, viewers are accepting out-of-the-box cinema and new subjects with creative treatment. But, with a masala blockbuster set to release every second month of 2018, it makes us wonder whether commercial is the way to go for filmmakers. Consider the following line-up from the last two-three quarters – Judwaa 2 (September 2017), Golmaal Again!!! (October 2017), Fukrey Returns and Tiger Zinda Hai (December 2017), Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (February 2018), Baaghi 2 (March 2018).

While it is next to impossible to say what does and what does not click with the movie-going audience, one thing is clear – only a successful blockbuster can rake in the really big numbers.

We asked producers, directors, exhibitors and distributors whether commercial, masala movies are the safest bet for Bollywood filmmakers after all.

Bhushan Kumar, Producer

Each of our last four films, Hindi Medium, Tumhari Sulu, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and Raid, were of very different genres but each one did exceptionally well at the box office. We believe that a good, entertaining film will always find its audience and reach its potential.

Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios

2018 has begun on a fantastic note for the industry. Audiences have been exposed to varied genres of entertainment, from the period classic Padmaavat to Akshay Kumar’s social drama Pad Man, Ajay Devgn’s Raid to Sajid Nadiadwala and FSS’s action entertainer Baaghi 2, which has created an opening day record and raced to the coveted `100-crore mark within 6 days of its release. Just when naysayers were claiming that audiences only want to come to theatres for big, spectacle films, the power of good stories with a point of difference has been reinforced! 

Over `750 crore net business has been garnered at the box office, which is tremendous first-quarter business for the industry. Post the success of Baaghi 2, we at Fox Star Studios, are looking forward to our second quarter releases – the hugely anticipated Rajkumar Hirani directed Dutt biopic Sanju and the equally awaited Deadpool 2.

Remo D’Souza, Director

We already know that masala movies work more than content-driven films. There are very few content-driven films and those that work do so because they have entertainment value. With so much stress in everyone’s lives, no one wants to see something that is not entertaining. Audiences want to see something that will entertain them. That is why I think commercial entertainers work. When people come to see a movie, they want to enjoy themselves, see amazing stunts, they want to get entertained. That is why, not only in India but all over the world, commercial entertainers work. 

Mahendra Soni, Director & Co-Founder, SVF

Baaghi 2 has delivered great numbers and it is great news for the industry. There cannot be a single formula for successful films, that it has to be masala commercial to work. The recent pat has unequivocally proved that good films which connect with the audience will undoubtedly work. Dangal and Padmaavat are not hardcore commercial films but they have delivered big time.

I feel there is huge potential in every kind of film, provided it connects with its target audience and is made on budgets that keep the recovery potential in mind. Distribution and marketing should also be planned as per the target audience of the film. October has been loved by a certain type of audience and it got great reviews too but it will not go down as a hit or a blockbuster film. My point is, expecting it to earn `100 crore is absurd and comparing it with the success of Judwaa 2 is ridiculous. The time has come where filmmakers/studio owners need to be more aware of market dynamics and approach their films in a more strategic manner with respect to not only budgets but a release plan, marketing spends and recovery modules.

Ramesh Taurani, Producer

I don’t think there are any safe bets in the movie business. If that were the case, everyone would be making the same kind of films. The movies that you have mentioned have done well at the box office because in some way they have connected with the audience. In my opinion, that’s the only way to make a film today. Whether it’s a commercial or a content-driven film, it has to entertain the audience. Last year, we saw content-driven films like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Hindi Medium, which worked at the box office. And for these movies, content was king.

Jayantilal Gada, Producer

Content-driven movies will always work but they have their limitations too. They cannot reach the box office success levels of commercial masala entertainers. Masala films definitely have their place, especially with what Tiger Shroff has done with Baaghi 2. It will open doors for young stars.

Content-driven films will continue to find a place with the audience but they reel in only 25 per cent of the box office collections of commercial entertainers. October received generous critical acclaim but the box office numbers were just not there, which may be because people did not want to see Varun Dhawan in such a film; they want to see him in masala films.

The content-driven films that have worked at the box office don’t feature the big stars. All of Varun’s films that have worked are masala entertainers. It is possible that people may have wanted to see someone else in the lead role. It is not easy for actors to break their stereotypical image although many have tried. Even in the past, actors have tried to work in movies contrary to their image. Akshay Kumar took time to change genres, say from action to comedy and then back to action.

You could say that 2018 is the year of content, where audiences have loved high-concept films. It started with Padmaavat, Hichki, Pad Man, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and Raid and each one has done really well. Our film Aiyaary too released and it was loved by audiences. I believe what has worked in this quarter is content. Most of these films were made on a tight budget and went on to do really well. I see this year as a positive year for our industry. Last year, not many films did good business at the box office and more than `100/200 crore, it’s return on investment and profit which producers need to earn.   

Anees Bazmee, Producer-Director

People consider me to be a hardcore, commercial filmmaker. Ever since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed movies that are larger than life. Films that have action, songs, full-on commercial masala films, these are the movies I have grown up with. I have written 50-60 films and the ones that have succeeded at the box office have been hardcore, commercial films. I have written different stories as well. Even the movies that I have directed, like No Entry, Singh Is Kinng, Welcome, Ready…these are all hardcore commercial films. I truly believe that commercial films that are made well will always succeed.

There are different stories that are being told that are also successful. Such films are being made today and I believe they should be made. The changes happening in today’s society are being showcased. I watch these films and enjoy them as well. But, if there was a, say, James Bond film releasing, I would want to catch its first day first show. I know the plot of the movie; the hero is going to save the day and the world from the bad guys. But, the way the movie is made… it is larger than life, it is glossy, there is glamour. When I spend 300 to 400 rupees on a movie ticket, I want to be entertained. I don’t want to think a lot during the film and at the end of it, I should have enjoyed the experience. This is the kind of movie I will make and these commercial movies will bring in the big numbers.

People watch movies with a message but it is the larger-than-life movies with action, romance and glamour that audiences truly enjoy. It is not easy to make these commercial movies. In the past, there were filmmakers who have tried to make movies like this and have failed. Filmmakers like Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra… their movies were a class apart.

If making commercial movies was easy, I would have given you more names instead of the few I just mentioned. Ramesh Sippy and Yash Chopra also gave us amazing and successful films. But, then the movies made by Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra were hardcore commercial entertainers. It is not easy to grasp the pulse of the common man and what the audience likes. I have made different films like Deewangee and Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha. But, I would still be happy to make commercial entertainers.

Tanuj Garg, Managing Partner, Ellipsis Entertainment

We are quick to jump to conclusions and say that something is a trend. There is no doubt that a select number of tent pole, star-studded extravaganzas will invariably have a strong market as they make for appointment viewing on festival holidays. But, that doesn’t take away from the power of unconventional, content-driven cinema, which has found an astounding position under the sun in the last few years. Both types co-exist and both are equally ‘commercial’ and ‘safe’ if they work.

Omung Kumar, Producer-Director

I wouldn’t say that commercial, masala movies are the safest bet. I would rather say that we still haven’t been able to figure out our audiences completely. I think a lot of wagering bets on projects is guesswork. Secondly, one cannot deny that most masala, commercial films are being rejected outright even when they have the biggest stars. I would bet on content, any day. Yes, Hindi film audiences like masala entertainers but it is no longer the norm.

Anjum Rizvi, Writer-Producer

At the end of the day, a film has to entertain, commercial or otherwise. That’s why non-star cast films do well and some with big names fail due to the lack of it. The backbone of any film is content. All the films mentioned above have done well because they have connected with the audience and have delivered value for money, whether big or small.

Abhinay Deo, Director

Audiences want to watch good cinema, and commercial cinema attracts the masses. But, that should not stop a director from trying different mediums and various ways of telling stories. It is hard to tell what story will connect. There is no such thing as ‘commercial cinema’; when a film works, everyone tags it as ‘commercial’. Yes, masala flicks are working and there is a genuine reason why they are working.

But, if you look back, many big-budget films with big stars have not worked in the past few years because they did not score on content, which is why audiences rejected them. And those that have worked at the box office connected with audiences.

There is no set formula on what kind of films work and what doesn’t. A filmmaker should simply focus on making a good film. You can’t tag the audience, saying audiences like comedy, action or horror. The emotions while watching a film should be wholesome. Be it Golmaal Again!!!, Tiger Zinda Hai, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety or Judwaa 2, all these films were loved by audiences and that’s why they did so well. I, as a director, want to experiment with genres so I cannot follow a formula. I am a filmmaker and I want to discover various territories.

Umesh Shukla, Director

A good film will always work and a director and his team need to make it with genuine focus and vision. Some films don’t work at the box office but become epic when aired on TV or digital. One doesn’t go to the theatre looking for, say, a film with a message, or a commercial film. People want to be entertained. One spends the whole week working and wants to spend money to be entertained during weekends or even on weekdays. That entertainment should be wholesome.

There are no safe bets. If there were, everyone would have been making superhit films. In the past, we have seen many films with big names failing badly at the box office and the reason is the content didn’t attract the audience. Similarly, the films of many newcomers have worked because the content appealed to movie-goers.

Devang Sampat, Cinepolis 

I believe there is space for all types of content – good and quality content. I agree that masala content takes a good opening but other quality content grows with word-of-mouth publicity. We release 200-odd Bollywood movies a year and our audience wants variety and there is space for all kinds of movies. If the budgets are right and the product pitched to its target audience appeals, people will accept all types of content.

Sunir Khetarpal, CEO, Azure Entertainment

Commercial, masala movies have never, and will never, go out of fashion. High-concept content movies work for discerning audiences on the opening day, whose word-of-mouth publicity makes them reach wider audiences, while masala movies invariably open to bigger numbers and grow quickly. When one says content always works, we are referring to both types of movies. Commercial, masala movies are ‘content’ for larger audience groups across masses and classes while high-concept ideas are ‘content’ for discerning, urban audiences and are helped by positive word-of-mouth. These movies then become acceptable among the masses too.

Balkrishna Shroff, Distributor

Commercial films are always safe for any producer. But, just because you are making a commercial film, it doesn’t guarantee success. There are so many commercial films that flop. The only advantage is that with good content, sky is the limit for the business of these films. That is not the case for classy or niche films. They can never become a Baahubali: The Conclusion or Dangal or Tiger Zinda Hai or Baaghi. They might get a National Award or an Oscar even, but there is a limit to the business they can do.

Commercial films also fail, but they will at least make some financial recovery. There are so many examples of so-called class or niche films flopping and becoming total disasters. This is why commercial films are safer for producers. When you are talking about appreciation and a movie not doing well at the box office, you are contradicting yourself. A good review does not mean that the audience has also accepted the film. Just about anyone can become a critic today and most of them have little or no understanding of the movie business. At the end of the day, it is all about the audience. When a movie is not doing well, the audience has not liked the film. Baaghi 2 did not get good reviews but the film is a hit. It has made `150 crore at the box office.

Jeetu Khandelwal, Distributor

Movies like Baaghi 2 and Golmaal Again!!! worked because they were masala entertainers. These movies were made in a certain format. When filmmakers try to do something different, like a Tubelight, they tend to fail. There are some producers who don’t make different movies; they make what they know works at the box office. That is why Baaghi 2 was a huge hit. They make movies like movies need to be made.

Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal series gave the audience full-on entertainment. That is why these movies do well. Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay was an expensive project. The same Ajay Devgn did Golmaal Again!!!. One didn’t work and the other did because the latter was full of masala, which the audience wanted. Movies that have to succeed will succeed at the box office, movies that won’t succeed, don’t.

Ghazi Attack got good reviews but no box office numbers. Baaghi 2 worked because it had all the elements of a commercial entertainer. October had Varun Dhawan but its content was not what audiences liked. Even Dear Zindagi had Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan. The movie was different but the content was good and so it did business of around `50 crore, even though it coincided with demonetisation.

At the end of the day, content has to be good or movies will not work, whether they feature Varun Dhawan or Salman Khan. Look what happened with Tubelight. It made just `100 crore whereas Salman Khan’s movies make `300 crore.

Ankit Kapur, Head of Business Development and Operations, MovieTime Cinemas

Commercial films are definitely a safe bet. Look at the success of films like the Golmaal series, Ek Tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai and Raees, etc. They take different genres, throw them into a pot, stir them well and come up with something for everyone. These films are money-spinners as they are commercially viable. Somewhere deep down, probably at the subconscious level, even the stars know that it is only a Hindi masala entertainer that can save them. We Indians use masala to enhance the flavour of our food. Similarly, a ‘masala movie’ is a movie that is meant to solely entertain the audience. A splash of comedy, showers of catchy dance numbers, plot twists, romance and drama… put it all in a mixer and you get a ‘masala movie’.

Debashish Dey, Distributor

2018 started very nicely, with amazing content like Padmaavat, Pad Man, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Hichki and Raid, all of which earned good return on investment. In West Bengal, all the films have done really good business, much better than last year. Films made on a tight budget have earned well. 

Jaspal Dhingra, Distributor

There is no fixed formula for a film to become successful, so we cannot say a commercial film works and a non-commercial one doesn’t. Even a non-commercial film made on a budget and a tight P&A can recover its investment. Some commercial films made on a budget of `90 crore make `100 crore. Yes, comedy and action have always worked in our industry because it’s a huge release for audiences who work very hard during the week. When someone makes them laugh, that works even more. But, having said that, we have seen that films with a tough message and entertainment factor have always worked well with the audience. All they really want are good films.


- Soumita Sengupta, Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas

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