The Survival of Hindi Cinema

Lot of discussions have been around the disastrous numbers reflected in Box Office collection of Bollywood. Initially, it was believed that the Bollywood is under attack from South films. The state of Bollywood then was like that of the high cost American car manufacturers of 1970s when they, for the first time, felt competition from the cost-efficient Japanese cars and did not know how to react. But now with Telugu film industry also feeling the cost pressures, it is clear that the problems of Bollywood are not just restricted to costs but are far more structural.

Incorrect measure of growth

During the last 15 years, Bollywood has been measuring its growth through Gross Box Office Collections and number of screens. The growth in Box Office collections has only been due to the rise in prices of cinema hall tickets from around Rs 3-4/- in 1980s to about 150/- now. Therefore, Bollywood has been collecting larger sums from fewer people. For country which has a large market at the bottom of the pyramid, it should actually have been the converse.

Increasing number of producers. Reducing number of distributors

Film making is about finding the optimal blend between creativity and commerce. Also, film making is an entrepreneurial activity. And entrepreneurial businesses flourish only when there are one or two key decision makers.

In the past the Producer-Director duo were the key decision makers and thus could deliver the right blend of creativity and commerce. In fact, makers who were themselves both producer and director ( Raj Kapoor, Subhash Ghai, Rakesh Roshan et al) had the highest success rates.

But now with the above mechanism no more in existence, the entire risk gets concentrated with the producer, who tries to mitigate his risk by taking multiple producers. In this process not only the market intelligence from distributor/exhibitor is no more available but presence of multiple producers means multiple decision makers in an entrepreneurial activity. And thus the film making starts drifting away from the optimal blend of creativity and commerce.

Now, some may argue that when OTT is more efficient way of content distribution why does one need cinema halls ?

The answer lies in the unique and unmatched power that the country derives through public consumption of content. If Hindi cinema has been effective in spreading patriotic verve (Gadar, Chak De, Rang De Basanti, Border ) and awareness for social causes (Bandini, Mother India, Taare Zameen Par) then the public consumption of content has played a very critical role in such public campaigns. In fact, the British Govt was so scared of public consumption of content that it had imposed high entertainment tax to curb the public awareness of patriotic feel that was getting spread through films and theatrical plays. It is for this power of public consumption of content that cinema halls and theatre need to survive.

So while industry players are working on saving the industry and its employment potential but their responsibility is much bigger than what many are aware of.


Date: 19th August, 2022