2016 was a game changer year for the film exhibition business: Rahul Puri, Mukta Arts

Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts, on demonetisation, curb on piracy, and big international digital entities Netflix and Amazon Prime Video making the film market more dynamic and fierce than ever before.

The year 2016 has been nothing less than a roller-coaster ride for every sector. Some tremendously impactful decisions were made and no industry has been left unaffected. The film exhibition business, too, saw many highs and lows this year. With several big-budget films not living up to expectations in terms of business and niche, unique-concept films doing incredibly well at the box office, it has been a year of uncertainty. The pleasant surprises from showbiz, quality films taking over the nation by storm is proof of today's evolved audience. They have drastically improved their outlook towards films and learned how to see beyond the brightness of posh and glitz of stardom. This positive change will immensely benefit the show business and films with a cause will strive to make a mark.

The year 2016 has been quite an eventful one, with the demonetisation wave hitting the country and leaving the economy and its intricacies shaken. On the flipside, the long war on the oldest hardship the film exhibition business has to fight, piracy, is coming to an end and with big international digital entities Netflix and Amazon Prime Video entering the scene, the market just got fiercer. This has created a truly dynamic market for film exhibitors, both multiplex and single screens.

2016 witnessed some celebrated and ambitious Bollywood films releasing, including Fan, Azhar, Mirzya, Wazir, Baar Baar Dekho, Mohenjo Daro to name a few. Despite these films featuring the biggest of stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan, they could not do well at the box office. However some releases this year did exceptionally well where the MS Dhoni biopic, Pink, Sarabjit, Udta Punjab, Shivaay, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and towards the end, Dear Zindagi and Dangal are a few prominent ones to name. This throws light on the changed pattern of today's audiences' liking and inclination, showcasing their perspective has changed over time. Audiences don't settle for mediocre, ordinary old love stories or pointless visual extravaganza anymore, they have become sharper and more observant, which enables them to distinguish between a great movie and a movie with stellar star cast. Movies aren't rehashed, old proven formulas today. When biopics such as MS Dhoni and Sarabjit created sensations, Azhar didn't even leave a mark of its own. Big B left us all in trembles with pride with his critically acclaimed performance in Pink, but didn't make much of a difference through the ambitious Wazir. Viewers are finally on the lookout for novelty, a sense of innovation and uniqueness along with an impactful concept. A Dear Zindagi would have had a hard time being embraced by audience a few years ago. Today, a gracefully aged Shah Rukh and a joyous Alia are weaving magic across screens.

One other aspect that Bollywood needs to analyse is the growing acceptance for Hollywood movies. They continue to grow steadily and gradually, and have ruled screens across the nation this year. The Jungle Book winning hearts of viewers, irrespective of their age, set a landmark for Hollywood entrants. Other franchises such as DC Comic's Suicide Squad, Marvel's Civil War, Dr. Strange and right at the end, Rogue One, were also considerably big winners. Suicide Squad and Civil War were successfully running for weeks and gave contemporary Bollywood movies a run for their money. It's high time we catch up with this trend.

Regional movies emerged as champions too in 2016. Several excellent films, which otherwise would have been categorized as parallel cinema, made big bucks at the box office. Sairat outperformed many Hindi films and played across the country despite the language barrier. With a minimal budget and a set of fresh and talented actors, this movie crossed borders in more than one way. The heart wrenching performance and beautiful story line stole hearts and restored our faith in regional cinema. Other regional films did exceedingly well, including Bahubali, which broke box office records and went on to become a global sensation.

As demonetisation hit the nation, in markets across the country, especially tier 2 and 3 cities, theaters witnessed a sudden drop in footfall. This ambiguity was short-lived as players revived it through various offers and concessions. Many theaters have survived by introducing schemes, promotions and offers to counter lower footfalls. F&B promotions, activities as well as advertising models were deployed in sync with well-planned marketing strategies to balance the after-effects of demonetisation. The sudden development in digital economy also helped the industry immensely.

In the most exciting turn of events, 2016 saw a relentless war on piracy on the Internet. Torrent ban has been a remarkable move and this gave the film exhibition industry a great boost.

Digital media is growing by leaps and bounds and seems to leave no stone unturned to reach out to all segments of consumers. With the entry of international entertainment giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, another form of competition has emerged, the digital exhibition. The exclusivity of movie watching, that experience can now be enjoyed anywhere and at any point of time conveniently. Similarly, the industry also saw the growth of Indian digital cinema exhibition players like Hungama Play, Voot and Hotstar keeping up the competition.

With the many changes and challenges to face in 2016, the film exhibition industry has seen an unexpected makeover with expansion into smaller markets, launching of single screen theaters in small cities, surprising success of regional films and emergence of an evolved audience. Demonetisation and digital film exhibition have played a key role in reshaping this industry and creating a brand new identity.

With this space becoming more and more dynamic and spontaneous with each passing day, we are sure to see an unexpected evolution, both in terms of audience and content in the upcoming years. 2017 will hopefully start with a bang as several big-ticket projects are breaking norms and are scheduled for an early release this year.