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When Bollywood faced its biggest reality check

Experts offered an array of reasons for this scenario: the rapid rise of OTT platforms, the end of the star system, the impact of boycott brigade
Last Updated 02 January 2023, 11:13 IST
Bollywood wound up the year on a positive note as the remake film ‘Drishyam 2’, starring Ajay Devgn and Shriya Sharan, crossed the Rs 100-crore mark at the box office. Credit: Special arrangement
Bollywood wound up the year on a positive note as the remake film ‘Drishyam 2’, starring Ajay Devgn and Shriya Sharan, crossed the Rs 100-crore mark at the box office. Credit: Special arrangement
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Following a two-year lull due to the pandemic, Bollywood witnessed a huge change in 2022. Star films failed to inspire huge openings and eventually suffered at the box office. The audience became ruthless, not giving substandard films a chance. Many big films thus could not even recover their production costs.

Experts offered an array of reasons for this scenario: the rapid rise of OTT platforms, the end of the star system, the impact of boycott brigade and the preference for big budget magnum opuses from south India.

It all boiled down to convenience, economics and variety. The viewer wasn able to watch a film on personal devices or television, at his convenience, within a month of its big-screen release.

Word-of-mouth played a huge role in deciding whether a film deserved a big-screen experience (like ‘Brahmastra’, ‘KGF: Chapter 2’, ‘RRR’ or the Hollywood film ‘Avatar’) or a home-viewing on an OTT platform. Thus, the craze around the ‘First Day First Show’ experience among Hindi film-watching audience seems to have ended. And community viewing was now reserved only for the above-mentioned spectacles or those that offered an emotional ride like ‘Drishyam 2’, or ‘The Kashmir Files’.

And when people can enjoy a buffet of entertainment at home for as low as Rs 500 to 1000 for a month with their OTT subscriptions, why should they splurge in theatres and malls? A scriptwriter of a hit film said: “Most multiplexes are located inside malls. So a family of four can easily end up spending around Rs. 6000 on a single movie, including exorbitant F&B, and shopping. How many can afford that every week? And then if a film is disappointing, it definitely makes people frustrated.”

Finally, OTT platforms facilitate great variety. Unconventional films like ‘Darlings’, ‘Jalsa’, ‘Gehraiyaan’ and ‘Freddy’ wouldn’t have prospered in big screens but they were rightly celebrated post their respective direct-OTT-releases.

Southern boom

Relatable emotional stories and big-screen spectacles drive audiences to cinema today. The South scored big this year with the Hindi versions of the Kannada film ‘KGF: Chapter 2’ (Rs. 434.62 crore) and Telugu’s ‘RRR’ (Rs. 274.31 crore). And the nationwide sensation ‘Kantara’ raked up Rs. 79.25 crore.

That said, ‘Kartikeya 2’ made just Rs. 31.05 crore. The likes of ‘PS-1’, ‘Vikram’, ‘Sita Ramam’ and ‘Major’ did extraordinary business only in south India but their Hindi box office results weren’t entirely impressive. The other biggies, ‘Liger’, and ‘Radhe Shyam’ were disasters.

“In the South too, equations have changed. And the scenario in Telugu cinema is probably worse than here,” says exhibitor Akshaye Rathi, who owns a chain of theatres mid-country. “Haven’t we (Hindi cinema) too had major blockbusters like ‘The Kashmir Files’, ‘Brahmastra’, ‘Drishyam 2’ or ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’? And in terms of profit and performance, ‘Uunchai’ and ‘Bhediya’ are still running in theatres.”

The boycott challenge

“All that the audience wants is a strong-enough reason to compel them to visit a theatre, observes Rathi. This explains why ‘Runway 34’ did well only on streaming, and not in theatres. However, the same Ajay Devgn scored in ‘Drishyam 2’. Today, a film’s fate is decided by Friday evening, not on Monday anymore.”

Bollywood faced the challenge of boycott calls from people. These films were targeted by the boycott brigades for varying reasons: Aamir Khan’s ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, ‘Raksha Bandhan’, starring Akshay Kumar, and ‘Brahmastra’ featuring Ranbir Kapoor. But ‘Brahmastra’ netted over Rs 200 crore while the other two movies collapsed. So does that mean strong, relatable stories can withstand boycott campaigns? Maybe.

OTT record

For the first time ever, OTT films accounted for almost a fourth of the total releases, and Alia Bhatt’s production ‘Darlings’ was a magnificent example of how quality product can succeed in online space. Of course, underwhelming affairs were present too in the likes of ‘Gehraiyaan’, ‘Looop Lapeta’, and ‘Thar’. Movies like ‘A Thursday’, ‘Kaun Pravin Tambe?’ and ‘Good Luck Jerry’ were well-received.

Highs and lows

Films that deserve much better this year include ‘An Action Hero’, ‘Mili’, ‘Runway 34’, ‘Vikram Vedha’ and ‘Bhediya’. Standout performances came from Ajay Devgn (‘Runway 34’, ‘Drishyam 2’), Alia Bhatt (‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, ‘Darlings’), Janhvi Kapoor (‘Mili’), Hrithik Roshan (‘Vikram Vedha’), R Madhavan (‘Rocketry’), Shreyas Talpade (‘Kaun Pravin Tambe?’), and Vijay Verma (‘Darlings’). Among supporting actors, Vishal Jethwa (‘Salaam Venky’), and Shefali Shah (‘Jalsa’, ‘Darlings’) were some of the standout performers. But abysmal fares like ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, ‘Shamshera’, ‘Ram Setu’, ‘Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan’, ‘Cirkus’, Attack: Part 1’ and ‘Heropanti 2’ were junked mercilessly.

Melody vs Cacophony

The year also saw hope for the return of melody with songs from ‘Uunchai’ and ‘Qala’ (both from Amit Trivedi), ‘Brahmastra’ (Pritam), ‘Drishyam’ (Rockstar DSP) and ‘RRR’ (M M Keervani). There were sporadic hummable songs in films as varied as ‘Raksha Bandhan’, ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, ‘Monica O My Darling’, ‘Bhediya’, and the dubbed ‘Sita Ramam’. In the rest, the cacophony continued with noisome words, terrible singing and an overdose of Punjabi.

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(Published 30 December 2022, 18:32 IST)

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