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The last five years have seen constant growth in the business of this industry, and that’s been possible largely due to greater audience acceptance. The audience has given us a choice since movie-goers are watching all kinds of films. Now it’s up to filmmakers to step up to the plate.

There are B, C and A centres, multiplexes, single-screens but there were only specific films that made it big at the box office. But now, the audience has spread far and wide and will accept anything well-made if you communicate properly with them and tell them exactly what sort of a film you have made.

Today, people are prepared to watch stories more than ever before. It’s no longer something they do once in a while, but one of the many things they include in their busy schedules. It has become a way of life. Of course, there are some ‘special’ films and we call these ‘popular’ films or ‘blockbuster’ films or ‘holiday’ films.

But the audience has grown not only in share of volumes but their tastes have expanded to include different kinds of cinema. The gap between niche, popular, middle-of-the-road and extremely artistic films is shrinking, which opens up possibilities for filmmakers. So, for instance, a guy who could make a film like, say, Jab We Met, can also make a Highway. He can throw a small budget, concept driven film in between the big films he is making.

Similarly, some producers like Dharma Productions can make a film like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or they can back a film like The Lunchbox. You know, just like UTV Spotboy does. But there is one factor that is driving this growth in business and opportunities and that is the broadening of taste among the audience. Things have changed so much that any film could turn into a blockbuster, including a niche film like Queen. Or even an old-timer like Chak De! India. The change in a film’s fortune has become more dramatic.

100 Crore, No Big Deal

I believe that this change means that we are not relying on just 20 or 30 popular films but 70 films. And due to this transformation, I believe that Rs 100 crore is no longer a good enough benchmark. It is a signal that there is a large enough and wide enough audience to make even a more-or-less good film, market it properly and expect it to do well. Many more films will start achieving the Rs 100-crore benchmark. To start with, it will be an average number, which gives you scope to make films look better, bigger and technically nicer. It also gives wing to niche films.

Earlier, with niche films, people would say, ‘Let’s make an X amount of money’, and the film would not make more than that. Now, niche films like Queen or Kai Po Che are being made. It may not be huge growth in numbers but it is a significant growth in terms of mindset. And that is something one has always wanted to see.

Better Technology, Bigger Audience

The difference between X or Y kind of directors is demeaning. You can take a niche film director or an interesting storytelling director and make a film in a popular format and vice-versa. Like, a popular director can decide to take a break like, say, Joel Schumacher, who decided to make Boot Camp after making Batman. Now, one can try both.

Second, because the business has grown, because the audience is ready, because volumes are also increasing… So, Rs 100 crore will become a regular, average space to be in if you have made a decently good film and marketed it well. The second part is that filmmakers will have access to monies with which they can make superior films. I am of the belief that superior films can be made with technology, whether sound, DI, the way it looks, the way it’s been edited, or usage of VFX or special effects. There are still departments in the industry, which are not growing at the same rate as the money that is available for films. For instance, special effects could improve considerably. So, whether it’s a bullet that’s been shot or blood coming out… it takes a while to be able to work that out. VFX has grown a lot.

The technology is still a little unaffordable but the good part is that, as the last five years have shown, whether it’s a Krrish or a RA.One, technology is being used more effectively. Creative people are finding that it will not only enhance their films but also the cinematic experience of cinegoers who are paying a lot of money to watch movies on the big screen. So you can make films tailored to the big screen by using 3D, for example.

We should take a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, which I believe is a little ahead of us in terms of being able to garner a larger audience around the world. Take, for instance, James Cameron, who has been making 2D films but suddenly decided to make Avatar to offer a totally different type of cinematic experience. He did not do it to prove anything but he did it because he had the money to use the technology in that film.

India does not have that level of technology, and affordability is also a problem because the market is smaller. As the market grows, if we use technology that is more and more sophisticated to make the cinematic experience better, we will be able to get more and more people to cinemas. Otherwise, people will choose to watch movies on television.

But with volume of business increasing, hopefully more and more filmmakers will start utilising a part of those volumes and give cinema a push. Many filmmakers are already doing it. Suddenly, you’re noticing people spending money on technology to make films. The flipside is, hopefully, the money we are earning with an increased volume of business will not get distributed only between the top talents, I am talking about acting talent.

The star system is good but we need to find a way where the volume of business does not get utilised to feed star power. It should be used to make films bigger. From sound to everything, there is so much scope and now with digitisation, I think it is also cheaper. It’s more accessible, it’s not as expensive as it used to be. It’s money saved but that money should go into making films even bigger.

Conquering New Overseas Markets

The other aspect is that the market is increasing and it’s not only the domestic market. After the corporates came in, they organised the industry and improved it. Not only corporates, I think distributors are also now making a foray back into big business because they also know that exhibition facilities have increased, volumes have increased and the overseas market has increased. Every time I release a film or I hear of other films, we hear about the opening of a new market along with it.

My Name Is Khan was the beginning of dealing with Fox Star Studios and trying to open up a market in China and Peru etc. But, now, with those markets already existing, it means there is a sustained audience, which is non-diaspora who are watching Hindi films with subtitles or in their dubbed version. We released the trailer of our film Happy New Year some time ago, and there is a Greek subtitled version of the trailer and a Tunisian version and many other versions. Now someone has to organise that sector into our international market.

When I had gone with Asoka to the Venice International Film Festival, it was called the ‘non-classical market’ in Italy. Germany, Italy and Austria were non-typical markets. Today, if they are not yet typical markets, they are half-way there. Now you know your film will release in Germany, Austria and Peru. It will release in markets you had never dreamt of. And, for instance, the Toronto Film Festival helps you take it even further.

So it’s a time when the market is growing domestically instead of weakening as has happened historically. In every country, when Hollywood films took over, the domestic market was dealt a huge blow. But, in the last five years, our domestic market has increased manifold. We could even be the only market, where with Hollywood penetrating deeper and deeper, with studios and distribution networks, our domestic market has still remained extremely steady. And that’s a fantastic thing. It gives you more choices in filmmaking. You can make a pure desi, Hindi masala film, you can make a multiplex-oriented film, you can make a crossover film, and you can make a film, which can make both the international audience as well as the diaspora happy.

Recently, I was being briefed on the film business in the UAE. Distributors were telling me that in a year, maybe less, our films will do business on the scale that Mission Impossible did. We are that close. Moreover, every element is linked. So, you can’t just say that the volume of business alone has increased. Tastes have expanded and people are ready to accept all kinds of cinema. This gives directors and producers more options to make different kind of films. This would give corporate distributors and individual distributors a wider choice and they will be able to better hedge their risks.

Exploring New Avenues Locally

Even the regional system is crossing boundaries. You have Hindi producers producing Marathi films, Gujarati films and Bhojpuri films. You have South filmmakers producing Hindi films, and Hindi guys producing South films. It will also happen in Bengal, Gujarat etc. Everything is becoming unified.

When a Hindi film producer makes a regional film, it adds value to the product as he is able to bring to the table more production funds that were not earlier available. This will, again, expand the market because the film has the potential to become big. I don’t think they will eat into each other’s markets. Instead, the overall market will become larger and more unified. There was a time I thought we should take a film, dub it in all Indian languages and say, listen, let’s do it regionally.

More Value For Money, Increased Footfalls

I also think we need to get a little more organised and everyone has to put their best foot forward. So if we want people to come to cinemas, we need to create good parking facilities at cinemas, good food, a nice lounge, great technical quality of projection, print quality, sound quality, etc. For RA.One, we changed sound systems because we thought 7.1 was better and now ATMOS is coming in. I think even exhibitors are ready and clearly wanting to upgrade quickly so that the audience has the best experience. They are doing this to not only compete with others but also to give the audience value for money. I would go so far as to say that some of the exhibition theaters in India are now better than those anywhere else in the world. Our seats are nicer, our food is better and they give you good drinks. I think it’s very, very cool.

In the last five years, everyone has realised that the customer is king, the audience is king, so let’s give them a package of different tastes, the best shopping experience, a wide choice. The customer is so happy at this point and this is the biggest gain in the last five years. If they have choices, they will be willing to spend their money.

Marketing has also increased considerably. People mistakenly assume that marketing is all about plugging a film or selling a film. I think it’s also about telling the audience that this product has become so diverse and big, whether it’s through a magazine like Box Office India, the Internet, TV, or through on-ground activities.

New Talent, New Hope

There is also no dearth of talent in the film industry, and every two weeks or so, there is a new star, a new actor, a new director or producer. And because there is no dearth of variety, there is more money and a larger audience, filmmakers are taking more chances. When I made my debut 25 years ago, there was a lack of heroes, so myself, Aamir (Khan), Salman (Khan), Ajay (Devgn), Akshay (Kumar) and Suniel (Shetty) got a chance.

I think the industry saw the maximum number of newcomers then but now, there is no lack of talent and there is also a greater variety of talent. So if you need a younger guy, you don’t have to worry. You can take a new guy and promote the film accordingly. All these young guys, Tiger (Shroff), Varun (Dhawan), Arjun (Kapoor)… all these kids have grown in the film atmosphere and they understand the business of filmmaking. And I hope, as they grow bigger and better, they continue to understand it.

It’s A Good Sign!

It is also a great sign that established stars (actors and actresses) are producing films because when you are on the other side, you begin to understand the economics of filmmaking. It’s nice to say Rs 200, 300, 400, 500 crore and, Oh! he is the richest actor, and, oh! he must have made Rs 150 crore. These numbers are talked about so glibly but producing a film is not as lucrative as people think it is, not if you’re trying to give the audience a total cinematic experience. So it’s a good thing to have actors and actresses cross over to the other side.

I am yet to meet an actor or actress, except myself, who is not on the sets 15 minutes early and who is not ready to give their best. Most of them even say, ‘In October, we have to make time to market our film also.’ I used to lecture them on this and now they lecture me back! Listen, we should figure out another five days otherwise I was doing it alone. And I was not doing it as a producer; I was doing it because I like the whole business of films and I like celebrating films. But these actors and actresses are not setting aside 100 days for filmmaking; they are setting aside an additional 15-20 days for marketing. They are becoming more responsible. There is a growth in responsibility towards your film. And it is not just the numbers. I think people feel responsible for creating awareness of their films. And when actors and actresses become producers, there is a whole turnaround.

I became a producer because I felt some of the films I wanted to make should have been treated differently or that some people made certain films only because I was the star. My advice to actors who are getting into producing films is to hire professionals to handle production. They should not get into accounts and production.

Each one of us has a different personality but we usually don’t get to do the kind of films we want to do because we are stars. For instance, I have to make films as dictated by the market, the producers I work with, of the directors I work with and the responsibility I have towards my fans and audience. But when I became a producer, I could make films that suit my own sensibilities. That brings creative satisfaction.

And wherever there is creative satisfaction, the product is better.

Need Of The Hour

In the last five years, there has been a massive increase in the flow of information. What we need to do now is shift from disseminating incorrect information to accurate information. Nowadays, everybody is a critic because they can be; everybody is a collections guy. I get at least 20 messages about when I should release my film from people who are not even connected to films! An increase in information is good but I think we are over informed and everybody thinks they understand the business of cinema. You need an agency or a set of people that can assimilate and manage this information for you because information is growing faster than we can handle it and it will continue to grow.

This is very important because misleading information will have a lot of people wanting to produce films, acting in them, marketing them and there will be a glut of filmmakers. Then you will end up having films that don’t release. And whenever a product does not release, it creates a bad feeling in the market. Thus, we have to be very careful about how we assimilate and disseminate information.

We need people who can expertly assimilate the information about the filmmaking business, which makes Box Office India one of the leaders in this realm. We need people to put it out there clearly so that everyone knows what the reality is… collections, distribution, ticket rates and if not profits but how the film has fared. These become guidelines for businessmen, producers and studios to think… ‘Yaar, aisi picture banayenge, vaisa karenge etc.’

Let’s Join Hands

I think there are two areas where we should improve in the next five years. One is our set-up and the desire of Indian filmmakers to work as a group with international studios. We need to have a sense of synergy, of our combined power. It is easy to say that we work together but I think we need to honestly band together so that international studios will not just be used to produce a film in Hindi. International studios came into the industry because English films were not doing very well, so they started making Hindi films. Now we should use our Hindi films, give them to those international studios and tell them to help us dress it up, make it into a uniform, even tell us the language and add creative inputs and technology so that we can have a world market that you have left and come to India. We might be a billion people in this country but there are 4 to 5 billion people that we can reach through them. We should use them in a reverse sense.

Let There Be Unity

Everyone keeps talking about subsidies and synergies and strategies and we have lots of them but I think there is no leadership or togetherness in trying to make the film industry a united force. When television came in, I am talking about several years ago, somebody told me that the volume of business of films was about ` 500 crore then. TV started with ` 2,000 crore and TV has become Rs 16,000 crore.

The film industry has not grown as much as the television industry has, and when big business houses want to participate, Rs 6,000 crore is a very small number for a country that makes 200 films a year. And when you look at it in the context of 1.2 billion people, it is even smaller. With television growing the way it has, foreign companies came in and a lot of money has been pumped into the industry. They drove up growth so much that, now, even other business houses want to be in it.

We Have The Eyeballs. What Are We Waiting For?

I think the growth rate in the film business is very low. If it does not increase manifold, it will never be taken seriously as one of the biggest businesses in the country. We must be close to a cottage industry in terms of business. That part of the business needs to be greatly expanded and that can only happen if exhibitors make sure that there is no dearth of cinemas.

We have such a huge audience that we can easily increase the number of cinemas. But, regionally, exhibitors have to be prepared to give it a ride. You need to offer variety as the audience in different places wants different types of movies. I think the last five years have shown us that we have enough people and the technology to make a wide variety of films. We have enough eyeballs for people to consume that variety and that’s a good sign.

These are the mega changes I have witnessed in the last five years. More importantly most films do well now. They have some kind of a shelf life now. Obviously, not every film will earn Rs 100 crore or Rs 150 core but every film gets a decent start by the audience. The audience is ready to welcome films. Now we need to offer more films and bigger and better films.

Having said all this, I wish Box Office India a happy five-year journey and many more happy years. From its very first issue, Box Office India has been giving us accurate information. I wish them a happy and successful journey and I congratulate and compliment them for happily providing us the right information about our cinema. Box Office India has achieved so much in the last five years and I’m sure they will grow even more in the years to come.

Also, I wish all the achievers who have contributed so much to Indian cinema in the last five years and are featured in this edition – Box Office India’s 5th anniversary issue. I wish them a great future. I wish they grow with every passing Friday.

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