Much like dog years, a year in the movie business can be like seven in any other industry. On the other hand, you’ll also hear the refrain that in the movie business, the more things change the more they remain the same. So which one is it? Truth be told, it’s a little bit of both.
While there are some fundamental truths that are self-evident and unshakeable (like the power of a great story), there are also certain seismic shifts that occur from time to time in audience tastes and demographics, filmmaking techniques, revenue models and technology, that fundamentally change the way our industry functions.
Here’s a look at a few such transformational changes that have occurred since the time Box Office India entered the business and gave us a credible, well balanced, superbly researched – and a great-looking! – trade publication.
1.MARKETING — HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
A wise marketer once said - “I know I am wasting half my marketing budget. I just don’t know which half!” That in essence encapsulates the dilemma of a movie promotion plan today. With the increased fragmentation of media over the last few years, there is now a “problem of plenty” when it comes to available platforms on which to market our movies. We are in the enviable position of being able to garner airtime, column centimeters or click throughs much easier than marketers in any other business. Because of that, our promotions have become like a 3-week decathlon in which we try to maximize presence across all available mediums, leading to a frenzied odyssey that includes news and music channel interviews, city visits, meet and greets, radio trails, reality show appearances, brand integrations...we know the drill! We invariably end up doing it all, banking on the fact that the cumulative visibility across all these mediums will somehow add up to the desired Day 1 for our movie. It’s time to sit back and think about what really matters and what is superfluous. The universal truth that seems to be emerging is that if you have a great trailer and hit music, you don’t really need to do much else; and if you don’t, you might as well not do all the rest. There is some truth to that, and it might save us an incredible amount of time, effort and money if we followed that thinking through.
2.DIGITALISATION OF CINEMA — NOW ALL-ENCOMPASSING
It wasn’t that long ago when print dispatches entailed multiple reels of analogue prints being ferried across the length and breadth of the country. But already the sight of those silver tin boxes that would contain a reel of film, now carries a tinge of nostalgia. Digital has become all pervasive in the way we shoot, deliver, market, distribute and syndicate our movies. From most movies now being shot on digital, to DCPs instead of physical prints, to digital mediums being used for promotion, to the perpetual noise corridor and buzz of social media around a movie, to how audiences book their movie tickets, to the new modes of monetization for content on digital - the digital revolution has gained momentum and changed our industry significantly in the last seven years.
3.SOURCES OF FUNDING — CLEANING-UP
The universally accepted caricature of the murky movie financier was unfortunately not completely untrue till only a few years ago. Today, with sources of funding either from foreign or homegrown studios, legitimate domestic business houses or structured film financing vehicles, the film industry can confidently claim that the caricature is well and truly outdated.
This has also led to much more transparency in reporting of revenues, a more cohesive approach to worldwide distribution, optimum mining of revenues from new markets and new platforms.
On the other hand it has also led to a much freer flow of money into the industry targeted at a very finite talent pool, and hence higher talent fees and costs of production, leading to lop-sided economic models that do not adequately reward the investor for success while leaving them completely at risk in case of failure.
4.AUDIENCE TASTES — A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES
The high penetration of multiplexes in metros and mini-metros has led to the rise of the “metro hit”, basically defined as a well budgeted non-superstar driven high-concept movie that can make a high return on the back of box office success in less than 10 cities in the country. Naturally this content therefore appeals to a city-audience sensibility, leaving audiences in smaller centers gravitating towards “massier” action and comedy titles that better appeal to their tastes. This phenomenon has led to high audience fragmentation and a polarization in preference for either type of cinema, along the fault lines of the metro-small town divide. It has rendered the concept of a “universal blockbuster” much more rare than it ever has been, with only a few directors and stars able to deliver movies that appeal to an entire country.
Interestingly, as Tier I cities get saturated and Tier II and III cities start getting more penetrated by multiplexes, it will be interesting to see how the concept of what we today call a “multiplex movie” changes, as I daresay just because these small-town audiences are now watching their cinema in a plex, their tastes are not about to change!
5.ON AND OFF SCREEN TALENT — THE COMING OF THE NEXT GEN
If you look at the actors and directors that excite the imagination of the 15-35 year old audience, most of them are from the generation that has entered the industry over the past decade. Many new voices in writing and direction are from outside the industry and have grown up outside the Bombay-Delhi circuit, which has led to new stories being told in different refreshing ways. It is a generation that has grown up on Hindi cinema of course, but has also been influenced by Hollywood and World Cinema, coupled with an upbringing in non-metro milieus, leading to an interesting alchemy of experience to inform their sensibilities. On the brighter side, this can lead to some truly pathbreaking ways of storytelling and a new, fresh idiom for Hindi movies. What it sometimes leads to though, is an unevenness in the tone and grammar of a film, and hence a confusion as to who the film is really intended for.
6.WRITERS — FINALLY GETTING THEIR DUE (ATLEAST MORE OFTEN THAN NOT!)
The age-old - and sadly often true - tales of writers being denied credit, remuneration and recognition, is much more a thing of the past in today’s industry. While it is undeniable that more can be done, today there is acknowledgment of the writer’s primacy in the creative process and the fact that they are as deserving of respect, recognition, credit and remuneration as the other key principals involved in the film making process.
7.REGIONAL AND HOLLYWOOD — THE RISING
Taking off from the earlier point on polarization of audiences, the irony is that increasingly it is Hollywood, with its super-hero/ creature/ disaster/ fantasy fare dubbed into local languages, that is providing us with the “universal blockbusters” that have become a rarity in Hindi cinema. These movies tend to be visual spectacles that don’t depend on language for understanding, and hence have managed to touch a chord across all demographics and geographies.
And on the other side of the spectrum, Regional Cinema, which offers audiences a locally relevant idiom steeped in their own culture, has been thriving over the last few years. The South markets have always had their own cinema and stars, but today Punjabi, Marathi and to some extent Bengali cinema as well, have become forces to reckon with, in regard to the consistent quality of their cinematic output as well as the stiff competition their big releases pose to simultaneously released Hindi movies.
If I had to crystal ball gaze seven years out to 2023, I’d wish for us to see Hindi cinema penetrating the length and breadth of the country with a booming exhibition sector having exploded with screens across India; for the business model to be rationalized so that there is the right balance of reward between those investing in the movies and the talent they are investing in; for us to be creating great content both for select audiences as well as the masses, and at sensible budgets; for the crippling current tax regime on movies to be rationalized; for a more streamlined and organized system for creative professionals to learn and hone their craft; for our movies and our talented creators to have made their mark on a global stage; and to achieve true and consistent “crossover” success for our cinema around the world. Here’s to the next 7 years and to making it all happen together!