Its been a tumultuous year from last Diwali in spite of global economic issues like higher oil prices, high interest rates and trade wars; Indian economy continues to do well, growing a healthy 7.5% per annum. We have all seen our work, play, education, health, governance politics and entertainment change dramatically owing to the technology which is the driver of change.  

Newer platforms like over the Top (OTT) services like Amazon, Netflix, and AltBalaji are suddenly the new fountainhead of a perpetually starved for cash film industry.  Digital rights of films old and new are giving a new lease of life to many stakeholders.  After a gap of many years we are witnessing the rise of some new stars on the horizon. (Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana, Kartik Aaryan, Taapsee Pannu, Yami Gautam etc., and of course the new superstars like Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor and Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt). Interestingly some young brave directors, many from smaller towns are the new progenitors of hits. There is much to celebrate even as we think about what is still wrong around us. The recent #metoo movement has exposed chinks in our armor. I am happy that organizations like Producers Guild, Directors’ Association and others have taken prompt action to rectify and hopefully eradicate this malaise. I hope the film industry, which has largely been a safe workplace, will only improve with this newfound awareness. Similarly in wake of Swachh Bharat mission I hope our studios and other premises will be cleaner places to work.

So are we over the hill?  In many of my recent articles I have written about the eternal crisis facing Indian Film Industry specially Bollywood’s – to reiterate a few of the problems again one can talk about few screens (less than 9000), dwindling footfalls in cinemas, increasing entertainment options, over production, lack of innovation and so on. Yet in peculiarly perverse sort of way, tinsel town will thrive for now and for the next few years in spite of this intrinsic weakness. We have seen this year, a number of films (a few biggies still to release) have done well at the box office. So is the worst over? Certainly not. In fact if some of you remember what I wrote in couple of my articles is actually coming true. There is strong polarization of hits and failures. Again as I had predicted it’s either the big star/budget films or quirky films with a hook which have succeeded. If you have a Sanju, you also have a Stree and if you have a Padmavat you also havea Raazi. Actually what is heartening is that the most profitable films made this year so far include a diverse variety of films- Baaghi 2, Raid, Padman, Dhadak, Gold, Hichki, October, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Veere Di Wedding and 102 Not Out.This is a refreshing trend.  However the success ratio continues to be abysmal and that is the crisis.  The total number of successes will still not exceed 20 in the year in Bollywood and 40 all over India out of 1800 odd films.You work out the math.

While personally I may be an admire of dark films and even quirky subjects as far as audiences are concerned more than 95% of them are not inclined to watch these film at least not in theaters and on TV channels. Filmmakers complaining about not getting enough screens must realize the reality on the ground. The exhibitors also are in a business and will try and optimize their revenue. Their obvious choice will be to screen films, which get higher audience.  Besides once again I must emphasize that with less than 1000 screens and over supply of films, this inequity is bound to exist. Also almost 5000 screens are also screening a lot of local language cinema and hence have no scope for giving additional screen time to Hindi films. Even on Satellite TV it’s either the big star films or the quirky comedies, which garner the ratings, and “family films” sell for a much higher price than action films.  Filmproduction (or any content creation) does not require any license or even educational qualification and that is the reason for over 100 years we have all kinds of people jumping into the fray.  This may bring fresh capital and some employment to the Industry but it is one of the main reasons why we have such a high failure rate at the box office.  Let me also point out here that there are some filmmakers who justify making non-viable films by saying that they are making a table profit. So it may be easy but finding a new sucker every time may be easy for a few but it no way reduces either the flop ratio or financial loss to the Industry. Another major issue of some out of date old timers (there are exceptions though) artistes, writers, composers, technicians, producers and directors who don’t read the writing on the wall or see the change in both content and business and lament that in spite of their experience, they are not getting a chance today.  A few are foolishly spending either their own money or still making films, which no one sees.  We must realize that when your show time is over its time to exit.

As an Industry we have failed to expand the market for our cinema. We are still wasting money in ill planned production.  In a strange rat race everyone is doing template marketing and promotion, which means a lot of the time and money, is being wasted without attracting audience to the theatre. Sure, new platforms and large companies are investing big amount in creating online content. My estimate is that currently there are 500 online series being shot in India. An amount of Rs 2000 crore (no small amount for Rs 20000 crore Industry) has been invested in the last 12 months. Yet this initial gold rush will also leave many in distress if we are not careful/This is where the future lies. Unfortunately some of our fraternity thinks these corporate giants who have created billions of dollars worth empire are fools and can be conned. This fictitious 100 crore club and these fake success parties are doing more damage than good. There are many film people who are happy being in news even if it is for frivolous or wrong reason. Unfortunately lime light is ephemeral and success transient and its only your work which speaks not your brand endorsements,tweets or photo ops.They have to understand the people work to a plan in which there is a time schedule and budget which they allocate towards “learning” costs or “entry fee” into the market .Eventually as has happened in TV and music it is they who call the shots.

What for me, the silver lining in these stormy times, is the inflow of fresh talent. We have seen new writers, cameramen , actors and directors, many from small towns make some of the most successful and aesthetic films. Technology will only increase the scope and market for creativity. We must  relearn the new grammar of entertainment. There is no way that every film made will reach a theatre or even TV. The digital space does offer us a much larger opportunity but unless our target audience is willing to pay for watching our creation it will continue to be an exercise in futility.

As an eternal optimist I can only hope that happy days are not far. The next Diwali will be more joyous than last year’s. Have a great festival of lights and may Lakshmi bestow her kindness on you.

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