WHY ARE FILMS SHORTER THESE DAYS?
Many people have wondered about the length of the average Hindi film. Speaking to people outside of India, the general feeling is that given the nature of the song and dance spectacle of Hindi films, our movies are generally long. This means regularly over two and half hours and at times almost three hours and more. The reality though is that in the last decade or so, Hindi films have seen their runtimes dramatically decrease and the reasons for this is not just something that is content driven. The infrastructure and the business aspect has been a critical driver in reducing film lengths as well. This is not to say that some films are still not as lengthy as three hours but averagely, the filmruntime in the Hindi industry has fallen to be now well under two and a half hours.
In the 70s and 80s, longer was better. Hindi films with as many as 8-10 songs with dance sequences and multiple side plots spanned well over three hours of running times. The decades of multi-starrers meant that each hero and heroine and their stories needed development and justice which elongated the already pretty convoluted storyline. As films were the only main source of entertainment, people enjoyed being out of the house and experiencing the big screen for as long as they can. The relationship between the screen and its audience was never better.
The late 80s and 90s saw Television make its mark in India. Shorter entertainment choices coupled with the convenience of people being in their own home, added to the downturn in content as well as theatrical infrastructure and experience led to people turning off from the movies at times. The advent of the multiplex changed the situation in another way. The multiplex prices were higher, causing the mass market to worry about affording tickets and a day out, coupled with the multiplexes need to ensure quick turnaround of content to maximise the infrastructure leverage. This meant that a key component of the delivery was shorter films which could be played more times during the day, focusing on absolute attendance and volume rather than occupancy percentages as an over-arching factor of success.
This need of multiplexes became the need of producers. The feeling that the more shows you could run would bring more profits became a key aspect of thinking around the content. So more and more producers began to push the idea of shorter runtimes. Producers obviously didn’t push this as the most crucial aspect at first, instead using the advent of the internet to talk about shorter attention spans of audiences and a more general disengagement with films because people today all carry mobiles and are constantly looking away from the screen. This has been thrust on writers and directors to ensure that films fit a certain length.
Songs have been the major absence. Now you will find only about 4-5 songs in a Hindi film and one of those will be in the credits. This means that the filmmusic has been relegated to more of a promotional aspect. This is a shame as the skill of using a song to enhance and push the story along has largely disappeared instead songs have become large set pieces in movies like action sequences or VFX. I do hope that this trend reverses but I do also acknowledge that it would be impossible to do this kind of narrative for every song in afilm.
This of course sounds very cynical and maybe in design it is but by default it has been positive. The focus on a more concise narrative has meant that editing of scripts before production and in post has made for a crisper and more focussed story-telling experience. Gone are the meanderings of subplots and instead the audience is fully drawn into one experience. It has driven the increase in genres at the ticket windows with thriller, drama, horror and actionfilms beginning to find their feet when once they were said to be not masala enough for the Indian audience.
The relationship between the theatre and its audience has changed. There is little doubt about that. The generation that it seeks to serve now, is inherently different from the one it knew in the 70s and 80s. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a different thing and hence the kind of content that is offered is different as well and keeping that in mind, runtimes need to be different as well.