Table of Contents
In the year 1976, the producers, technicians and cinema artists’ association in Chennai protested on the streets, demanding a ban on the exhibition of Hindi movies in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
While nothing substantial came out of it, these protests were in response to the release of a specific Hindi movie the previous year – Sholay.
The argument of the protestors in general was as follows:
The movies coming from Bombay (Mumbai now) were too high in quality and production value for them to compete against – if allowed to continue, these Hindi movies would destroy the Telugu and Tamil cinema for good.
~45 years on, today the tables have turned and it is the Hindi movie industry in general which is feeling the heat, thanks to perhaps the better quality story telling and technical acumen coming in general from the Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam cinema.
Pan India films
Pan-India film is a relatively new term, which in general means a movie appreciated and loved by even the non native speakers of the language, the movie is originally produced in. Some recent examples of a Pan India movie include the likes of the Bahubali series, Pushpa, KGF series, and RRR.
To state the answer in short – Hindi language cinema has been the original gangster when it came to producing Pan-India movies – cinema which was watched and loved by folks across language and geographic barriers across the Indian sub-continent.
A few examples may include the likes of Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Anand (1971), Sholay (1975), Lagaan (2001), Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) and Mother India (1957), and scores of other which brought in audiences to movie theatres across India.
But, as we may all have noticed, the Hindi movie industry is currently going through perhaps the lowest point in its history – revenues dwindling, popularity crumbling, interest declining and promising mega projects sinking like a Titanic made of sugar cubes.
The question that one begs to ask is – What happened?
The Balle Balle and the Shava Shava
The Hindi film Industry, or Bollywood, had historically been the original pioneer of the Indian cinema – Along with Indian Railways, the nationalised banks and Cricket: It was Bollywood perhaps, that helped bring many Indians and even people of the Indian subcontinent together.
Dilip Kumar was as much a star in Kanchipuram as he was in Karachi – Amitabh Bachchan was as much an angry young man for someone in Bellandur, Begumpet, or Behala, as he was in Bandra.
But then, something really flipped: First perhaps in the year 1995 with mega blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) and later with the 2001 blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (K3G).
Thanks majorly to these movies, the Hindi movie producers now had a lucrative alternative market among the NRIs overseas who paid at-least 20 times more for a ticket.
This basically meant two things:
– There was no need to make movies about the average joe in India.
– The male star with a captive fan base became the most important ingredient of a film.
Within no time thus, Hindi films disassociated themselves from the common folks, and the male movie stars started charging as much as 50%-to-75% of the overall production budget.
The Business of Hindi Cinema
Just for the few who may not know, making movies in India has always been a funny and irrational business.
The largest and most important source of revenue for movies is still the theatrical collections – While there are complexities within, the makers of the movie in general only get about half of the declared earnings on the box office by the theatre owners.
Thus, speaking in very general terms and back-of-the-envelop:
Every movie made for 90 rupees and promoted by spending 10 rupees (Accruing a bank interest as much as 10 rupees/month) – has to earn at-least 25–40 rupees from TV, Music and Digital rights and about 160 rupees from overall theatrical ticket sales just for the producers and financiers of the movie to make their money back. No profits yet.
For Hindi movies, sometimes as much as 75% of this theatrical earning actually comes just from the two cinema territories of Delhi and Mumbai.
Generally speaking thus – a Hindi movie produced for 100 crores – needs to be seen by at-least 1 crore people (most of them in Delhi and Mumbai) to be able to just recover the original investment.
The big hole in the movie business
Given the huge and ever growing movie star remunerations, the Directors were often left with just around 5 to 10 crores in hand to actually produce their 100 crore magnum opus.
Given the pressures of economics, a majority of Hindi film makers preferred shooting frame by frame copies of hit Korean, Telugu and Tamil cinema instead of coming up with something new.
The Copywood in Bollywood.
This explains the production of movies, like: Singham, Ghajini, Drishyam, Wanted, Kabir Singh, Bhul Bhulaiya, Bodyguard, Billu and dozens of others that minted 100’s of crores at the box office.
Thanks to the flawed economics, Bollywood in general lost the appetite for new ideas and had almost no money for good writers, lyricists, cinematographers, music composers and other technicians. Since the star anyways ensured the first weekend footfalls in the theatres, nothing else really mattered – not least the finesse of film making and the art of story telling.
As the measurement of success shifted from the creativity, craft and story telling to number of hours it took for a trailer to cross 1 million views – People stopped writing new songs that moved people – preferring instead to remix old chartbusters – people stopped exploring new storylines – preferring instead to rehash something already done, which was financially safer.
The art and craft of Hindi cinema was allowed thus to take a back seat and atrophy.
A few rebels
It isn’t that people didn’t try – many new ideas like the Gangs of Wasseypur, Tare Zameen Par, Swades, Chak De India, Lakshya, Rocket Singh, A Wednesday, and Byomkesh Bakshi were attempted, but most invariably ended up as massive commercial disasters.
As the average payouts for big stars creeped up and the stakes became bigger, It became more and more difficult for Hindi film-makers to try anything new.
For about two decades – this decadence and degeneration was rewarded by the movie goers – everyone betted their house and farm on an Eid release by Salman Khan, a Diwali release by Shah Rukh Khan and a Christmas release by Aamir Khan – a movie starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif was guaranteed to make 50 crores in the first weekend – the story, performance, impact, takeaway nothing really mattered.
While Bollywood was gloating its way to the banks – making the headlines and attracting all the limelight – unbeknownst to them, the winds of change were coming in an unexpected way.
The rise of the South – Mr. Manish Shah and his Goldmine
Bollywood had been the original inventor of the Masala movie genre. While it moved away from the original recipe the movie makers of the south continued to hone their narratives and skills making the Masala entertainers into something of their own.
With the advent of Jio – many Indians with free time suddenly got access to cheap internet – this gave birth to a new mega tsunami of content hungry Indians, looking for anything interesting to watch.
While most of the Bollywood royalty in general ignored this phenomenon – one small time Gujarati movie distributor with a family business of buying dubbing rights for old Telugu and Tamil movies for small throwaway prices began uploading these movies on YouTube.
Manish Shah and his small time dubbing and movie distribution company, Goldmine Telefilms actually pioneered the bringing of southern movie content to the masses in North India through Youtube.
The likes of Goldmine films started uploading cheaply dubbed and often badly edited version of major Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada movie titles on their youtube Channel – available to everyone for free.
A majority of India which couldn’t connect with the stories of rich and loud Punjabi uncles doing Shawa Shawa and balle balle with white skinned chicks in large mansions, now had free access to Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam movies, what was basically the original Bollywood masala movies but with bad lip sync.
Suddenly, a large part of Northern India began consuming south Indian content directly and on demand. A phenomenon which only got a boost in the arm with the covid induced national lockdown.
The Tables turned
Thanks to easily available content, today, Southern stars, especially the ones from the Telugu movie industry have become household names not just in Northern India but across the border in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Even Afghanistan.
Today it is the southern stars, who command a loyal fanbase across India, while the major names from Bollywood struggle to make their movies work. It is the southern block busters, which rake-in profits across India while the major A listers from Bollywood are fast becoming irrelevant.
At this point, I’d like to share a quick personal story:
The Weekend Surprise
Perhaps a couple of years ago, me and my wife were free at home, and decided to watch a movie.
And thus began our almost 3 hour long deep research on finding the right movie to watch – something worthwhile, that we do not feel guilty about wasting our time on later.
After a lot of digging, reading, googling, IMDB’ing, texting friends and family, we finally arrived at one movie name each – after watching the respective trailers, we finally went with my wife’s choice – a coming of age story featuring a fat rowdy looking gentleman – a very unlikely hero given the stated storyline of love, longing and loneliness.
It was either that the world has all gone bonkers, or perhaps the bubble that we were living in, needed a prick. So we collected all the nice munchies and trudged on.
The hero really had nothing to write back about – A fat, brooding, absolutely unremarkable 37 year old, who looked like he was 58 – he didn’t even bother coloring the white hair rebelling within his already unruly beard for the first shot of the movie – the less we speak about his clothes, the better – a typical unremarkable someone we see everyday on our streets.
he was teaching a bunch of students photography with the help of a stick and literally yawned twice in the first 3 minutes of this supposed blockbuster. It already seemed like our research was faulty and we were destined to waste the next two hours of our lives, it was too late though, so we continued…
5 mins into the movie though, something unexpected happened. The hero that we were so focused on and judging, became irrelevant and his story and emotions took over. Within 15 minutes of the playtime, we were absolutely committed to the narrative and within 25 minutes – we intrigued to the core, were actually rooting for this potbellied fireball of an actor.
We enjoyed the movie – perhaps shed a tear or two – recommended it to our friends and family and spent the rest of the day talking about it.
We wondered aloud – Today, would Bollywood even dare say yes to an original script like this? Would Bollywood even give a chance to fresh talent like Vijay Sethupathi, Dhanush and movies like 96, Asuran, Super Delux, Jai Bhim, Fandry, Deool, Natarang?
There are anomalies for sure, but in general, the answer was a Big No!
This is a phase
Remember the protest of the Telugu and Tamil movie industry against Sholay in 1976?
That was a phase. This is a phase too.
Across the language divide, Indian cinema in general has been perhaps the only aspect of the Indian soft power, that really works across the globe. Some of you might have come across a few movie fans and recreational activists demanding a boycott of Bollywood and support the Telugu and Tamil movies instead, as they think the Hindi movie industry is nepotistic – they clearly have no idea about the clans of Allus, Akkinenis, Daggubatis and the families of Mohanlal, Rajnikanth, Rajkumar and many others who rule and control the celluloid world down south.
Here’s hoping that the Hindi movie heroes chew a pill of humility and help the Producers rationalise the economics of Hindi cinema – there perhaps lies the solution to this current creative drought faced by the Hindi movies.
Here’s hoping that cinema in all Indian languages flourish and help promote the Indian culture around the world, while acting as a true mirror for our society, for many more decades to come.