Thursday, April 8, 2010


Bollywood films no longer need to clearly demarcate the line between the white & the black. They have started showing grey shades and are succeeding

Rocket Singh, the movie, had everything going for it. Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s new white hope, good direction, excellent script, and enough of preaching. Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani (Ranbir again) was more basic, more outlined, an old style all purpose Bollywood flick with a liberal dose of romance, songs and dance. The girl beautifully compliments the boy: he is the mover, she is the shaker. New Bollywood in old Nautanki style. No radical departure. Rocket Singh fails sans songs, heroine, over the top lines, or a comic strip built in; Ajab Prem succeeds because there is a very significant segment that still roots for the blood pumping exercise of ‘wanted’ or syrupy romance of Jodha Akbar. Kambakht Ishq gets a Golden Kela (Indian version of Hollywood’s Razzies, which are given to disaster makers who disappoint their viewers) for being the worst film of 2009. Dil Bole Hadippa, a carbon copy of Hollywood’s She is the Man gets the boot, it being a very bad photocopy of the original. The audience can see through Kurbaan because it wants to tell the movie makers unequivocally: don’t spend big money on shallow ideas. Putting lipstick on a pig does not work.

Luck By Chance?

Before 2009 arrived our filmmakers lived in a make believe world assuming that with the right kind of hype they could fool all the people all the time. In 2009, over 1,000 movies were released, 95% of which failed the box office test. The industry at Rs.8,900 crore is expected to grow at 9% per annum (CAGR) and touch a figure of Rs.13,700 crore by 2014. According to a Reuters poll, 40% of those surveyed worldwide, go to the cinema often to suspend reality. The figure for India, at 61%, is even higher. So risk and reward both happen to be high. SRK offers a prescription thus for Bollywood’s woes: Learn the screenplay writing technique, visual effects know how, and the discipline and organisation in conducting film business from Hollywood. And this is the clincher, Indian film industry should not abandon its own unique drama – musical format. He adds further that there has to be a substantial investment in research as part of developing a story and converting it into a cinematic experience. Even multiplexers choose a Hindi movie by a clear majority (61%) over Hollywood ventures. 51% audience would prefer watching regional films with subtitles as opposed to world cinema. So while the audience does like the films that break away from the routine fare, it still prefers to watch formula entertainers in swanky multiplexes.

How do you then increase your probability of giving a hit? Embrace marketing.

A word of caution, however: Marketing is not mere promotion; promotion is one small component of overall marketing strategy. Thus there was this Tamil movie Chithiram Pesuthadi made on a modest budget of Rs.1.25 crore with debut stars. It bombed badly on the box office. Was relaunched with Rs.1 crore spent on promotion (mainly on the basis of a song) and it became a huge success. Telugu film industry, the second largest in India, makes sure that glamour overrides substance. While during the 1980s, Sridevi, Jaya Prada, and Jayasudha ruled with well defined meaty roles, post 2000, the success formula is: bare is here. Shriya, Ileana, and others have made vamps superfluous, since even a Mumaith Khan would fail to match them curve for curve for creating the desired sizzle on the screen. Tamil moviedom has travelled a long distance from the likes of Suhasini, Radhika, or Saritha to Namithas of the new decade who don’t mind playing the bimbo. Women are merely used as props in these movies since commercial considerations and one hundred percent hero centric scripts demand that.

But consumer oriented marketing is invoked when, say, we realise that during the past decade, and especially since 9/11, Hollywood has consciously tilted towards churning out fantasy films. Americans perhaps wish to wipe out their bad memories of terrorist attacks, wars, and economic calamity. So spaceships and hobbits are preferred to personal turmoil or the Middle East. Who, afterall, wants to go to the cinema hall to confront unsightly situations? Sorcerers, vampires, robots and aliens are more comforting. During 2010 movies like Day Breakers and Legion have continued with the fantasy genre. Since September 11, 2001, there have been only three reality-based dramatic hits in America!

Life is not so easy for a moviemaker here in India. On one hand, IPL is a formidable foe. So much so that during the current IPL season (March 12 – April 25), no major releases are planned, since the past two seasons have shown that IPL takes away the movie viewership. Besides, multiplexes themselves are screening these matches coupled with live bands, celebrity visits, and cheerleaders on stadia. On the other hand, most movie makers equate marketing with the oldest profession in the world, akin to a prostitute soliciting customers. They have a product-centric approach to exhibiting their movies.

There are nearly 12,000 screens in India. Out of these, nearly 900 are part of the multiplex chain. Yet, multiplexes bring in nearly 55-60% of a film’s revenue. Naturally, because multiplex tickets are priced between Rs.120-150, against the all-India average of Rs.30-50. However, this has created a warped thinking. Many filmmakers erroneously believe that only the multiplex audience is capable of enjoying and paying for a new genre. So, there is hardly anything interesting being made for the general audience. The fact is that Indian market is vast, unique and heterogeneous. Bollywood refuses to accept that a market in middle or lower India also exists. The result: Regional cinema from Marathi, Bengali, or Bhojpuri producers has started eating into Hindi film industry share.

The industry is at an inflexion point; it needs to undergo a correction. Quality content, market analysis, segmentation, and good marketing alone can help. 70% of the revenue comes in first week. So research orientation, cost management, innovative and customer oriented thinking reflecting audience preferences will together do the trick. AB Corp stuck to its targeted budget of Rs.15 crore for Paa. Star salaries, large sums of money on superficialities, et al, are being scrutinised. The industry is learning the importance of economies of scale.

Success Formula: Are we trying to fry a Snowball?

Movie making, like we said earlier, is a high risk high reward business. Still it is possible to reduce the risk element. While there are some constants, many variables accompany them. Let’s see which ones...

Take love and romance for example. Social conditioning and hormones both make women more emotional. All women wait for their Prince Charming, whether it is the hooker with a heart (Vivian in Pretty Woman), or an underdog (Cindrella). In the movies of yore, the love angle would have a class or social context. Now falling in love involves people who are debating about choices available (Aditya and Geet of Jab We Met, Dev D and Devdas) show the contrast between being dictated by individual freedom and social choices, a transition that slowly but surely is taking place in the Indian society. It appeals to the Indian youth. Romance today is less exalted; it is less about the idea of love, more about the individual experience, with a dose of sex may be! Paro of Dev D, now has the temerity to reject Devdas. Even taboo love (recall Pinjar, Jodha Akbar, Cheeni Kum, Nishabd, Girl Friend) between socially incompatibles on account of age, religion, gender et al, is no more an untouchable subject. So, love and romance remain eternal; only their mode of expression changes. The idea of romance of course may change with age too. So the fantasy moves to the context of marriage in India; now Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi would resonate more with the audience. Desperate Housewives are still hopelessly in love, notwithstanding the dose of sex.

Take another example. The native Indians take on the Britishers (Lagaan) and beat the imperialists at their own game. In India it could not have been any other game perhaps, since cricket has the greatest chance of succeeding at the box office. Originally, Iqbal was to be based on Malakhamb, but later, Nagesh decided to use cricket. Lagaan succeeded, because it evoked a feeling of patriotism; Chak De was about a man who had to redeem his honour against all odds. Important lesson is that the films were not about sports but about real people. Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, Dil Bole Hadippa, Jannat, and Chain Khuli Ki Main Khuli failed this test and did not pass at the box-office either. Solid script (read emotional hook) and perfect execution both are important as far as the Indian audience is concerned. So the movie must have a body and a soul.

Bollywood women are becoming more independent, assertive, and comfortable about sex and sexuality. Meghna (Priyanka Chopra in Fashion) finds Chandigarh small for her dreams and survives in the big bad Mumbai. Sona Misra (Konkona in Luck by Chance) wants and gets success ethically. Contrarily Paro (Mahi Gill in Dev D) does not hide her wantonness, posting self nude e-mails to her lover, and is equally comfortable sleeping with other men without being in love with them. Krishna Verma (Vidya Balan) typifies Bollywood’s new bold woman for whom sex is as much pleasure as a career move. The Indian audience – atleast the urban variety – has started accepting Indian woman on the move – ambitious, spirited, independent – and at times with a darker side. So the earlier black or white characters are being increasingly replaced by shades of grey. These characters emerge from the society, which is interested in real issues – unlike Hollywood, which is becoming escapist – be they ethnic, religious, social, physical, or any other. The hero of the 1970s and 1980s would have a clich├ęd persona. Now people wish to watch movies that they can relate to. A dose of realism helps audience connect with the film. In Chak De the Muslim captain is branded as an anti-national. The film clearly dealt with Indian prejudices based on religion. Sarfarosh, Black Friday, Company, and others of their ilk have shown the warts of India. An Omkara mirrors the political rot in the UP, while Gangajal depicted infamous Bhagalpur blindings episode.

In the same tradition, noughties changed the caricature of heroes too. So Rizwan (SRK) suffers from Asperger Syndrome, Auro (AB) is afflicted with Progeria, Singhania (Aamir Khan) has short term memory loss problem, while Charlie and Guddu (Shahid Kapur in double role) lisp and stutter. The stars become human beings. Bollywood is experimenting with the successful Hollywood formula (Tom Hanks with a slow mind in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman as an autistic man in Rain Man, Jamie Fox as a blind person in Ray: Foxx or a blind Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman). Rani Mukherjee plays the deaf, mute and blind Michelle (Black), Kajol is blind (Fanaa) while Ajay Devgun becomes a developmentally challenged father (Main Aisa Hi Hoon). We will see Hrithik as a paraplegic in Guzaarish. Notably, Hindi movies have not dabbled with the superman genre, with the sole exception of Kkrish.

Read Tea Leaves, Poll, or Conduct Polygraph…

But Research A perceptive Ashutosh Gowariker could guess that it would be better to highlight the romance angle over the period epic aspect in Jodhaa Akbar, and this is what the movie trailer reflected. But not all filmmakers may be intuitively so accurate. Market strategists advise about the precise day that the viewers would get their first peek at Ranbir’s bare behind (Saawariya) and SRK’s six packs (Om Shanti Om). So the kitchen sink approach, where the creative would be crammed with as many film elements as possible, is a definite no no now. Thus, if women find the sound of metal shattering bone in two intensely violent scenes in Ghajini (they did, actually) only one blow is kept to kill Asin based on this feedback. For Ishqiya it was found that men were enjoying the movie more than the women. Ad spend consequently on news channels (watched more by men) went up from 5% to 20%.

Originally the scooter ride of Aamir Khan, the paralytic father, and Kareena Kapoor was not to be shown in the movie 3 Idiots. But final version had it based on pre-release research. LSD (Love, Sex, aur Dhokha) has used focused group research to assess everything from concept to marketing material.

This research of course need not be film specific. General trends prevailing in the society give us a fair idea too. Have you noticed the fact that Abhishek Bachchan was a male nurse is Dostana, Ranbir a video game developer in Bachna Ae Haseeno, Deepika Padukone a restorer of frescoes in Love Aaj Kal and SRK a Nasa engineer in Swades? It is not all creative juices flowing. Rather, this is in keeping with the general drift of the society. These careers actually make a statement about individual freedom; today’s youth is experimenting, so the movies have to reflect this. Don’t you think the career of a tarot card reader (Bipasha Basu in Rudraksh) or an RJ (Preity Zinta is Salaam Namaste) sounds really cool?

Audience ke liye kuchh bhi karega!

...So How Does One Become A Top Grosser?

Honestly, we wish we knew the magic mantra. But we can help a player score higher. Look at the table below for some distilled answers Before we sign off, let’s give you a quiz. What is common between Blue, All the Best, Jail, Wanted, Do Knot Disturb, Kites, Pyaar Impossible, Rocket Singh, and Hook Ya Crook? If you said all these are names of movies, well you got the right answer. Actually this was an easy one. But now comes the difficult part: what else is common between these movie names? O.K., so you got that right too: all these are English (or Hinglish) titles. Actually 27 out of the 40 releases in recent times had such names. Now the last part of the quiz: What is the marketing angle involved. And this time don’t expect us to spoon-feed you. Go figure it out yourself!