Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 100 Crore Club: Virtue or Vice?

Do you really follow the trade of the Indian Film Industry? If you watch all the movies purely for entertainment and know which one worked or not, OR if you meekly follow the trade analysis of the movies of your favorite stars, reading ahead might be deemed preposterous for you. If you do not care about either of the things mentioned above, save yourself from this blasphemy. However, if trade analysis and trends in the industry make sense to you, I merely posit this article as an invite to voraciously discover the sugar and salt that comes with newly acclaimed 100 Crore Club in the Indian Film Industry.

The 100Cr Club is a continuously successful (well, until now), devouring yet charming black hole formed by a bourgeois lot of superstars aka actors that extract unprecedented collections for their movies leaving a lot of trade analysts aghast. Really, how big is the Indian movie market if a movie goes onto earn up to a 100 crores in a week? Where were all these people before? Were they not watching movies ever? Have a lot more people started watching movies now? Or is it just the movies of these stars? Is it a good or a bad trend for the industry? For the quality of cinema? What do critics say? Why do the 'supposedly' intelligent crew of journalists and filmmakers guffaw and grind this club more often than not? Why do a lot of people tear it apart as a droll syndrome continuously promoting banality in films?

There have only been a few films till now that have entered this club when it comes to collections based out of Indian Box Office purely, as ‘trade analyst’ (barely a critic) Komal Nahta points out here. The top 10 out of them are, in ascending order of the number of days it took them to enter the club post their release, Bodyguard, 3 Idiots, Ra.One, Dabangg, Agneepath, Ready, Don 2, Ghajini, Golmaal 3 and Singham. Shahrukh, Aamir, Ajay, Salman and now Hrithik are the only members of this club with their success rate being 2/4, 2/3, 2/15, 3/4 and 1/5 respectively. Succinctly, its the 3 Khans who have been calling the shots, if we consider a period of 2008-2011 disregarding Devgn because of his lower success rate. Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar are the only two stars of the older generation who haven’t made an entry into this club, while Hrithik Roshan made an early entry than any of his counterparts (for instance, Abhishek Bachchan). The newer stars like Ranbir and Imran are yet to disrupt the flight of this unfettered lot. Joginder Tuteja points out here how its upto Saif and Akshay to enter the club this upcoming year with their upcoming projects and predicts that no one else would be able to enter it yet due to the audience's predilection towards the present members. Honestly, the article is demonstratively low reasoned and staggeringly perpetuates the star system in the industry.

While a lot of trade analysts can rest in their smugness in the never-fail-formula of the top stars, there are many others who continuously deride this club and its members, pummel their movies and anything that associates themselves with this bandwagon. The main reason for their despise is that movies with minimal content are entering this club just by milking out the market value of their stars. I agree with them, to a larger extent. After much contemplation, serious comparisons and fighting denial, I could only pick 3 Idiots to have entered any sort of elite club, if there existed one for decently good movies. I enjoyed watching Don 2, Agneepath and Singham but they still did not deserve to be in the club. And I am saying this based on their overall cinematic value for me, which consists of at least some author-backed entertainment and its treatment without too many glitches. All other movies mentioned here are prosaic and positively enclosed in what is superfluous. There could be many other movies that I would have wanted to see make it to this list but that’s not how it works in the industry. Many actresses would have hoped to have a heroine driven script to be here to but no, we are a sexist audience. The closest contender actress has been Vidya Balan who has been allowed to reach Rs 80Cr with The Dirty Picture. The hatred against this club stems from the continuous success of bad films, the audience's continuous affection for them and the everlasting wistfulness for one great film to make it to this club. Even the ones I picked are not the greatest.

But is the audience really in love with these films or is it just the stars that draw the crowds? As of now, it has become a race, a race where the horses are not trained to play on their strengths and leave it on fate, but they are obsessed with their perpetual entitlement to a spotlight which can only be achieved by outdoing each other or just yourself, at times. As Aniruddha Chatterjee points out in his very relevant article here, only 3 films in the last four years have earned at least twice as much as their first week's collection, when their lifetime collections were taken into account. We strictly do not have a repeat audience, so its definitely not the quality of films that produce these results. There is nothing like a word of mouth for a movie. The last movie that worked on word of mouth was Band Baaja Baraat and yet it does not have any milestone tag attached to itself. The theatrical run has been limited to the first week which pretty much decides a movie’s lifetime collections and it rests in its entirety on star power, a system that has plagued the industry since its inception and is almost impossible to get rid of. It is rooted deep beneath the rigorously burgeoning markets of Indian movies and the big numbers that are pouring in. Even the overseas markets have expanded unprecedentedly and churn out numbers which have never been seen before, though the order of collections may not be the same as mentioned above. 

How fair is this system, if it goes on? Numbers fetched by Bodyguard in the first week explicitly show that the market has definitely expanded and but do more people really watch the movies now and more so in the first week itself? A well-reasoned musing over the Indian cinema market reveals that the market has expanded because of the large number prints released for all big movies and the luscious hiked ticket prices associated with them in the multiplexes. A 2nd tier city before used to get the print in 3rd or 4th week but now even in a remote village a Bodyguard gets a release on Day 1. Multiplexes run more than 10 shows a day in most places for all major releases with bewildering ticket prices. Both factors, once multiplied ensure that the opening day or weekend garners huge figures. A lot of times the collections are misattributed to more number of people watching these movies. As a matter of fact, 4crore people saw Maine Pyaar Kiya, 3crore saw Gadar but 3 Idiots was seen by only 1.5crore people in theaters and it is still the highest grossing film in Indian history. The nauseating publicity associated with every big movie creates a sense of emergency that deludes the audience to flock the theatres as soon as its release, within the first week itself.

Honestly, the audience does not seem to care, leaving a lot of people shockingly bemused. Behind this overwhelming side of the industry, there are thousands of upcoming directors, screenwriters, technicians, journalists and bloggers who are struggling day in and out to insert meaning into cinema, some to do the formulas their way and some to create new ones. But it does not matter to a common cine-goer if they ever get out of this routine rigmarole of battling the demands of studios, barely financing their dreams and producing content that changes the blinding course of this system. It is futile to underscore here that a rising number of people in our cinema going audience is only besotted by puerile entertainment, as can be seen from Golmaal 3 collecting those amounts. A lot of them want to savor their favorite star as he does the undoable. The more publicized movie is enshrined as a better movie, completely ostracizing the strength of the script or the lack of it. Some of them want to see a movie to chide and berate it by ludicrously pitting it against any Hollywood movie. Will such an audience care about a rare film produced from the searing passion of an independent filmmaker or a Stanley Ka Dabba which even got a mainstream release?

So what happens now? We revel in the exhilaration of the collections and gape at the numbers or we wait slyly and run it down on all social platforms hoping that this bubble would burst someday? The point is we cannot aspire a devastation of the star system with the way this industry and our audiences are structured, unless of course the world ends in 2012. A Salman or a Shahrukh release gets manifold the number of prints a film like Stanley will get. With the increasing profits, it provides a bespoke chance to the studios and production houses to be pluck. It is only when the big production houses stop lobbying to the stars or the uni-dimensional factor of movie economics, and start caring about the creative side of each film, that they will risk half a shot with a more earnest and innovative film. This, by no way means a compromise on the entertainment quotient provided by them because I still feel that cinema is meant to entertain primarily and enlighten secondly. More prints for better films will ensure that they market it more too, irresistibly in the greed to get fancy returns for their investment. There will be a few hiccups but the strategy but the higher flow of money should allow them to do so as they meticulously model the strategy by through lingering on trial and error and a little nuance to the audiences brought in by different city tiers. However, the trash films will still make it to the elite clubs of Box Office collections due to their star value, glaring marketing strategies and ridiculous number of prints, but I guess it will still be fairer than what we have now. The trends are changing, albeit slowly. Getting an independent film to reach out to the audience is easier than it was before. Many production houses and multiplex chains are coming up with smaller focused divisions to cater to all kinds of cinema and get them a release. Yet, the race does not seem to end. Maybe we will stop brooding and find solace in this perennial race too, with time, when a film with no stars is allowed to compete as an equal too. Until the dawn strikes, we will have to wait for Salman Khan’s next release!

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