Shailesh Kapoor:Film studios in trouble:Let myths be told

02 Sep,2016

By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s been a tough week for the Hindi film industry. Stories regarding certain film studios closing or significantly slowing down their operations have been doing the rounds of the media. The Economic Times did two separate pieces, one of Disney India and then one on Balaji.


These news stories triggered off “analysis” tweets and articles, none worse than the one published by The Quint two days ago. This particular article has been doing the rounds of social media and Whatsapp groups. It has even got the endorsement of some fringes of the film industry.


The discourse that has been built over the last week, as a result, is highly misleading and dramatised. Let facts not come in the way of a good story, they say. Bollywood often uses that principle in its storytelling. Here though, it is at the receiving end.


To begin with, the Disney India and Balaji stories are only connected by thing – their chance timing of being within a week. The two organisations could not be more different from each other. And the reasons behind their latest business decisions are entirely unrelated too.


Yet, it’s been made out to be a trend. And the conclusions drawn have been extremely worrying. That people with MBA should not head studios. That you cannot run a film business using financial acumen and business analytics. That film business is so different from FMCGs that no conventional marketing rules apply to it.


Bollywood has been known to promote stereotypes in its films over decades. But these stereotypes about the Hindi film industry, a consumer business at the end of the day, are being promoted by a new age digital media, not some 80s Bollywood frozen in time and space.


If one goes by the piece in The Quint, written by someone the publication calls an “insider”, the only quality a film business CEO in India needs is a gut that can tell you whether a film will do a certain business or not. Everything else is irrelevant. And if you are an MBA or have business skills of any kind, you are almost certain not to be “creative”. What a terrible stereotype to promote, when a whole range of research is focusing how the left brain and the right brain complement each other to bring the best out of an individual.


If you look at the biggest hits in the last three years (2014-16), the corporate studios take the lion’s share. 2015, in particular, stands out, with the top 7 hits all coming from corporate studios, involving Eros (three), Viacom, Fox Star, Disney and Sony (one each). The story is no different if you go back year on year for the last decade. There’s that fallacious counter-argument that for about 50% of these studio-backed hits, the IP is not with the studio. As if acquisition is not a legitimate business model here!


Today, YRF is being hailed for Sultan and Dum Laga Ke Haisha. If this was two years ago, they would have been panned for Daawat-e-Ishq and Kill Dil, if a case had to be built against them. And when there is no explanation, such as Piku, an out-and-out studio-backed film becoming a huge hit, you take the gossip route, suggesting that the studio head did not believe in the film. Of course, no names are taken and no one speaks on record.


Is everything right with the Hindi film business? Of course not. The business has been stagnant and the consumers need more than what is being served to them currently. As an organization that has brought in consumer data in the industry over the last eight years, we have seen ample cases where the lack of (and often resistance to) business analytics and consumer knowledge leads to wrong decisions being taken. But the current line of media discourse actually, and dangerously, suggests that the industry doesn’t need anything of that nature at all. It just needs some people with an abstract superpower to predict a hit at the get go.


Bollywood is not going bust. Indians will not stop watching films because X studio shuts down or because Y studio slows down its operations for some time. The industry will evolve. Like any industry does. Like the telecom industry is likely to, after what has happened in the last 24 hours.


Bollywood needs the right focus to sort its business model out, one that’s heavily star-dependent and is begging for a correction. And ill-informed media coverage and hyperbole is not going to help its cause in this pursuit.


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