Shailesh Kapoor: Does Bollywood have the will to pass its toughest test?

11 Aug,2017

By Shailesh Kapoor


Last week’s Hindi film release Jab Harry Met Sejal has capitulated at the box office. The film opened well below the mark of what a Shahrukh Khan starrer would be expected to. But when you look at what happened Monday onwards, the below-par 15 Crore opening still looks big. The film will fold up in the 65-70 Crore range. To put things in perspective, that’s the business of Irrfan-starrer Hindi Medium, which opened at about 2.5 Crore earlier this year, but went on to grow because of appreciation it received from the big city audiences.


Not too long back, Tubelight faced a similar fate, though it managed to scrape past the 100-Crore mark. Salman Khan has been invincible at the box office since Dabangg in 2010. When Jai Ho didn’t fly, it was seen as an aberration. But Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal coming within two months of each other have highlighted the grave times Bollywood is going through.


The “100 Crore club” was formed with Ghajini in 2008. As more and more films began to touch the mark, this club lost its aspirational value by 2013-14. It was being widely spoken about, in the industry and the media, that 150 Crore or 200 Crore is the new club to aspire for.


Since the start of 2016, three films have crossed the 300 Crore mark – Bahubali 2, Dangal and Sultan. But if we move beyond these three giants to the next level, a deep chasm is evident. There’s nothing in the 150-300 Crore category at all. Big starrers have failed to touch the 150-mark, which was being seen as highly attainable in 2013-15. And now with Jab Harry Met Sejal, even the 100-mark becomes elusive.


If we didn’t have the three biggies, many would have safely concluded that the trend of going to the theatres is on the decline, because of the digital media taking over. But these three films, and Bahubali 2 in particular, shatter that argument. If you have the right content, audiences will flock to the theatres.


And it’s the right content that’s been found wanting. In times when media clutter is at an all-time high, and choices and distractions are available in plenty, the audiences are brutally unforgiving. The box office fate of Jab Harry Met Sejal symptomizes this trend, better than any other film in recent times.


For years, the film industry has been star and director-driven. What films get made, how they get made, and at what budgets they get made has been dictated by the big stars and the established directors. Tapping into audience trends and needs has not been the industry’s primary approach to content creation. 2017 has exposed this strategic gap, though the writing was on the wall for the last 2-3 years at least.


What doesn’t help matters is the high degree of denial that can prevail in this business. When we were forecasting a 14-15 Crore opening for Jab Harry Met Sejal from six weeks before its release till the week of release, many voices in the business said it’s at least 5 Crore below what the film will actually open at. It took the day of the release for them to face reality. And this is not an isolated example. It happens every other month.


It’s easy to zero in on the problem that Bollywood faces today – consistently poor content that’s not aligned to audience tastes or needs. But the solutions can only come when there’s a will to question the fundamentals of content selection. And that’s where the bigger challenge lies.


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