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Retrofit: The business of films – not all is ‘paradiso’ in Bollywood cinema

Guest Column
Retrofit: The business of films – not all is ‘paradiso’ in Bollywood cinema

Author | Sandeep Bamzai | Wednesday, Oct 28,2009 8:10 AM

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Guest Column <br>Retrofit:  The business of films – not all is ‘paradiso’ in Bollywood cinema

Is Hindi cinema a cash burn? Or does it pay in spades when the movie makes its tryst with the Box Office? Is there a section of the Hindi film industry and old style trade papers who want to continue burnishing the myth that Hindi movies aren’t doing well? Are revenues in place and is not an imponderable? Okay, I will now try and attempt to answer these posers, but not without empirical evidence.

Most of this year has been a dead loss due to the standoff between the multiplex-wallahs and the firmly entrenched producer lobby. So, essentially one needs to look at the industry since that strike, which I believe was more about ego than anything else. What the strike did do was bunch up releases in such a manner that practically every fortnight there are two big releases. But wait, nobody is complaining, not yet anyway.

I am sure the makers of ‘Dil Bole Hadiappa’, Yashraj Films, want to hide themselves under the nearest stone, for I cannot believe that in a cinematic world of realism, how Aditya Chopra is still greenlighting movies like ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ and ‘Dil Bole Hadiappa’. Shah Rukh Khan’s luminescence on the Box Office turned ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ into a gangbuster hit, but imagine a wife can’t spot her husband just because he gets a silly makeover. It is SRK’s aplomb and chutzpah which delivered, any other actor would have probably failed in this endeavour.

Anyway, that was last year, let’s fast forward to the present. For the July-September quarter, the total net Box Office (BO) takings are 19 per cent higher year-on-year. Did I hear a cheer? Maybe not. Net BO means that after subtracting taxes, the winnings were closer to Rs 375 crore. And after adjusting taxes, gross revenues would be a much larger at Rs 550 crore. Interestingly, the per film realisation is up an astronomical 25 per cent year-on-year. But that could be function of the bunching up of big films.

Now, let us get into the internals. Of the nine wide releases with over 500 prints across the country against eight in last year’s corresponding quarter, they have done – yes, hold your breath – 68 per cent better than last year. While I am at it, let me give you another delectable statistic – net box office of the six multiplex heavies in the same period is 34 per cent more than same period last year. Boy, are they raking it in!

Now, which are these nine wide releases in the July-Setember quarter – ‘New York’, ‘Kambakht Ishq’, ‘Luck’, ‘Love Aaj Kal’, ‘Life Partner’, ‘Kaminey’, ‘Wanted’, ‘What’s Your Rashee’ and ‘Dile Bole Hadippa’. The ones that ran and made good money are ‘New York’, ‘Love Aaj Kal’, ‘Kaminey’ and ‘Wanted’; even ‘Kambakht Ishq’ got a fantastic opening, but turned a turkey at the BO.

Let me address a more meaningful question. Why do industry insiders constantly carp about a crisis? Is there a crisis at the moment? Let us scratch the superficiality, though numbers don’t often lie. Somewhere over the last couple of years, the corporatisation of the Hindi film industry has taken place. It has happened more or less silently. The traditional biggies have been thrown by the wayside, barring Yashraj and Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. They resolved to change because they saw what was happening in the industry as new fresh players with bigger budgets swept them aside.

The old guard, hand-in-glove with the trade papers, continues to present a distorted picture about the Hindi film industry. The bottomline is that revenues are not a problem, but cost is the biggest issue going forward. Other than Yashraj and Dharma, Bhatt brothers’ Vishesh Films and Sajid Nadiadwala’s Nadiadwala Grandson have also accepted the winds of change and tried to move in sync with the new reality. In the new order in the Hindi film industry – Eros International, UTV Motion Pictures, Indian Film Company and Big Pictures, which has ‘Paa’, ‘Three Idiots’, ‘Kites’ and ‘Ravana’ ready for release between now and March 2010 and Yashraj and Dharma make a bucket. They are the vanguard of this change. In the second bucket, there is Shree Ashtavinyak (‘Blue’), Nadiadwala Grandson (‘Kambakht Ishq’) and Vishesh Films (‘Raaz’, and now ‘Tum Mile’).

This leaves the old style producers and the trade paper baggage that they support outside the ambit of the neo reality. Indulgence and wasteful expenditure was the name of the game in the Hindi film industry. I was talking to Fox Star Pictures CEO, Vijay Singh, who has acquired Karan Johar’s big ticket and much hyped ‘My Name is Khan’, and he told me that the absence of stringent processes – scheduling, scripting, casting, budgeting – was till recently a problem with Hindi cinema. Increasingly, he said, this is changing and players like Fox Star and Sony Pictures (‘Saawariya’) are attempting to engage the industry with this new paradigm. Vijay Singh said, “We want to be a single-stop shop for producers and put the building blocks in place. It is not necessarily about scale, but the ability to meld a viable business.”

‘Rab Ne…’ became an expensive movie because SRK was the star, an Akshay film is expensive because of his stardom. Ditto for Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan. Talent cost is still way too high for big Hindi films, in Hollywood, it is less than 25 per cent, but the budgets are much, much bigger. Right now, it is 40-50 per cent in bigger Hindi films because of a clutch of stars, logic demands that it should be less than 30 per cent. Conversely, one can argue that without the marquee drawcards, why should a movie run?

The crisis of cost is something that all the industry players have to introspect. Revenues will keep coming in as long as we make good entertaining films, which we are, managing cost is the greater challenge. Akshay’s recent track record has meant that he, too, has to do some soul searching. ‘Chandini Chowk…’, ‘Tasveer’, ‘Kambakht Ishq’, and now ‘Blue’, labelled as India's most expensive film have left him burnt. His only hope this year is the masala ‘Dhan Dana Dan’, helmed by Priyadarshan with his lucky charm Katrina Kaif. I cannot understand why a producer is willing to put good money behind bad – the pot-bellied Govinda in the write-off ‘Do Knot Disturb’ and Sanjay Dutt in the forgettable ‘Blue’. See Paul Walker in the original ‘Into the Blue’ or Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset in ‘The Deep’ many years ago and you will understand why ‘Blue’ needed to be given a wide berth. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

Cost efficiencies will creep in faster than we think when a star’s drawing power fails at the BO. Conversely, if an Aamir or SRK or Hrithik can deliver the kayo punch, then who can argue with them. Anyway, movie costs are going up, but so are the revenues exponentially. Curtailing cost and bolstering revenues could well be the mantra. Movies have cost and time overruns, and these bleed the producer. It could be an injury or a jail term like Sanjay Dutt, which debilitates the rules of engagement. Lots of big movies are coming up, see you at the theatres...

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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