Regional Cinema On the Rise As Hindi Filmmakers Alienate Core Audience

Regional film industries started mushrooming over the last one and half decades. Ironically, this happened thanks to the Hindi film industry and the kind of themes and approach New Gen Hindi filmmakers took up to make their films.

The operative words with films have always been these two phrases: Identifying and universal appeal. ‘Identifying’ means to say that the story, the script as well as the treatment of a film should be closer to life, it should be piece of life of an ordinary moviegoer so that the viewer easily identifies with it. This factor, in turn led to the phrase ‘Universal appeal’. That is to say, a film should appeal to the audience in general, among all Hindi film watching people be it a metro or a B grade centre (city) or mofussil town.

The other part of identifying relates to a person in the audience accepting the hero on screen as representing his aspirations. While watching the film, he sees himself as the hero. The viewers’ mind-set is always influenced by the national mood.  When a film script depicts the hero and how that hero, the protagonist, puts that mood on screen is when a film does well.

Rajesh Khanna was the heartthrob. His love stories, simple as they came and backed by great music, meant jubilees; silver, golden as well as platinum. Things changed soon enough and a hero, who gave vent to the pent-up violence, anger and frustration in the viewer’s mind, came to rule the roost. He was Amitabh Bachchan, the anti-establishment icon.

Even family socials worked. They were usually about a suppressed woman, or about saas-bahu kitchen politics. Women took to such films because these films reflected their own situations. But, even these genres needed to be backed by relevant musical score. In those days, music worked because it helped further a story as well as because of its melodic attributes.

So far, so good. Hindi films had a pan India captive audience. If Rajesh Khanna films celebrated jubilees and ran amok on the awards circuit, they also dominated Binaca Geetmala, the celebrated and, only one-of-its- kind, song rating radio programme.

With Amitabh Bachchan, the yardsticks were different. The exhibitors paid high Fixed Hire or Minimum Guarantees for his films. Minimum Guarantee meant that the cinema owner pledged or, rather betted, a certain amount on a Bachchan film due for release. MG meant that the cinema owner paid a certain amount to show a Bachchan film. That amount was gone for good but, when he recovered that amount, he had to share the profits 50:50 with the distributor.

What was strange was that most cinemas were willing to pay more than their 28 show capacity to get a Bachchan film. Their calculation was that their profits will come from canteen sales as well as cycle and scooter parking charges (cars were a rarity at such centres).

In those days, some circuits (that is how the film distribution trade was divided; circuit wise, based on demarcations made by British Raj provinces) like Central Province (CP), Central India (CI) and United Provinces (now UP) released a new film on a Thursday while the rest of India did on Friday.Some of these Thursday centres released a Bachchan film as early as at 6 am in the morning on Thursday. After all, they had to cover their monies. And, the reports that came in read like: ‘Jitne aadmi theatre hall mei the, unse jhyada bahaar the’.

But, things were about to change. The new wiz kids were on the prowl. The telling of traditional Indian stories was passé. The themes became bolder, computer graphics dominated and the action films missed the usual dhishoom… sounds which excited the audience. Also, the location of the story and hence the film shoots shifted overseas; just about every producer wanted to shoot at ‘scenic’ locales abroad. This trend initially started on the justification that a producer could

have his entire star cast

to himself and could complete his film in one schedule. Earlier, actors meted out shooting dates in terms of days and, in some

cases, even by hour. By this time, the actors had also seen the benefit of shooting one film at a time. But, this convenience soon turned into a trend.

Even after basing their stories on NRI’s, Hindi films took to making films about losers. There was this film where one fine day, Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor, meet while they are contemplating suicide by jumping from some bridge in the US. Both postpone the plan to eventually fall in love! There was this movie starring Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan about married couple rediscovering their past love and about deserting their respective spouses! And, the much-adored Bachchan’s character even brings call-girls home to the house where he resides with his son and daughter-in-law! There was even this Indian brainchild of recreating a  Dick Tracy kind of film, Bombay Velvet, which was a major disaster. There are scores of such films which managed to find no connect with the audience!

The question of identification came in to reckoning. The audience from certain regions thrived on traditional stories of good vs evil, saas-bahu and depicted the native way of romancing. The first regional language film industry to give their viewers what they sought was the Bhojpuri. This was followed by Marathi and Punjabi industries and, later, Gujarati. Marathi makers, who earlier made comedies with a dose of titillation, took to make modern tales but, with local Marathi flavour. As for Gujarati films, they too took to local subjects which appealed to all kind of audiences. While Punjabi movies worked well and created its own brand of superstars, this also meant rising costs.

Like the gold rush of the US and the diamond rush in South Africa, the success stories of regional films drew more prospect hunters. The regular Hindi filmmakers thought they could do better than local regional film producers. The big guns joined the bandwagon. The result: inflation in costs and flops galore. This happened especially with Punjabi and Bhojpuri films. They did not realise that they were just being financers, bankrolling projects in these languages without the knowledge of what sold and what worked. In fact, it came to a point where Punjabi films cost as much to make or more than what 75 per cent of Hindi films cost in production! Negative returns have set in the Bhojpuri film industry too due to artificial cost rise and flooding the market.

The Gujarati and Marathi films have a reasonable making cost generally and churn out a relevant film every now and then.

The introduction of the digital format made it easier to make films with finesse. As a result, these regional films look as good as any other in quality. However, the watchword will have to be restraint in costs. If your budgets escalates, it does not mean your viewership and footfalls in the cinema does so as well.

@ The Box Office

This week’s new release, Nanu Ki Jaanu, like many recent films, shows a bankruptcy of ideas right from its title. Abhay Deol is a here today, gone tomorrow actor. He is supposed to be selective about the kind of films he accepts. And, yet, sadly, Nanu Ki Jaanu is the kind of films he comes up with. The film meets with a poor opening day with the weekend figures not being encouraging at all. The film had an unimpressive weekend of about Rs 3.3 crore and may barely manage to cross the Rs  5 crore mark if at all for its first week.

Beyond The Clouds, a film by much-acclaimed Irani filmmaker, Majid Majidi, proves to be an unmitigated disaster. Midweek discontinuation from the cinema halls happens to be its the only fate.

October, as it turned out, is based on a real life story of a young couple in love. There are also claims to someone having acquired the rights to make the film in Hindi. But, while it made for a great human interest story to read about in the newspapers, making a film with mainstream star like Varun Dhawan only raised expectations. It is another example of a film about losers which is not what people pay hundreds of rupees per ticket to watch. The film will fall well short of its recovery mark and may stop short of a lifetime business of Rs 40 crore.