Bollywood Faces Horror Show at the box office

Bollywood Faces Horror Show at the box office

Aamir Khan in Laal Singh Chaddha. (courtesy of aamirkhanproductions)


India’s Bollywood film industry, long part of the cultural fabric of the film-mad country of 1.4 billion people, is facing its biggest crisis ever as streaming services and non-Hindi-speaking rivals steal its luster. The South Asian giant releases an average of around 1,600 films each year, more than any other country, traditionally with glitzy Bollywood titles, fans worshiping movie stars like gods and crowds thronging premieres. But now cinemas have gone silent, even in Bollywood’s nerve center Mumbai, and box office receipts have fallen since the Covid curbs were lifted.

“This is the worst crisis we have ever faced,” veteran Mumbai theater owner Manoj Desai told AFP. Some screenings were canceled because the “audience wasn’t there”.

Normally bankable megastar Akshay Kumar had three movies in a row in his tank. Colleague Aamir Khan, the face of some of India’s most successful films, failed to impress audiences with that Forrest Gump make new Laal Singh Chaddha.

Of the more than 50 Bollywood films released last year – fewer than normal due to the pandemic – only a fifth met or exceeded sales targets, said Elara Capital media analyst Karan Taurani. Before the pandemic, it was 50 percent.

In contrast, several Telugu-language films, aka Tollywood – a South Indian competitor to Hindi-language Bollywood – have risen to the top.

Embarrassingly, from January 2021 to August this year, about half of the box office receipts for Hindi-language films were reported as offerings from the south, Soumya Kanti Ghosh, chief economic adviser to the State Bank of India, said in a recent report.

“Bollywood appears to be at a tipping point after decades of storytelling unlike any other disruption before,” Ghosh wrote.

‘Out of Contact’

Bollywood, like other film industries, has been hurt by the rise of streaming, which began before the pandemic but increased as millions of Indians were forced indoors.

Around half of India’s population has access to internet and streaming services, including international players like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ Hotstar, which the government estimates has 96 million subscriptions.

Some films released during the Covid shutdown went straight to these platforms, while others hit small screens just weeks after debuting in cinemas.

With monthly streaming subscriptions lower than or comparable to the cost of a ticket — 100-200 rupees ($1.20-2.50) in single-screen cinemas and higher in multiplex cinemas — budget-conscious viewers steer clear Movie theaters, analysts said.

Times have been so tough that in March INOX and PVR, two of India’s largest multiplex operators, announced their merger in a bid to “create greatness”.

Subscribers, meanwhile, have been exposed to local and global streaming content, including southern Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada language films, which already had legions of loyal local fans.

“Regional cinema did not travel beyond its borders. But now suddenly everyone was watching Malayalam cinema or Maharashtrian cinema and then you realize that … there are filmmakers who tell more interesting stories,” said film critic Raja Sen.

“Then they see a Hindi blockbuster come out with a star that’s like a rehash of a story they’ve heard a million times, and then they’re not so impressed.”

Critics also accused Bollywood of making niche or elite films that don’t resonate in a country where 70 percent of the population lives outside of cities.

Aamir Khan admitted during media interviews Laal Singh Chaddha that Hindi filmmakers “choosing what is relevant to them may not be so relevant to a larger audience”.

At the same time Tollywood mega smash hits Pushpa: The Ascension and RRR highlighted the exploits of ordinary people and treated the audience to larger-than-life visual spectacles with catchy song and dance numbers.

Such formulas have long been a mainstay of Bollywood, but film critics say Southern challengers have made it bigger and better.

“To get people into theaters, we need to create a storytelling experience that cannot be reproduced at home,” said Akshaye Rathi, multi-theater operator and retail analyst.

“What we have to do is respect their time, money and effort. And whenever we do that, they come out in large numbers for a particular film.”

wake up call

Ensuring box office success with a star as the protagonist is no longer guaranteed, said Taurani, who described Bollywood’s recent struggles as “alarming”.

“I think the audience obviously wants the star, but the audience wants the star to be in a movie with compelling content,” he added.

Kumar – also known as the “one-man industry” because of its productivity – said he was going back to the drawing board.

“If my films don’t work, it’s our fault, it’s my fault. I have to make the changes, I have to understand what the audience wants,” Indian Express reported in August.


Adding to Bollywood’s distress were repeated social media campaigns against certain Hindu right-wing films, including the Forrest Gump make new.

Recently there have been calls for a new release Brahmastra being boycotted for star Ranbir Kapoor’s carnivorous comments a few years ago. Cows are considered sacred by Hindus.

But while it’s making unwanted noise, analysts say there doesn’t appear to have been a material impact on box office returns. Brahmastra actually did well.

The real problem, moviegoers told AFP outside a cinema in Mumbai, is that many Bollywood films just aren’t good enough.

“The story should be good (and) the content should be good so that people want to see it,” said 22-year-old college student Preeti Sawant.

“That’s why people don’t come to see films.”

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)

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