Mumbai: The new titans of the box office are currying favour with audiences despite the lack of all-star-cast glitz or the knockout budgets of their predecessors.
Peddling a simple formula of gritty tales about “real” people and their seemingly ordinary lives, content-rich films such as Rock On!!, Phoonk and A Wednesday have opened to critical and commercial acclaim, breaking new ground in Indian cinema.
Critics have welcomed the latest arrivals to the Bollywood fold, noting that the success of these medium and low-budget films, which would formerly have been relegated to the niche of “parallel cinema”or “art films”, are making over conventional industry economics.
“Newer stories are slowly finding their way into (multi)plexes of India,” says Taran Adarsh, the trade analyst, in his review of A Wednesday, a Rs3.5 crore budget film about the story of a policeman’s efforts to thwart a series of bombings. It does star household names in Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah, however.
“A Wednesday is cinema at its best. It may not be a King-size entertainer to attract the audiences in hordes and set the box-office afire,” he adds, making reference to the recent box office opening of Singh is Kinng, starring Akshay Kumar. “But A Wednesday does pack in a king-sized punch.”
Singh is Kinng broke what had otherwise been a bad spell and bad year for Bollywood movies, trouncing the previous box-office record set by last Diwali’s Om Shanti Om.
Adarsh, who notes that the critical success of A Wednesday makes it the third successive “niche” release in the last three weeks to score with audiences, credits the arrival of multiplexes—movie theatres with multiple screens in common parlance—for the breakthrough, as they provide a platform for young Indian film makers to experiment with subjects and genres.
New take: A still from the movie A Wednesday, a Rs3.5 crore budget film about the story of a policeman’s efforts to thwart a series of bombings. Its cast includes Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah.
“Industry calculations and arithmetic have gone for a toss,” says Adarsh. “Till a few years ago, traders would scoff and snigger at a film like Rock On!! Most exhibitors would not be interested in playing the film... But multiplexes have changed all that.”
Rock On!!, which was made on a medium-scale budget of Rs27 crore, opened to full houses, especially in youthful Pune and Bangalore. The Farhan Akhtar-starring film, about four friends who form a rock band, collected about Rs10 crore in its first week.
Critics and analysts have also welcomed the success of films such as Phoonk, a black magic horror movie directed by Ram Gopal Varma.
Analysts estimate that in the six months to end-July, production houses managed to recoup less than half of the Rs3 billion spent on making movies, due to a catalogue of unsuccessful releases, including Tashan and Krazzy4.
The drivers of change of audience tastes also include technology, according to Neeraj Pandey, the first-time director of A Wednesday, which has given audiences exposure to global cinema and an appreciation for different sorts of films.
“I see a change in tastes,” says Pandey. “The audience wants different sorts of films. It would not have been possible to make A Wednesday five years ago. Despite that, I see this film as commercial; it is driven by commercial logic.”
Although opening weekend collections for A Wednesday were not available from UTV Software Communications Ltd, the production house behind it, analysts said the film, which had opened to a tepid reception despite acclaim from critics, was expected to pick up in the coming days.
Ritesh Sidhwani, co-founder of Excel Entertainment, the production house behind Rock On!!, said that an evolution in audience tastes over the past five years has created an openness to different types of cinema. “Previously, film-makers used to make just commercial films, but now they are more socially conscious and have the guts to make it work,” saysSidhwani.
He also notes that increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques means that placing a film correctly plays an important role in the success ofa film.
“If you don’t market a film correctly than you won’t get any audience,” Sidhwani says. “The audience decides if it’s going to watch a film when it watches the trailers.”
Creative marketing, which involves competitions targeted at aspiring actors on the dedicated website for the film Rock On!! as well as trailers that correctly identify and attract its audience, is another consequence of the changing nature of film making in India.
Adarsh says the trailers for films such as A Wednesday, Phoonk and Rock On!! give viewers “just the tip of theiceberg.”
“Most promos mislead the viewer no end,” says Adarsh. “They promise the moon, the viewer is hooked and very often, they fail to meet the expectations. In this case, the promos are just the tip of the iceberg. This movie has so much more to offer than a few vital glimpses highlighted in the promos.”