Bollywood: The billion club
New Delhi: India and Indians are obsessed with politics, sports and movies.
Over the past two decades, the movies business across the country has seen two very significant changes.
The first is the multiplex boom that has seen single-screen theatres all but go out of business in the metros and the larger cities.
The second is the replacement of physical rolls of film with digital files, significantly reducing the effort and cost required to make copies of a movie.
The first has resulted in an explosion in the number of cinema screens across the country and the second has ensured that, if a production house so desires, it can release its movies in thousands of screens simultaneously.
A complex equation involving an excess of media, TV rights and privacy means few movies today are screened for more than a few weeks—they make all their money in the time. Indeed, thanks to in-film promotions (and placements) of brands, many movies make money even before they are released.
It is an evolution that has worked for everybody.
Producers and production houses are happy because they make their money quickly (or, just as quickly realize that they aren’t going to make it).
Distributors and exhibitors are happy because the increase in the number of screens and in ticket prices as well as non-film revenue at multiplexes (food and drink, shopping options, etc.,) means they make more money.
Actors are happy because they get paid much more today than they did a decade ago. Bigger stars can even command (and get) a portion of the takings.
Purveyors as well as patrons of parallel cinema are happy because of the arrival of multiplexes which invariably screen such movies (usually in their smallest auditoriums). Many such movies actually go on to make money.
And the government is happy because it makes money from entertainment tax on the sale of tickets.
There has been organization and consolidation at every level. Large companies own and run multiplexes across cities. International production houses and home-grown ones have instilled a modicum of professionalism into one of the world’s most unorganized (and disorganized) film industries. And while the rumours refuse to go away, it is clear that many of the financial transactions in Bollywood and regional film industries are above board.
Not surprisingly, Bollywood has been quick to arrive at a financial benchmark for success.
There was a time when movies were measured by how long they were screened for—some would last 25 weeks, some even 50.
Today, movies are measured by how much money they make. Rs.100 crore (or Rs.1 billion), it is widely accepted, is the cut-off (never mind the cost).
It seems somehow apt that a billion should be the benchmark of something that feeds and feeds off the fantasies of a billion.