Starting with Salman Khan-starrer Race 3, an Eid release in June, the industry is betting on large-budget movies. Kangana Ranaut stars as Rani Laxmibai in biographical drama Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, slated for release on Independence Day, while Aamir Khan returns to screens after two years this Diwali with Yash Raj Films’ action adventure Thugs of Hindostan, also featuring Amitabh Bachchan.
Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions has already announced two ultra-grand projects for 2019—an epic drama called Kalank with Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy Kapur and a superhero fantasy film, part of a trilogy, titled Brahmastra, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Bhatt. Dhawan and Katrina Kaif will collaborate for what is being billed as India’s biggest dance film, directed by Remo D’Souza, while Rakesh Roshan will return with the next instalment in the Krrish series.
The nearly 12 projects slated for release as far as the end of 2020 could together account for investments of nearly Rs1,200 crore, said trade experts.
“There is definitely a trend witnessed towards investing in films that provide viewers with a spectacular cinematic experience," said Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions.
“Today we are in a very a dynamic environment where the growing popularity of regional cinema, coupled with Hollywood films, has intensified the competition. Add to this mix the phenomenon of major sport leagues as well as other varied forms of online and offline content. This environment has really created the need to invest in films that can break through the clutter instead of getting lost in the shuffle," he said.
Despite the popularity of small-budget films on emerging OTT (over-the-top) platforms, especially among millennials, the pull of spectacular cinematic experiences in theatres remains intact, said Sujay Kutty, business head at Zee Studios, which is producing Manikarnika.
“Sure, the new platforms for viewing content are welcome and it is an exciting experience. But there is something about watching a film on a 70mm screen and these films are proof of that," said Bhushan Kumar, chairman and managing director, T-Series, which is producing the Dhawan-Kaif dance film and also presenting Saaho, a trilingual starring Prabhas of Baahubali fame.
While all these filmmakers refrained from divulging actual budgets, Mehta said the projects in question have been visualized as larger-than-life films and the narrative inherently requires them to be mounted on a large scale to provide the desired cinematic experience.
Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said the films could take up anywhere between Rs100 crore and Rs125 crore each, a far cry from the days when Rs20-25 crore film was considered big in Bollywood.
“Such investments can only be made by big banners who put out multiple projects a year—so while a couple of movies like Raazi (with controlled budgets) keep the cycle going, a studio like Dharma can work on one or two tent-pole films that will be few and far between," he explained, adding that out of 52 weeks in a year, Bollywood can, at the most, come out with eight truly big-ticket projects, most often for festivals and holidays. But, like Hollywood, which banks majorly on tent-poles, spectacles are likely to be the future of Bollywood too, he added.
Inherent to the trend of investing in big-budget films, Mohan said, is India’s promising screen growth which ensures wide showcasing. According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report, India had 9,530 screens in 2017, with single screens increasingly being converted to multiplexes. Exhibition chains are also investing in classier, evolved viewing experiences, in terms of both technology and infrastructure. Plus, there are OTT platforms, the newest stream of revenue where, for the really big films they pay up to Rs80 crore for rights.
Mehta, who describes such films as “event films" because the spectacular visuals and high production values together make the anticipated release a big event, said that these films will be the way forward to bring more footfalls to the theatres. “Because ticket buyers are on the lookout for that something extra, something spectacular that they cannot experience at home. But it is imperative that the foundation of these event films is good content," he added.