New Delhi: In 2008, Aamir Khan’s psychological thriller Ghajini made about Rs114 crore at the box office and changed Hindi film business forever. The A.R. Murugadoss-directed action flick wasn’t just the first Indian film to cross Rs100 crore in theatrical earnings, it was also the beginning of a pan-India obsession with box office figures that became the only yardstick to determine the extent of a film’s success and gave rise to the ‘Rs100 crore club’ moniker.
“This was the first time that the relevance of film business in India became noticeable to the common man, it became the benchmark for a movie’s success even at an audience level," said Vikram Malhotra of Abundantia Entertainment, which has co-produced films like Airlift and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
In the last 10 years, there have been 64 films that have made it to the Rs100 crore club. But there are two important trends to note since Ghajini. One, the big star-driven entertainers that cater to the lowest common denominator are still work big time. In fact they have now started delivering multiples of Rs100 crore. If Ghajini managed Rs114 crore, Khan’s other blockbusters like 3 Idiots (2009) and PK (2014) breached the Rs200 crore and Rs300 crore mark respectively. Second, there has been a democratisation of the elite club that now allows for younger entrants and a wider variety of subjects without the trappings of big-ticket offerings. This year’s Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (Rs108.95 crore), a romantic comedy without any big names, stands out as an example.
“Star power cannot be dismissed especially when it comes to the opening of a film," said Apoorva Mehta, chief executive officer, Dharma Productions. “The difference today is that it’s not star power alone that can work. The stories need to have an instant appeal for the audiences and it needs to be something they can emotionally invest in."
To be sure, opportunities for films to make money are many. According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2017, multiplexes have registered a 197% growth in India between 2009 and 2017. Unsurprisingly, the net box office collections of the top 50 Hindi films has grown from Rs26 billion in 2013 to Rs30 billion in 2017. While Ghajini had taken 18 days to get to Rs100 crore, Khan’s last release Dangal (2016) did so in its first three days.
But the challenges remain.
“The relevance of the 100 crore club is obviously in saying that the film has been a reasonable success. But what I think is more important is what the cost of the film has been to get to Rs100 crore," said Siddharth Roy Kapur, founder of film and digital media production house Roy Kapur Films and former managing director at Walt Disney Co. (India). Made at a budget of Rs37 crore, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety is a far more profitable film than many that made bigger numbers. A film like Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay may not be counted among the most profitable as it made a little over Rs100 crore with a production cost of Rs103 crore.
Kapur pointed to the increasing rigour in Bollywood’s production set-up today where budgets are tighter, marketing campaigns are impact driven and the idea is to make most money in the film’s opening weekend, given the limited shelf life of movies and the cluttered calendar round the year.
“But there can still be a certain amount of rationalisation in the star fees," he said. “In India, 30-40% of a film’s budget goes to fees. In Hollywood, the figure is around 10-20%."
The other threat comes from OTT (over-the-top) video streaming platforms — about 30 of them currently active in India. While the services do act as an ancillary stream of revenue, they are not just making films available within weeks of theatrical release but also coming up with edgy, genre-bending original content that can be viewed in the comfort of one’s home. A scenario like that coupled with the fact that ticket prices are sky-high makes theatre-viewing an option not many want to undertake too often.
While compelling, content-rich cinema is sure to impress going forward, to reach the larger numbers, Bollywood will need larger-than-life, Hollywood style franchise movies with great visual effects, Mehta said. As the only Indian film to have made more than Rs500 crore, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has shown that regardless of the language barrier, if the content is great and the treatment powerful, the numbers are there to see.
“Our objective for the next five years should be the $100 million club," Malhotra said. Key to that, he said, would be first, a pan-India release in multiple languages with aggressive marketing and second, for the film to appeal as an emotion across the country.
“We have to deliver the kind of cinematic experience that Hollywood is beginning to master, which is a visual and aural spectacle, a story that is larger-than-life and has ability for multiple viewing," he said.