Bollywood saw only two Rs200 crore earners (Golmaal Again and Tiger Zinda Hai) and a few Rs100 crore grossers (Judwaa 2, Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, Raees, Badrinath Ki Dulhania) last year. That’s excluding the Hindi dubbed version of Baahubali: The Conclusion, which earned in excess of Rs500 crore. In 2016, two films earned Rs300 crore grossers and six took in Rs100 crore, according to movie website koimoi.com. But even as theatricals fall, the movie industry is increasingly looking at newer revenue streams in the coming year.
To be sure, the single biggest takeaway from 2017 is the continued reliance on over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms and their impact on filmmaking and business. Jyoti Deshpande, group chief executive officer at Eros International, said the studio took a conscious call after the release of its period saga Bajirao Mastani (2015) to move away from big-ticket films and focus on its digital business. Its OTT service, Eros Now, Deshpande said, has grown to 3.7 million subscribers. Meanwhile, Siddharth Roy Kapur’s newly formed production house Roy Kapur Films has just announced a multi-year digital content deal with telecom firm Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd to put together exclusive long- and short-form content across genres termed ‘Jio originals.’
“Technology is enabling people to enjoy entertainment in ways that are more in their control, giving them what they want to watch, when they want to watch it and where they want to watch it," Kapur said. “I think it’s our responsibility as content creators to ensure that we leverage the new platforms that are available to us to continue to tell great stories, and if we look at digital in that context, I think we’ll have much more productive, creative and rewarding experiences."
Over time, making one film for distribution across channels will not work, Deshpande added. So you will need cinematic spectacles like Padmavati to get people into cinemas but in the future, there will be more digital-friendly films than theatre-friendly ones.
Little surprise then that a clutch of filmmakers are also eyeing the video streaming space this year. Kabir Khan, Sujoy Ghosh and Vikram Bhatt are at different stages of planning web series for various digital players currently.
The 25-plus OTT platforms available in India, including American ones like Amazon Prime and Netflix, are changing the way audiences view and consume content, and binge watching has taken over appointment viewing, said Vijay Singh, chief executive officer, Fox Star Studios.
But while on the one hand digital has opened up a fresh revenue stream for producers and is a big opportunity, it also necessitates new and unique consolidations. In mid-December, the Walt Disney Co. announced its purchase of parts of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. for about $52.4 billion. The deal could possibly make Disney the biggest broadcaster in India besides resurrecting its local film business.
“The streaming platforms have brought entertainment under one large umbrella; the only way for film studios to give them a tough fight is to consolidate," said film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi. “The recent deal is only the tip of the iceberg, the kind of monetization needed to compete with digital can only come from a combined studio entity."
But it’s not like the traditional feature film format will disappear any time soon.
The other big trend that industry experts expect to continue in 2018 with the success of films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Rs134.22 crore), Jolly LLB 2 (Rs117 crore) and Newton (Rs22.80 crore), is that of social dramas.
“The biggest learning is (to continue to make) subjects that hold social and national importance, for the education of audiences through the medium of cinema," said Prernaa Arora of KriArj Entertainment, co-producer of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
Up next for the production company is Akshay Kumar-starrer Padman, a January release advocating menstrual hygiene, and Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran on the 1998 nuclear bomb tests featuring John Abraham.“You need a social and nationalist message but also entertainment. These movies are not documentaries, audiences go to watch them with their families. But people are trying to make better films now," Arora said. “Such films have their own standing in the eyes of the society and the common man who looks to them for hope and inspiration. I want KriArj to be the pioneer in creating such realistic cinema."
Arora also expects action films to come back in a big way and hopes more special effects-heavy projects will be taken up. While director Rohit Shetty has announced an action comedy titled Simbaa with Ranveer Singh playing a cop scheduled for release on 28 December, 2018, films like Rajinikanth’s science fiction thriller 2.0 and the biopic on Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma should take this trend forward. The resounding success of the Baahubali franchise has set the bar for VFX in Indian movies very high.
“The spectacles will always have appeal because they will be event films. That whole cinematic experience will get people to go to the big screen but audiences will get picky in terms of how many films they go out for," Deshpande said. “I don’t see cinemas closing down but it’s time to reinvent and make content that will draw people back into the theatres."