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Horror comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 may have done well on its release last weekend, but Hindi language cinema, that usually makes over 60% of box office revenue for theatre owners in north India, has seen its share decline to an all-time low of 10% in the past few months. The dismal performance of films like Jersey, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Bachchhan Paandey, Attack, Runway 34 and Heropanti 2, among others, has led to this decline in revenue from Hindi films. Trade experts said that Hindi cinema’s loyal urban, educated viewers have not returned to theatres in full force and the recent films have found no takers among small-town, mass-market audiences.

Though Hindi box office was estimated to grow 41% in the first quarter of FY23 versus pre-covid levels, according to estimates by Elara Capital Ltd, the growth remains flattish excluding regional blockbusters like K.G.F: Chapter 2 that has made over Rs. 430 crore from its Hindi version alone, beating older Bollywood blockbusters like Dangal and Sanju.

“It feels like the Mumbai film industry has been pushed out of the theatrical space because movies in all other languages, be it Tamil, Telugu, Marathi or Punjabi, are working," said Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan. The trend started over the past decade as Hindi filmmakers thought that blockbusters are driven by multiplexes and there is no need for them to cater to mass-market, single screen audiences anymore, Chauhan added. Film trade experts said urban, elite viewers are yet to flock theatres as they have taken to streaming content in a big way. The new-age Hindi films that tackle subjects such as homosexuality and live-in relationships find no draw in small towns where theatre-going culture is still strong. “The south has seen plenty of hits post covid thanks to the appeal of stars like Vijay (Master) and Pawan Kalyan (Bheemla Nayak)," Chauhan said explaining that a lot of younger actors like Ranveer Singh and Ayushmann Khurrana do not enjoy a fan base in tier-two and tier-three towns.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said the elitist attitude of most Mumbai-based studio executives reflects in the disconnect of their work with common audiences. On the other hand, both actors and filmmakers in the south come with a deep understanding of grassroot issues, emotions and languages spoken there.

Film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said most Hindi films that released in theatres over the past few months were green-lit and shot, by and large, before the pandemic. “In a sense, these are all old films and a huge backlog has accumulated. But standards of quality and audiences’ mindsets have changed over these two years, so that change may reflect in films by next year if they are being green-lit today," Johar explained.

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema agreed that viewing patterns have changed drastically in the last two years. People now wait and track reactions and reviews on social media. “Some of these films like Jersey and Bachchhan Paandey were remakes whose originals are already available on streaming platforms, many of which were primarily known for international content earlier," Mohan said. While RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 may have been successful, other Tamil and Telugu films, too, have been box office disasters like Acharya, Radhe Shyam and Beast, Mohan pointed out. “Along with ticket pricing, the next year will see corrections in storytelling since consumption patterns have changed all across," he said.

Defending the Hindi film industry, Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd said even before the pandemic, out of the 250-300 titles released every year, barely 30-40 made money. “The real blockbusters may only be around 10-15. This comparison with large-scale southern spectacles like RRR and KGF is unfair and we’re confident the business for Hindi films will be back," Jyala said.

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