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Actor Alia Bhatt’s Sadak 2 trailer became the second most disliked video of all time on YouTube. Photo source: Twitter
Actor Alia Bhatt’s Sadak 2 trailer became the second most disliked video of all time on YouTube. Photo source: Twitter

Drug scandal may further delay Bollywood recovery

  • Allegations of toxicity, debauchery and abetment to suicide have drawn strong reactions against the Hindi film industry on social media and triggered hashtags like ‘Boycott Bollywood’

NEW DELHI: The allegations of drug abuse against top actors may just be the last nail in the coffin for Bollywood that has been battling a barrage of controversies since the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput this June and the ensuing nepotism debate. The attacks have only exacerbated problems for the industry which has been witnessing zero theatrical revenues for the past six months, box office losses of nearly 3,000 crore, multiple projects stuck in various stages of production and millions of job cuts amid the covid-19 pandemic.

Media and entertainment industry experts said while Bollywood has never been seen as a moral high ground, recent incidents may have accentuated the Indian middle class’ disillusionment with the industry. A recent survey by the Indian Institute of Human Brands found that 82% youngsters in the 18-30 year age cohort said drug abuse by a celebrity made them ‘untrustworthy’, and that they would not buy a brand endorsed by such a celebrity.

Allegations of toxicity, debauchery and abetment to suicide have drawn strong reactions against the Hindi film industry on social media and triggered hashtags like ‘Boycott Bollywood’.

The outrage after Rajput’s death hasn’t spared actors, studio heads, PR firms or even film critics. “Barring a few genuinely concerned individuals, the public at large is lapping up the present noise around Sushant Singh Rajput’s death as if it were a spicy soap opera rather than a real-life tragedy. This is unsurprising since the public has, for generations, gleefully consumed gossip about stars, while largely assuming – with both disdain and envy – that stars abide by a different moral code from the rest of society," Anna M.M. Vetticad, journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic said.

Unfortunately, Rajput’s story has moved from film gossip magazines to prime time on mainstream news TV and has been politicised.

“The public is being bombarded with information 24x7 by a combination of the news media and the ruling party’s giant propaganda machine that are cleverly playing on prevalent social prejudices – evident in the misogynistic coverage of Rhea Chakraborty – for an agenda far removed from justice for Sushant," Vetticad said.

Evidently, 2020 has been tough on Bollywood. And while, there are no theatrical releases to prove whether people will put their money where their mouth is, that actor Alia Bhatt’s Sadak 2 trailer became the second most disliked video of all time on YouTube is a clear manifestation of the fact that there could be serious business implications in the coming days.

The outrage could be much worse when films of these stars actually arrive in theatres, with certain exhibitors anticipating some chaos particularly around Salman Khan’s Radhe scheduled for early 2021. However, given how forgiving audiences have been in the past for actors like Khan who have even been incarcerated, the broader belief is the film industry thrives not on social media conversation but on stories. The 3-4% of India’s population that does watch films in theatres has never bothered about pop culture debate.

“The challenge really for Bollywood, as it has always been, will be to get people to come to theatres," said Nikhil Taneja, co-founder and CEO of Yuvaa Originals, a Mumbai-based youth media, research and impact organisation who has worked with several companies like MTV and Yash Raj Films in the past. He said that after the pandemic, it will be tough to get people, who have gotten used to the comfort of watching new films and series at home, to brave the traffic, reach theatres, buy expensive tickets, popcorn and drinks, sit for three-hours with the interruption of ads and intervals and pay for dinner afterwards. It’s a huge investment of time, money and energy, Taneja said.

One challenge that Bollywood stares at is its loss of small-town family audiences over the past few years as it has increasingly begun to cater more to urban, multiplex-going millennials. “The problem with Bollywood is that it has stopped churning out enough universal content. It needs to cater to pan-India more and more instead of just the metros," independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan pointed out.


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