Home / Opinion / Columns /  Films and the great Indian audience taste churn

Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of Ormax Media, is pretty forthright about the current upheaval in the Indian cinema industry and its impact on his business. Film industry, especially Bollywood, has delivered a spate of box office disasters this year, with producers, directors, theatre owners and trade analysts, running helter-skelter to understand the reasons behind their failure. The pandemic and the subsequent instability in the film business, has prompted Ormax to review its research data, too. Ormax Media specializes in tracking, testing, analytics and consulting for films, TV and OTT content.

“We’ve had to junk last 15 years of data and start from scratch because you can’t rely on pre-pandemic research to draw future trends for films. Audience tastes have changed, established stars have failed—forcing us to study palates, sentiments afresh," he said.

The good news is that film folks are now more inclined towards using his services that include testing of film scripts, trailers, marketing plans and even the final product. “In the last one year, for the first time, we hear people say ‘I’m not sure if it’s going to work or if it’s in sync with audience taste.’ We’d never seen such scepticism before and usually encountered a more I-know-it all attitude," Kapoor said.

Kapoor may be in the research business but he admits currently there are no easy answers to what’ll work. The crop of films releasing and failing today are the ones that were written before the pandemic. The real impact of what people learn from this 2022 audience behaviour will actually be seen in 2024, he said.

The altered consumer appetite is deeply rooted in the pandemic and the steep rise in adoption of streaming services. Content on over-the-top (OTT) video services has democratized tastes and people are less picky about languages or stars. With the best of Indian and global content accessible in multiple languages, people no longer see dubbed content as secondary but more as variety being available.

They’re mature to make a distinction between what they’d like to watch in cinema and on OTT. While Alia Bhatt’s Darlings has done very well on Netflix, her Gangubai was a hit in theatres. “Audiences are clear that Darlings kind of drama genre and more intimate storytelling does not require a big screen experience and can be watched on a mobile phone, laptop or a small screen versus a Gangubai which is more cinematic and requires a theatrical experience," Kapoor said.

Film producer Anku Pande agreed that movies crashing at the box office reflects audience exposure to different kinds of stories, styles of story-telling and different levels of how entertained they can be while watching a film. “Their tastes are more refined and segmented," she said.

However, as producer of Fighter, featuring Deepika Padukone and Hrithik Roshan releasing in 2023, Pande said course correction in content is in the offing. The industry is clearly identifying what works on OTT and in theatres. “With this clear divide, more filmmakers are beginning to believe the bigger the spectacle or canvas, the better chances it has in the theatres," she said.

The other realization is that Hindi cinema needs to be more rooted. “People had been saying it, but now, you will hear it louder and more often. More actors, writers and directors are talking about how Hindi isn’t even spoken on some sets; so, how can we get the soul right," she said. There’s a call for keeping scripts authentic and emphasis on getting writers, directors, studio executives who’re familiar with Hindi literature, theatre and storytellers.

“Audience is a more experienced viewer now. Whatever kind of cinema they like to watch, they have watched a lot more than they would have normally watched if there was no covid. We need to write, research and cast better," she said.

Among other issues such as actors’ fees and production costs, discussion on correction in ticket pricing is on the table too. When theatres countrywide dropped ticket prices to 75 on 23 September, 6.5 million viewers watched films, Pande added.

Clearly, a new relationship with its new set of rules is being set between audience and entertainment providers, and conversations are happening across the board in the industry. The process may need speed because, as Kapoor said, audiences seem to have gone brutal with rejecting films.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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