Bollywood Flops

For people who have lived long enough (like me) one has the advantages of history and noticing patterns.

There was a time when we were young and stars old. Then came a time, when we were young and stars young. So we can catch the time when we transitioned from the old to the contemporary. There was an age when we ceased to identify with Amitabh, Dharmendra, and Jeetendra and moved over to many Khans.

We know the effects of identification. Say, at age 20, Aamir’s romance made more meaning than the same by Dharam or Jeetendra, who were still very active in 1988. By the onset of 1990, the Hindi film industry had established hit stars who were in their early or mid-twenties. The mass audience, mainly the young guys, moved over to the young stars, but the old stars were still there doing their work, but they had a select audience. I still remember the day when I saw Bachchan’s romance in ‘Suryavansham,'(1999) and oh, what a pain it is to watch that.

Life is repeating, but not resonating. Those fresh-faced 20-something stars 30 years ago are now 50 plus. When I was 20, my stars were 20 plus. Just imagine, folks born, say in 1988, are today 34 years old. These poor chaps are watching the old hags for the last 2 decades at least. No wonder they don’t even bother to visit the theatres – Covid or no-covid.

This is the problem of business, and not of stars.

Before there were single-screen and after the year 2000, gradually, most of the theatres turned to multi screens. In the pre-streaming era (before Netflix, Prime etc.) the business booked all screens for a new movie for at least a week across India. This means the audience has no option but to buy the ticket and get forcibly entertained – spend time. The business is just concerned with money. No quality, no taste, no esthetics – only money for tickets, and yes, popcorn. (MNS party in Maharashtra took objections to this, so they kept 1 screen available for regional films.)

The movie business settled for this model for decades. It’s a dumb model, but effective. It got the money, what in movie parlance is called – opening. So, no talent gets developed to write good stories because there is no need to attract the audience via a good, wholesome movie. All that is needed is to fix up some show. The business took care of the rest – put the movie in the theatres and block all screens for a week and collect the ‘ransom.’

With the movie business, they also focused the theatre business on maximizing how much each visitor spends rather than maximizing the audience attendance through making good movie products.

Improving the audience ‘Experience’ got limited to the look and feel and ambience of the theatre like plush seating, cozy restaurant and bars, etc., but the primary product, the Movies, got the back seat.

Instead of writers and directors, it seems, yield management experts are running the movie business.

Now, even when streaming (OTT) is available, they cannot exploit this medium in India. The people who are making for the screen are also making for the OTT. They are the same old guys. There are no new talents to exploit, face-wise, acting-wise, writing-wise, and direction-wise. The business model of blocking the screen for weeks and sucking money out of the system has left the film ecosystem talentless.

The business model of blocking the screen for weeks and sucking money out of the system has left the film ecosystem talentless.

There are almost two generations of the young crowd with no motivational bonds with the Hindi Film Industry – no actor to root for, no actress to fall for, and no songs to sing. This is really an awful state of affairs.

The recent failures of Hindi films have nothing to do with star children, nepotism, and so on. They are just plain dreadful stories. To top it all off, the stars are not in phase with time. The median age of Indians is 24 years, the stars are more than double that age. Imagine a 60-year-old romancing a 40-year-old and both dressed and trying to appear as a 20-year-old. It’s pretty nauseating.

Imagine a 60-year-old romancing a 40-year-old and both dressed and trying to appear as a 20-year-old. It’s pretty nauseating.

The stars are not to blame because the business comes to them. No money is moving to a new face. The old still command huge fees. The old (and experienced) stars will not turn the other way when someone puts huge money on the table. And if one turns away, there are others to step in, so no one wants to lose.

The only corrective to any business is disruption. A string of failures will alert the business toward more prudent decisions on filmmaking. We need fresh talent, in writing, direction and acting. And the recent flops and audience apathy have shown that the time has come for a change. It will surprise one if Aamir Khan can make another movie soon.

Film stars are a social necessity. Like sports celebs, they motivate, encourage. There must exist characters with beauty, a style akin to the age, for the youth to aspire.