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Box office special: Hopes pinned on second half of 2022 after first half delivers more misses than hits

Industry watchers discuss the Hindi film industry's slump and whether it can rise again.

Keyur Seta

Though cinema halls across the country returned to full occupancy earlier this year after the lockdowns and other restrictions since the COVID-19 pandemic struck two years ago, the result has been anything but positive for the Hindi film industry, with just three box-office hits so far: Gangubai Kathiawadi, The Kashmir Files and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.

Several big films with big stars flopped. The list is long and includes Bachchhan Paandey, Jersey, Runway 34, Heropanti 2, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Dhaakad and Samrat Prithviraj.

Rashmikant Bhalodia, owner of Galaxy cinema in Baroda and president of the Cinema Owners' Association of Gujarat, blames the quality of the movies released. “The films were weak,” he told Cinestaan.com. “The public didn’t like them, so they didn’t do well. If they make good family films, the trend will change. When Rajshri Productions used to make such films, the trend changed. Now there are hardly any family movies.”

Bhalodia has another complaint about current Hindi films, a point made by many over the years. “Not having good music is a big problem,” he said. “Earlier, people would hum the songs after leaving the theatre. This isn’t the case today. People just can’t remember any songs after watching a film. All live musical shows these days feature old songs. No new songs are heard there.”

Gangubai Kathiawadi is one of just three hits from Hindi cinema in the first half of 2022

Distributor Murli Chhatwani of Panorama Studios believes exhibitors have benefited from dubbed films from the South like RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 and Hollywood movies like Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. “But from the point of view of the Hindi industry, it has not been encouraging,” he said. “We need people to visit cinemas for Hindi films. The burden is on producers and us to deliver good content and market it well so that people get back to cinemas.”

With the enormous success of dubbed films from the South, like Pushpa: The Rise (2021), RRR and KGF: Chapter 2, a section of the media has been seeing the southern industries as a threat to commercial Hindi cinema, often sneered at as 'Bollywood'. But the experts Cinestaan.com spoke to did not agree.

“There is nothing like that,” said Bhalodia. “If the films are good, they will do well, irrespective of language. It’s just that right now the people making Hindi films aren’t showing as much dedication as the South in terms of script and production values. They are making films just for the sake of making them.”

Chhatwani said it needs to be borne in mind that films made earlier are being released now. “I don’t think any content is a threat,” he said. “Hindi films will also do well. The films which are [being released] are the ones that were made a year and a half or two years ago. New films are coming up. The window will change and the content will also change.”

Producer Anand Pandit

Producer Anand Pandit agrees with Chhatwani. “This is all about coexistence," he told Cinestaan.com. "For example, Korean films are gaining popularity here, but that is not a threat to us. It’s a lesson to learn why people are attracted to cinema from a certain industry. You need to learn as a student and try and implement that.”

He added, “If you watch films like Pushpa, you will realize they are re-engineered from [Amitabh] Bachchan saheb’s films of the 1970s and 1980s.”

This year mostly only larger-than-life mass entertainers have done well. Smaller films dealing with sensible and sensitive topics, like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Badhaai Do and Jersey, have flopped despite good reviews and positive word-of-mouth publicity, only to do well on OTT platforms.

Chhatwani does not deny this trend. “There has been a change in the audience’s perception,” he said. “One reason is that we were releasing films directly on OTT and too early, in four weeks. But from 1 July the window is back to eight weeks. The audience will realize that new movies aren’t coming [on OTT] early as before. So the perception will again skew towards the theatres.”

The Hindi version of KGF: Chapter 2 amassed over Rs420 crore nett at the box office

“Whenever a new technology arrives, a section of the audience veers towards it,” added Bhalodia. “The same happened when TV was introduced. Same with the introduction of video cassettes, DVDs, Blu-ray, etc. But people still returned to the theatres.”

A major problem that affects Indian cinema as a whole is the sorry state of single-screen theatres. These set-ups suffered another blow with the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions. Nitin Datar, president of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors’ Association of India (COEAI), has voiced the concerns of single-screen theatre owners quite a few times in the past.

Datar pointed out that theatres reopening and returning to full occupancy has hardly helped single-screens, though they did get some relief from South films. “The terms offered by these films to single-screen theatres helped overcome our losses to an extent,” he said. “The terms given by Hindi film producers and distributors do not help single-screen theatres.”

While a few Hollywood movies also did well, many single-screen cinemas cannot screen them because of technical demands by the producers. “Foreign production houses don’t release films in theatres where there is no 2K projection," Datar said. “All theatres can’t afford 2K projection as it costs Rs40 lakh [to install].”

Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 saved the Hindi film industry from more embarrassment

While anywhere between 1,500 and 1,800 films are made in India each year, only 10% do well. “Merely making a film isn’t enough," Datar said. "The audience needs content with entertainment, especially for single-screens. But many films are made for a multiplex audience. India's maximum population is young. Producers should take note of where the audience is and what they like. Only then can single-screens survive.”

Before the pandemic, there were about 470 single-screen theatres in Maharashtra. Nearly a fourth of these have not reopened. “All over India, there were 12,000 single screens 10 years ago,” he said. “Now around 6000 remain. Right now, the total numbers of screens in India is around 9,000, which means there are around 3,000 multiplex screens. There were zero in the year 2000.”

Bhalodia agrees that running a single-screen theatre is tough. “You can count the number of single-screens in Gujarat on your fingers,” he said. “They are that few. And the ones that have survived are purely through the passion of the owners. These days, it’s difficult for single-screens to earn much even if films go houseful. This has been the case since before the pandemic.”

Datar's COEAI has put certain demands to the Maharashtra government for years, relating to tax benefits and allowing owners to start another business on the same plot. None of those has been acceded to.

Laal Singh Chadha is one of the big films expected to do well in the second half of 2022

“The worst behaviour was by the earlier [Maha Vikas Aghadi] government [in Maharashtra],” Datar said. “Other states offered as much help as possible to theatres during the pandemic despite not being financially well off, whether it was for property tax or service charge. But this government did not provide us any help in these two years.

“We have hopes from the new government since our demands are genuine," he continued. "Even during the earlier BJP-Shiv Sena government, a lot of work was done and we had good meetings. Hopefully, we will start having meetings with them soon.”

Chhatwani believes the second half of the year will be better for the industry. “There are bigger films in store," he said. "When the industry bounces back, it will do so with a bang. This has happened before. Just like revenge holidays, there has been revenge viewing. People have seen a lot of pain and grief for some time. Now they want to watch entertaining films. Even if you make a small but entertaining film, it will do well.”

Anand Pandit added, “I am an optimist, so I am sure the second half will be good. A lot of films will do well. The makers of films in production right now understand that they have to give a good product to the audience. I feel this is how [Hindi] films will be made from now on.”

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