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Half-yearly report card of Bollywood: Kalki 2898 AD saves the day The noise of film critics bashing films to star power, failing to generate business at the box office, but small films gaining visibility and eventually a bilingual Telugu-Hindi multi-starrer with Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachchan saving the day with their Kalki 2898 AD—the last six months of Hindi film business saw an exciting time

By Arundhuti Banerjee

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Prabhas, Kalki 2898 AD. PC: Instagram

The first prominent release of Bollywood this year happened on January 12 with the Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi starrer Merry Christmas. A bilingual film, made in Tamil and Hindi, received a lot of positive reviews from critics but commercially failed at the box office. It was made under the budget of Rs 60 crore, and all-time collection was Rs 26 crore. That was almost setting the tone of the year, and the first half of the Bollywood report card of 2024 was about to be declared a dull year when, on June 27, Kalki 2898 AD, another bilingual, made in Telugu and Hindi, entered and changed the game completely by re-writing the history with its current collection of Rs 536.73 CR in India!

Clearly, the movie business is unpredictable by all means, and success and failure are just one Friday away!

However, there is always a method to this madness, and here we look at some points and patterns that have been observed over a period of time and how industry experts and trend analysts are looking at the whole situation so far.

Power of the film critics: In the era of social media, influencing mass opinion on something has become much easier than in the early days. That's why, though film critiquing and reviewing used to be an art that used to hold credibility, these days, everyone is expressing their opinion, especially negative reviews of a film, on social media. The question is, does that affect footfall at the theatre?

Veteran film critic and tread analyst Komal Nahta said, "I do not think it is true. They do not have so much power to stop the audience from watching a film in the theatre. I think water finds its own level. I think a good, entertaining film will run in the theatre or will get rejected by the audience, no matter how hard you try otherwise. I think reviews are one of the aspects of film publicity, but the power of word-of-mouth is more impactful for the box office business of any film."

Considering the fact that social media has become a space where we all are overanalyzing everything and paid reviews have become a reality that's addressed openly, many times an audience will watch or read a review just for the fun of consuming content and not necessarily to decide on watching the film.

"The views that we see in YouTube film reviews, many of them, are simply because of their entertainment purpose and not to be influenced by the reviewers to watch a film. 95 percent of the audience understands that budding reviewers do not have as much credibility and accountability as film critics. Perhaps that is why the reviewers should not take themselves so seriously and think that they can change the fate of the film," said Komal.

Losing out on audience to OTT: There is no doubt about the fact that content is the king, and the audience has evolved enough to accept experimental content more than ever before. But all these were possible because of the boom of OTT that started three years ago. But is it also one of the reasons why the culture of watching films in the theatre is facing a challenge when good content is available on our smart phones?

Komal said, "I think it is the harsh reality that we have to accept. It is true that a section of the population has stopped going to the theatre for films because of OTT. It is not just OTT content that is really good, but also the fact that logistically, it is becoming difficult to take out time to go to the theatre. Now, every film cannot be a Kalki 2898 AD in a big film industry; one has to make films of different budgets. Only the mid-level budget films that are content-heavy suffer to an extent due to OTT content."

"This is why those films, when released on OTT, receive big love and positive reviews from the audience. So yes, we lost a section of the audience to OTT and small screens," he further added.

Seconding his point, another celebrated tread analyst, Taran Adarsh, said, "We really lost a section of the audience in the last three years. It started with the pandemic when people got hooked on content when theatres were closed, and eventually OTT content became part of their lifestyle. Undoubtedly, some of the web series have the finest content, but it is also true that a lot of substandard films were made. Having said that, OTT content is that guest in our house who refuses to leave. Whether you like it or not, it is the reality."

Power of stardom for theatre audience: While the charm of Shah Rukh Khan still surprises us, as we have seen last year how the superstar had three releases and all of them minted huge money and re-wrote history with some of the highest grossing films, the new group of superstars is not as effective with their star power as SRK. Do we therefore need to look at how the combination of star power and content works for the new-age audience for theatrical release?

Taran pointed out, "Due to the overexposure of actors on media, be it social media, paparazzi, promotional activities, etc., that excitement around that that earlier used to happen has gotten diluted. I started my career in 1979, and back in the day, one really had to wait to watch their favourite star. These days, actors are going to public places and shopping malls to promote their films."

"Mysteries around stars are non-existent, especially for the young actors. So I feel instead of investing so much money in the promotion of a film, one should focus on the content," he added.

Interestingly, both the experts mentioned that mid-budget films are needed to work at the box office for the overall growth of the industry.

As Komal mentioned, "We have to have mid-budget films because an industry cannot run on star power with every single release. Every film cannot have Shah Rukh Khan or the ensemble cast that Kalki 2898 AD had. So, if it is not the star, the audience goes to the theatre to watch a great story and to get entertained. Only good content can provide that."

What the future looks like: Thankfully, this year, so far, some of the content-driven mid-budget films have managed to do well at the box office. Films like Munjiya, Crew, Shaitaan, and Article 370 that were made under a minimal budget of 70 CR and earned more than 110 CR were the ray of hope everyone looked for. But never the less, it took a Kalki to balance the business with earnings of more than Rs 500 crore and counting in just 14 days of its release.

Komal said, "I think 2024 will go down in history as how South Films and Hollywood came to rescue the business of our Hindi cinema. So far, that is what we have observed. Even Kalki 2898 AD, which is earning huge numbers at the box office, is originally a Telugu language film, and its Hindi version itself is earning well. I mean, before the release of Kalki, our Hindi film report card had a sorry picture. Kalki was released on June 27, and as it's proven to be a blockbuster, we have an overall great number to show in the business." He sounded hopeful: "I am expecting a plethora of superhit Hindi films in 2025."

" In the next six months, we have a good line-up, and we will do well, or so we hope, but this is comparatively a tough year we have. Look, this is nothing new; every 7 years, we go through a rough patch in the industry, and in between, we also survived a pandemic. 2024 happens to be that year when business is a bit dull, but with the Hindi release of South films, we will do decent business," he added.

Asked if there was a there was a new trend he observed or could predict the kind of film or genre that excelled at the box office, Taran said, "I think the only reason a film does well at the box office is when the content is good. There is really no rocket science to that, and for a theatrical release, if the content has a strong connection with the masses, it will work. And nowadays, content has become so important that the biggest star cannot save a film if the content is bad. Gone are those days where only the lead actor was enough to pull the audience to the theatre. Yes, the first weekend, star power can work, but rest is absolutely based on the strength of the content and the word-of-mouth."

Arundhuti Banerjee

Content Editor

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