Market Trends in Bollywood: Change is the only Constant!

Ronnie Screwvala:

One is what is being embedded in me through rigorous learning. The other is what I have embedded in myself through continuous unlearning. But Marketing & Movies, nevertheless, form an integral part of my life. Hence the post.

One really can’t say when we brought in organised approach to financing, promotion and distribution of cinema. At least in India, the first instance of a studio producing a film might be UTV’s forgettable venture Dil Ke Jharoke Main(1997) starring Manisha Koirala. UTV made a comeback of sorts with co-production of Fiza (2000). It then had to wait for years, mainly co-producing and distributing movies, before becoming the yardstick for audience when it came to quality films.

But what took it so long to carve a niche? An industry used to the most unsystematic and uncouth way of dealing with creativity and talent were suddenly perturbed when the Govt. of India, gave their “close-knit family” an industry status and brought in corporate houses, offering them  exorbitant prices under contractual obligations. Not sure of whether this would be good or bad for them, the biggest names shirked away from them. It is then that these studios decided to “create” talent. They approached people with non-traditional stories. Much like them, these new-age film makers had also been shown the doors by biggies in the business. And that is when this wave of independent cinema set in the country! Abhay Deol gives a very precise explanation of the phenomenon over here.

How it All Began?

The timing was perfect! The urban population had just woken up to a perfect place for weekend outing- hygienic and air-conditioned; for watching movies at peace- otherwise known as the multiplex. It was, like its other counterpart – the shopping mall- an experience. The burgeoning middle class did not mind shelling out a few extra bucks if this experience was complimented with quality movies. Which meant that if these shoe-string budget movies did well only in multiplexes, then that would be enough for these movies to break-even. The corporate knew they had an opportunity.  The studio model helped them to keep costs low as it offered an integrated system to take care of everything from procuring resources to final distribution.  The only gap that was left unresolved was to create a demand for these movies, i.e., do some marketing!

Dil Chahta Hai Changed the Language of Hindi Cinema

2001 was an important year for Bollywood. It saw the release of 5 films that were to change the scenario of Hindi film industry for ever- GadarLagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Chandni Bar & Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G).

The last film might look a misfit considering that the others were non-traditional Bollywood films. But K3G  helped us realize that we had an audience beyond the diaspora market in the overseas, who actually enjoyed our routine song & dance stuff. Its not for nothing that the film featured in U.K. top 3 in the opening week. The Oxford Dictionary had included the word “Bollywood” in its vocabulary. We  had arrived in the Western Market. The youngsters of today might look at Gadar as a masala film with its over-the top action sequences. But it looked quite out-of-the-box when it released. A period film never succeeded in those days, but Gadar went onto become the year’s biggest grosser in the domestic market.

What was more interesting was the fact that it had released along with another period film. A film that would later go onto win an Oscar nomination and alter Aamir Khan‘s choice of films forever. Lagaan was that rare Indian period piece that was authentic, original and in true sense Bollywood’s first cross-over. Though Lagaan went onto win all the popular awards that year, it was Farhan Akhtar’s debut venture Dil Chahta Hai (DCH) that defined the cinematic language for the coming decade. Its an altogether different story that Farhan himself seems to have lost track of that language now. But a lot of films- Kal Ho Naa Ho, Wake up Sid, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu– owe their screenplay style to DCH. It released at a time when multiplexes had still not come into full force in the country. Still its urban centers collections helped it more than recover the cost. A new cinema sensibility and market had been established in the country. But the true blue indie film of the year was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar. Released without any promotions, the film saw the light of the day in Mumbai alone. Like the movies of yore, people came to know about this film only through posters and went to see it because there lay a place with same name in the city. The Tabu-starrer was a certified hit in Mumbai. Whoever said realism in cinema was boring had to eat the humble pie. Asutosh Gowariker, Farhan Akhtar & Madhur Bhandarkar had set the ball rolling for future film makers.

Some more names followed. Vishal Bharadwaj, Nagesh Kukunoor (making the jump to hindi language cinema), Rakeysh Omprakash MehraRaj kumar HiraniDibaker BannerjeeAnurag KashyapImtiyaz Ali and of course there was Ram Gopal Verma (the pioneer) along with his entire factory of whiz kids. The multiplex gave these people the liberty to try out whatever they wanted to and be assured that if nothing else, there films would at least break even. Even if a film ran only in Mumbai or Delhi it was more than enough. Add to it the unheard prices that DTH and satellite television channels were ready to buy the film for. Even a flop film made under 5 crores would recover cost.

Marketing Innovations

The man who spearheaded the change

But there had to be something that brought the audience to watch the films in first place. One of the first people to realize this was RGV. His production house had become a “factory” in those days churning out films at a rapid pace. To break the clutter he started picking up elements from within film to garner attention. One instance of it was putting up a dummy banyan tree (relevant to the film) in front of theaters where the movie Vaastu Shastra was being exhibited. People realized the relevance of the tree only when they came out of the cinema hall after watching the spooky film.

Aamir Khan - The Marketing Guru

Few years down the line, Aamir Khan revolutionized movie marketing using similar concepts. Giving ‘Ghajini‘ haircut to the ushers, distributing the 10000 ‘film clips’ of Lagaan in 10000 DVD editions of the film to mark its 10th anniversary or playing hide and seek with people of India for promotions of 3 Idiots .Very recently he had come up with the idea of using the word ‘Talaash‘ to replace ‘Search’ on Google Home Page.

Some people prefer to have low key promotions for their film so as to build up the curiosity. Karan Johar did it for “My Name is Khan“. The film was different in content and treatment from his previous films and a promotional overdrive would have set up expectations that would not have been true to the nature of the film. On the other hand, another SRK starrer Ra.One , one of the lowest rated films in recent times managed to cross the 100 crore mark on the basis of humongous publicity alone. The film had tie-ups with merchandises, video game developers, YouTube and plethora of other companies to reach out to as many people as possible. Listen to the King giving his views on making Marketing very Entertaining’.


Apart from this, some regular things that almost every movie does these days is to visit malls, colleges, public places to interact with fans; go as celebrity judges in Reality Shows; make guest appearances in Television Shows, etc. However, what has really drawn attention recently is the use of Social Networking sites to promote film.

Social Networks

YouTube is the best thing to have happened to film makers. A lot of censored material from the movie, that can’t come on T.V., is communicated through YouTube and subsequently shared through Facebook and Twitter. But how does one use it with innovation?

Perhaps the following YouTube App will answer the question.

The Curious case of Kai Po CheWhat does Kai Po Che mean? The Gujarati title could have been a barrier to connect with the audience. But the makers of the film smartly used it to their advantage. The phrase trended on twitter for one full day asking people its meaning. There were funny replies all of which got retweets. The author of the book, on which the film is based, Chetan Bhagat, used his huge base of followers on Twitter to post interesting elements from films and set them trending. Some of them were ‘Is it okay to date friend’s sister?’; ‘3 mistakes of your life?’; ‘3 best friends’.

Not Lost in Translation 

The most important take-away from the film was that a film set in Gujarat, peppered with Gujarati phrases and lyrics, could easily cut ice with audience.

Few months back, another non-starrer film, Paan Singh Tomar, with dialogues in Bundeli, was released with English subtitles and was a surprise hit! Casting local actors with a weak hold on Hindi, instead of Bollywood actors tweaking Hindi to sound Bong, worked in favour of Kahaani Regional films like Bhooter Bhabhishyat(Bengali), Aaranya Kaandam (Tamil) and Vihir (Marathi) are being looked out for by genuine cine lovers, through both legal and illegal sources, besides a host of well-made documentaries. The demand is so much that distributors are looking forward to releasing non-feature/ regional films with subtitles across the Nation.

Indie is the new Offbeat

 Offbeat is a very vaguely used term in Bollywood. Any film which is set in Delhi, has Punjabi characters unabashedly throwing expletives, minimal use of songs, a fresh star cast, is considered offbeat! Honestly, since the pattern is becoming repetitive off-late, I believe, this so called ‘offbeat’ is the new ‘formula’. Independently made films, popularly called ‘indie’ is something which is setting trends these days. If you are still alien to the term (assuming it to be a short for Indian) and want to get a glimpse of the indie work happening in the country I insist you watch the following trailer.

“The best thing about these new-age film makers is that they are not ambitious.”- Anurag Kashyap.

 Before we misconstrue Anurag’s words let me tell you that what he meant was that these independent film makers don’t want their films to have a pan India appeal. They know that their film will find its own audience- on Youtube & in festivals ! They raise their funds through NDFC’s Film Bazaarcrowd sourcing or maybe just  borrowing from friends. [The credit for starting the trend must go to Nagesh Kukunoor and Hyderabad Blues in 1997]

What happens as an outcome is just pure magic! They turn limitation of resources into strengths. The parallel use of DSLR, i-phone and handycam- due to unavailability of shooting equipment- gives the film an edgy look. The dirty lanes, dampened walls and claustrophobic spaces – due to lack of shooting places- makes the ambiance come alive. Corporates such as PVR are already looking at these low-on-cost-high-on-content films as the next BIG thing. Hence the PVR Director’s Rare initiative where these films get a slot for exhibition in prime time at PVR’s theaters.

What Lies Next?

 We don’t know. Uncertainty and disrupted growth are synonymous with India across sectors. Frankly, they are indispensable to our progress. Just when we thought Cinema is on the verge of change and can finally replace Literature in the country, you have a plethora of South-Indian and 70s remakes being thrown at your face. And even that does well! Good films here, unlike those in west,  don’t have the luxury of an unbiased award ceremony which would encourage them. Here the winner at box-office is the default winner at Filmfare, Zee Cine, IIFA and the likes of them. Perhaps the only thing that can come to their rescue is customer evangelism, i.e., good word of mouth publicity. So friends, when you see a good film next (and I hope through a legal source), go out all the way to recommend it to people you know can appreciate it. There is actually no point in receiving appreciation a decade and a half after  the film released and being termed as a cult. A brainless entertainer succeeding necessarily does not mean that the people have ‘appreciated’ it. It simply means that people have ‘adjusted’ to it. And adjustment is something we can stop doing now- especially when there is such a huge pool of talent lying here. Otherwise for every Gangs of Wasseypur, there will be 5 Ek Tha Tigers, waiting to out-throw it!


15 thoughts on “Market Trends in Bollywood: Change is the only Constant!

  1. Brilliant post, Abhishekh! It speaks volumes of how keenly you follow these aspects of Bollywood. As a part of MAM i actually thank you for writing this. As always, the videos in your post add a lot. Keep writing, such stuff!

  2. Nicely put out man. I think you should do another piece about how audiences connect with different filmmakers and how directors seem to have a fan following these days, rather than stars. 🙂

  3. Well multiplex was to usher revolution,it seems now they are happy with Bollywood BLOCKBUSTERS. It is sad sometimes most of multiplex show only one HINDI cinema in all screens, which i think defeats the purpose of multiplexs.As for marketing i still feel we are still stuck with releasing 3 songs before release,no major change in it.

    • I do believe that eventually the rubbish that we keep churning out will die out. It might be unbelievable at first, but I have heard so many of my friends who (sort of) berate the so called blockbusters of Hindi cinema after they have watched them. The common comment is, “Arre time pass picture thaa”. The industry says that they are making the movies for the masses. The masses will eventually reject the crappy films, because there are so many of them being dished out.

      • just look at fate of last few Akshay Kumar releases and the how much Dabbang 2 lagged behind the records it was expected to break. Masses definitely have grown bore of what is being ‘custom-made’ for them!

    • Thanks Ashwin.. just googled it to find out that names like Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani were attached to it.

  4. Great article. It’s concise and very insightful. As a marketing and movie business enthusiast myself, I’m glad that there are people who’re doing some real research.


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