Box Office: Why Should Bollywood be Wary of Its American Big Brother

Hardly a week back, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra threw a bash in Mumbai to celebrate PK’s unprecedented success in China – an unconventional and largely untapped territory for Hindi films. The event was attended by a visibly beefed up Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma and other cast and crew of the film. Around the same time, in the same bustling and humid Mumbai, the members of the fabled Bhatt Camp were huddling and wondering what exactly went wrong with their ambitious Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Like they say, every Friday fortunes fluctuate in Mumbai and few would know it better than the Bhatt brothers – Mahesh and Mukesh – who produced the Emraan Hashmi-Vidya Balan starrer. So while PK has taken Bollywood to dizzying new heights (in terms of business) by grossing over a staggering 100 crores in China, back home in India, things do not look so bright for a film that’s backed by one of the most reliable and profitable film production houses.

But, what went wrong with Hamari Adhuri Kahani? Bad reviews? Not really, because it’s not rare for a Bhatt camp film to be panned by critics. In fact, Mahesh Bhatt and his ilk have a firm grip over the mood and nerve of the masses. They know what works in huge swaths of India that resides outside metros and big cities and that’s precisely the formula behind their production house’s roaring success in the last decade, irrespective of how the critics receive the film. Then, what killed Hamari Adhuri Kahani? Apart from its own glaring misgivings, the film was seemingly chomped down by rampaging dinosaurs of Jurassic World who rode straight into the hearts of the Indian masses, leaving behind a weeping Vidya Balan and a shocked Emraan Hashmi. Yes, you read it right.

Here are some facts that tell us how Hollywood is slowly but surely posing a serious challenge to Bollywood:

  1. With the super success of films like Fast and Furious 7, Avengers: The Age of Ultron and now Jurassic World, the writing is clear on the Hollywood versus Bollywoodwall for our desi producers. They do not just need to watch out for potential box office clashes with ‘Khan Films’, but they also need to be wary of big Hollywood releases – especially films that are successful franchises or fall in the action/sci-fi genre. Sample this – Fast and Furious 7 released on the same day as Detective Byomkesh Bakshy and easily trumped it to emerge the winner at the box office. The first week collection of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy was a paltry 19.75 crores. Contrast it with Fast and Furious 7, which grossed around 70 crores in week 1 and then went on to become the highest grossing Hollywood film ever in India with lifetime business of a remarkable 110 crores. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, already a niche multiplex film, was swept away by the rampaging F&F franchise.The history seems to have repeated itself with Hamari Adhuri Kahani and Jurassic World. While the Hindi film could only mint 16 Crores in its opening weekend with virtually no growth and a poor trend, the Dinosaur franchise went from strength to strength and garnered close to 30 crores in its opening weekend with a very healthy trend.
  2. While Bollywood producers are rightly vying for more and more overseas business and going into foreign territories that no one ever imagined before, back home the domestic audience also seems to have matured and developed a definitive, distinct taste. Any Bollywood product with mediocre content (Bombay Velvet, Hamari Adhuri Kahani) is summarily rejected and only films with good content (Piku, TWMR) are accepted. With ticket prices soaring, the audience is not ready to compromise on content until and unless the film is spearheaded by a massive star (read the Khans). Interestingly, the same junta is taking up to ‘event’ Hollywood films with disaster, sci-fi and action themes in a big way. Even content driven Hollywood films like Gravity, Life of Pi and Inception have started to make a mark at the Indian box office with collections going well into tenth and eleventh weeks!
  3. Hollywood films have the great advantage of big studio backing which allows them to dub in regional languages. This ensures that the overall business of these films in India goes up significantly. Imagine this – more than 50% of Jurassic World’s business in India is driven by dubbed regional versions. On the other hand, growing number of multiplexes in the country has encouraged the Hindi filmmakers to make films that cater only a niche segment of the audience. For example, although Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do should manage to earn profits, most of its revenue is coming only from 4-5 big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. The film’s collections in mass belts like Bihar, CP and Rajasthan is very low.So, while Hollywood is solidifying its net collections through dubbed versions, Hindi films are losing out their pan-India appeal. There are hardly four to five Hindi films every year that can boast of healthy all India business. A point to ponder for the producers?

It can be easily said that Hollywood is at its strongest best at the Indian box office right now. With continued flow of mediocre Hindi films, very few big-budget and star-driven films and more and more niche films in the offing, the time is ripe for the big American Daddy to conquer the Indian market which has so far proved to be elusive. Not suggesting that the dinosaurs and the ETs are going to run riot in India and throw the Hindi films out of the window, but there’s a definite nudge, or rather a push, from the high and mighty Hollywood. And the push is big enough for Bollywood to sit back and notice.

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