Bollywood broken? The spell of movie moguls on India is fading

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MUMBAI, Sept 1 (Reuters) – Bollywood may be broken, and the blame is on itself.

This is the verdict of one of its biggest and brightest stars after the latest flop of a Hindi-language film industry that has long fascinated Indians and the world, with its dazzling brand of escapism on big screen that sings and dances.

“Movies don’t work – it’s our fault, it’s my fault,” Akshay Kumar told reporters last month after his new movie “Raksha Bandhan” exploded at the box office. “I have to make the changes, I have to figure out what the audience wants. I want to dismantle my way of thinking about what kind of movies I should be doing.”

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Indeed times have changed and Bollywood, the cultural pillar of modern India, is losing its appeal.

The rise of streaming services like Netflix (NFLX.O) and Amazon Prime (AMZN.O) during the COVID pandemic has conspired with growing Bollywood fatigue among younger generations who view many of its films as outdated and old-fashioned.

Of Bollywood’s 26 releases this year, 20 – or 77% – were flops, defined as losing half or more of their investment, according to website Koimoi, which tracks industry data.

That’s about double the failure rate of 39% in 2019, before the pandemic shook society and forced hundreds of millions of Indians to wean themselves from cinemas, the decades-long bastion of Bollywood and his main source of income.

Christina Sundaresan, 40, a mother of two teenage girls in Mumbai, used to see at least one Bollywood movie a week in cinemas before the pandemic. Now she rarely goes there.

“I mean, they can be watched when you need a laugh, but I wouldn’t go to the theater for them,” she said. “My daughters used to watch all the movies with us, but now they are not interested either. They really like the Korean shows and series that are broadcast on these streaming platforms.”

They are not the only ones to convert to international streaming services, which arrived relatively late in India – Netflix and Amazon Prime launched in 2016 – offering varied content made in America and Europe as well as India and elsewhere in Asia, from Parasite and Avengers to Squid Game and Game of Thrones.

A quarter of India’s 1.4 billion people now use these services, up from around 12% in 2019, according to market data firm Statista. The figure is expected to reach 31% by 2027, and there is room to grow; participation is around 80% in North America, for example.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

India’s box office revenue rose every year for a decade to reach around $2 billion in 2019 before crashing during the pandemic. They show few signs of rebounding.

Ticket sales have fallen every month since March this year, sequentially, according to industry trackers. Revenues from Bollywood films in particular are expected to fall 45% in the July-September quarter from pre-COVID levels, according to research by investment bank Elara Capital.

Bollywood can no longer take audiences for granted and must adapt if it hopes to survive and thrive, according to Reuters interviews with moviegoers, as well as half a dozen industry players, including producers, film distributors and cinema exhibitors.

Four of the executives painted a picture of confusion and concern in the industry as studios release films that were supposed to hit the market before the pandemic hit and consumer tastes have changed with the rise streamers, known in India as OTT or over-the-top services.

Producers are rushing to rework scripts and are considering tying actors’ fees to box office performances instead of handing out an upfront payment, said Rajender Singh Jyala, programming director at India’s second-largest multiplex operator INOX, citing his discussions with the filmmakers.

“Nobody knows what the real problem is,” he added. “During the pandemic, there were no releases, everything was closed and people had a lot of time to watch on OTT and to watch different types of content. So what would have worked two years ago, this content is not worth today’s time.”

Yet all is not gloomy, say Jyala and other executives. There’s no going back to Bollywood’s heyday, but they say a few big hits could breathe new life into the industry and it could finally find a new balance with streaming services and the world. money they bring to the table.

Nevertheless, leaders must adapt quickly.

Indian films depend on cinemas for nearly three-quarters of their revenue, researchers at OP Jindal Global University near New Delhi have found. By contrast, films around the world derive less than half of their revenue from box offices, according to data from the US Motion Picture Association.

“THE HISTORY IS THE PROBLEM”

Fans of Bollywood, a century-old institution, say it can evolve to stay relevant. Recent changes to better reflect society include the introduction of same-sex relationships and gender-changing characters, for example.

For Vaishnavi Sharma, a student in New Delhi, the studios just need to step up their game.

“The script is the problem and over the past couple of years the audience has been exposed to so many new themes and they have also been introduced to new concepts, that’s why I guess Bollywood is lacking in that area,” said- she declared.

The writing was on the wall last month when a pair of big-budget films bombed despite starring two of Bollywood’s box office darlings, Kumar and Aamir Khan.

The poor screening of Kumar’s ‘Raksha Bandhan’, about the bond between a brother and sisters, prompted the actor’s comments about the movies not working.

Khan’s ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, a remake of the 1994 Hollywood hit ‘Forrest Gump’, only grossed around 560 million rupees in ticket sales – about a quarter of its budget – despite being released on August 11, on the eve of a Long Weekend party.

The flops represented steep reversals for the two A-listers, action and comedy favorites whose films are known to recoup all costs in the first week over the years.

INOX’s Jyala said the multiplex cut Laal Singh Chaddha’s showings by a quarter due to his poor performance.

A senior Bollywood producer, who has two big-budget films pending release, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that producers are “recalibrating everything” for new projects underway, from budgets and scripts to actors’ choice. .

“We have to adapt to the audience and what they want,” the producer said, but added, “I don’t have the answers anymore.”

“CUT OF THE MASSES”

The cost of going to the cinema is another key issue cited by moviegoers and industry players at a time when India, like much of the world, is grappling with a cost of living crisis.

A trip to the cinema on the big screen can typically cost a family of four between 3,000 and 5,000 rupees ($35 to $60), a high price in a country where many people live in poverty, the average annual income is around Rs 160,000 and monthly subscription fees for streaming services like Netflix start at around Rs 150.

“There has to be a correction somewhere – budgets need to be reworked and the cost of going to the cinema also needs to be reduced,” said Anil Thadani, who owns a film production and distribution company and is married to Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon.

“The Hindi film industry makes films cut from the masses. A lot of our people don’t always identify with these films.”

This sentiment was echoed by Sundaresan, the mother of teenage girls in Mumbai.

“Going to the theatre, sitting in a seat and not watching a movie at your own pace seems like a waste of time now,” she said. “There are so many better things to watch on OTT.”

Karan Taurani, media analyst at Elara Capital, said he expects a rebalancing of the fees paid to major cast members, with most producers moving towards a revenue-sharing model and a larger portion of the production budget. a film going to production and special effects.

“It’s been over five months since the cinemas were fully functional and only three movies were hits – and not all of those three are big stars,” he added.

There will be no immediate Bollywood overhaul, Taurani warned.

“The shake-up will take place early next year when the current crop of films that were made during and before the pandemic are complete.”

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Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Sunil Kataria; Assembly Pravin Char

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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