(L to R): Shah Rukh Khan, Harrdy Sandhu and Tahir Raj Bhasin
When James Cameron’s Titanic was released in India in 1997, it was perhaps the widest release ever for a Hollywood movie. The market share of Hollywood was less than 1 per cent. Cut to 2022, when it is 14 per cent. The rise of multiplexes has a lot to do with this, but so does the changing audience which has got accustomed to different genres and languages. As a result, the box-office revenue of a single movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), at `209 crore, is actually almost as much Hollywood movies made in 2013 (`232 crore). Hollywood studios have also expanded their marketing on the ground, going into smaller cities as well. When Spider-Man was promoted in India earlier in 2021, it was across eight cities. Sony Pictures Films India, led by MD Vivek Krishnani, is gung-ho about the Indian market, especially the 15-35 demography. No surprise then that Avengers: Endgame (2019) is the sixth highest-grossing movie at the domestic box office, behind Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017), 2.0 (2018), Dangal (2016), Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and PK (2014). But they’ve not let go of the Indian dream as well, which began when Sanjay Leela Bhansali made Saawariya in 2007, and it was up against Shah Rukh Khan’s old-fashioned blockbuster Om Shanti Om, directed by Farah Khan. Bhansali was keen to inaugurate what he thought would be a brand new age of storytelling and stars, but the audience chose to go with the tried and tested. What if it hadn’t? The history of Indian stardom would have been different.
The Star System
If 2021 was the year of Malayalam cinema, then 2022 may well be the year of Marathi cinema. It is highly regarded already but somehow has lacked the stars needed to create an aura about it. Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada have their own stars and subculture around them. Yoodlee Films hopes this will change and is making a zombie comedy with Amey Wagh and Lalit Prabhakar, called Zombivli. Yoodlee Films is also optimistic about Punjabi films, which have over the years created such crossover stars as Diljit Dosanjh, and now Ammy Virk. These singer-actors—one can add Harrdy Sandhu to the list after his stirring performance in 83 (2021) as Madan Lal—have found wide acceptance. But their movies, largely comedies with social, familial messages, still have to be embraced. Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, Films – Saregama India, is creating a large portfolio of content that will map every mood of a new cinema-literate audience. Having made 16 films over four years now, and won three national awards, they are now ready to up their game, making movies in Malayalam, Punjabi and Marathi, as well as a series called Invisible Woman starring Suniel Shetty, a series with Prithviraj on the ‘Biscuit King’ Rajan Pillai and an anthology based on the short stories of MT Vasudevan Nair. But how do stars get measured in this new world? Kumar believes streaming platforms, which currently have opaque systems, will soon have to opt for extreme transparency. He gives the example of the rise of influencer marketing and says there will be third-party neutral metrics five years down the line. Not only will this then rival box-office revenue and create a new generation of stars but also cause a huge disruption in the advertising business. “Transparent data is what we humans value,” he says.
Scene and Heard
Tahir Raj Bhasin, who is enjoying a blockbuster year in 2022, with the release of two series, Ranjish Hi Sahi on Zee5 and Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen on Netflix, as well as the forthcoming thriller Looop Lapeta, has always believed in quality over quantity. And he was told this by no less than Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his co-star in Nandita Das’ Manto: “Race to ghode daudte hain, hum to kalaakar hain (races are for horses, we are artists).” With a masterful role as Sunil Gavaskar in Kabir Khan’s 83, Bhasin can truly say he is a thoroughbred.