2023 First Half: Theatrical Quotient dominates, as successes dip

Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar was Ranbir Kapoor’s second consecutive success after Brahmastra last year. Photo: Publicity Photo

The picture (pun intended) has become clearer than ever. The film industry has plunged into murkier-than-ever waters with its lack of clarity and foresight. A major cause was also the filmmakers’ and corporate avarice, siding with the multiplexes’ greed for mammon and their propensity for favorite filmmakers, which made them give worse than step-motherly treatment by way of shows and screens to those who did not supply them films on a regular basis.

Most of the films that came (admittedly of various scales and genres) had little or no Theatrical Quotient (TQ), even if they did have decent proportions (which was not necessary) of Entertainment, Emotional and Intellectual (the least important for a mainstream film) Quotients. That is, they did not induce audiences to invest money, time and effort in visiting cinemas when they could wait for the films to stream.

So what makes for this theatrical quotient? Well, there must be either a fresh story, or a refreshing new wine in old bottle, and something the audience resonates with, in theme and treatment. Stars have now become strictly optional, good music ditto. The latter can always make a difference, as shown by the decent response to Zara Hatke Zara Bachke. Having a short memory in the wrong aspects, the industry seems to have already forgotten the edge that last year’s RRR, Brahmastra and Gangubai Kathiawadi had because of their melodies.

Plus, transiently-appealing ‘hit’ songs and good music have now become interchangeable, as shown by the positive response to the mediocre music of Satyaprem Ki Katha. Music has not only become Hindi cinema’s biggest casualty in the last few years but also a major cause of the increasing casualties in it!

That stars are now strictly optional is shown by the spectacular chasm between Shah Rukh Khan’s (with Salman in a significant cameo) Pathaan (which has now taken over from Bahubali 2—The Conclusion as the highest Hindi grosser ever, not to be confused with a film with the highest number of footfalls!) vis-à-vis the dismal showing of Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, or Akshay Kumar’s Selfiee. Salman seemed to have a premonition when he had quipped self-deprecatingly at a pre-release press conference of his misadventure, “This Friday will show who is a real star!”

Nevertheless, if Pathaan was the highest earner in 2023’s first half, the biggest disaster was easily Adipurush, made at a whopper cost of Rs. 500 crore! In all its language versions it barely reached Rs. 140 crore, only half of which was its take-home theatrical earning. Coming in for flak from all directions, as well as calls for legal action against the makers and writers, the film was actually Om Raut’s next after the blockbuster Ajay Devgn production, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. It was a classic textbook in how not to conceive and execute a film.

And speaking of Ajay, his latest production and directorial, Bholaa, made (needlessly) in 3D, was another underperformer, though not a disaster. Shehzada, a trashy remake (worse than both Selfiee and Bholaa!) of the evergreen Telugu super-hit, Alai Vaikunthapuramaloo) was itself trashed. 

Highlights of 2023

Gumraah, which did not do well, was easily the best of the South remakes of all shapes and sizes. Photo: Trailer Video Grab
  • The Kerala Story emerged as the biggest hit of 2023 in terms of the original criterion for a film’s success when films were released only in theatres. Its nett collections (after Entertainment Tax was deducted) were around Rs. 240 crore—about 12 times its cost of production, making it a whopper hit. Overseas got in another Rs. 60 crore gross (total collection), adding to its humongous profits.
  • Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar did well, giving Ranbir Kapoor his second consecutive success after last year’s hit Brahmastra. Shraddha Kapoor returned after a hiatus of four years. Its budget prevented a super-hit status.
  • Chatterjee Versus Norway did well by its smaller (budget and scale) standards, becoming a profitable venture for its makers and distributors.
  • Zara Hatke Zara Bachke, until now, has collected over Rs. 80 crore in India, and will end up as an average runner, if we include non-theatrical revenues.
  • Satyaprem Ki Katha, despite its flaws, is being endorsed by audiences. As a trade analyst notes, “The famine of movies in theatres, as well as the subject of date-rape that resonates with the youth, mixed with song-and-dance, has found support from the audience.”
  • English films like Fast X, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and more, dubbed or in the original versions, have all done quite well. Regional films like Ponniyin Selvan 2 and Varisu have done well in their respective home markets but not in Hindi.
  • There have been less than 20 other theatrical releases—an all-time and alarming low!—with filmmakers being cautious as well as confused. Of these, even some good films (Bad Boy, Jogira Sara Ra Ra, Gumraah) have failed to lure the audience.
  • The OTT space fared modestly better, with Kathal and Mission Majnu being the standout movies and Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga being a good watch tpp. The most-hyped was Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, which was remarkable mainly for leading man Manoj Bajpayee’s performance. Gulmohar was also hyped beyond its cinematic merits.
  • Pan-Indian (dubbed) South Indian movies fared calamitously without exception, including Ponniyin Selvan 2, Shaakuntalam, Varisu and Underworld Ka Kabzaa. They mirrored the similar poor fates of the remakes in Hindi (Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, Bholaa, Selfiee, Shehzada and the decent Bad Boy and Gumraah). Yes, the South bubble seemed to have burst!
  • The excellent fare on OTT made up for the scarcity of entertainment, for those who did subscribe to the web. Jubilee (also with good, situational original music), Dahaad, City of Dreams 3, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo, Rocket Boys 2, Mithya and The Night Manager were all either superlative or riveting enough amidst the indifferent cinematic fare offered that could put a family of four back by a few thousand hard-earned rupees.
Sidharth Malhotra and Rashmika Mandanna in Mission Majnu, a standout OTT release among movies. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

So what should be the remedial measures now? Opines trade analyst Vinod Mirani, “Indians miss the human story, emotions, humor and music. Something closer to their hearts, with which they can identify. The viewers want normal fun and entertainment in their films.” In short, says Mirani, “It is time to go back to our roots.”

Alongside, says filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, “Directors, lyricists and composers must give each other time.”  Yes, music cannot be fast food!

And last but not the least, the skewed economics must be junked. Multiplexes cannot loot the audience in tickets or F&B anymore. Stars should not charge the earth but come down on terra firma, as in the pre-corporate era.

Here’s wishing Hindi cinema a quick and lasting recovery from the illness it is suffering from a mix of cold businessman and shortsighted makers and actors busy feathering their own pockets at the expense of the audience. This before the theatres find that there is nothing to show on their multiple screens. Single-screens accommodated 150-200 films every year in the past. Now multiplexes will not have anything to exhibit on their screens, which is where things seem to be heading unless there is a correction.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here