Missing Theatrical Quotient: Hindi cinema is losing treasures

Rajveer Deol and Paloma Thakeria in Dono. Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

The trade is ecstatic: the June to September 2023 quarter has excited them with a bevy of hits and blockbusters: Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani leading the way chronologically, followed by Gadar 2, OMG 2, Jawan, Dream Girl 2 and Fukrey 3.

Nevertheless, a parallel situation that is rapidly evolving is the fact that Hindi cinema is losing treasures as far as audience response is concerned—and I am not talking of a biggie like Mission Raniganj that deserved far more success. Yes, some of these films I am going to mention might be appreciated or popular when they stream on OTT. But the discouraging damage is done—how many viewers will spare their time to watch what they know has been a theatrical flop?

And as it is, the audience today, generally, is more curious about how many crores a film has made rather than how good or bad it is!

Let me focus on the small wonders that have missed out on business in 2022 and 2023. The last month alone has seen Dono, Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video and, as per what I am told, 12th Fail. These films have been loved by most audiences that have gone to watch them, but have all failed to make the commercial grade.

Earlier this year, there have been Gumraah, Jogira Sara Ra Ra and to a good extent, Bad Boy and Ghoomer. Last year, there were Mili and An Action Hero. I admit that opinions on cinema are subjective, but because of that, at best, there might be more additions to this list!

Let us see the common-to-more-than-one film aspects here.

The Ideation

When a story or theme is decided, and the cast finalized, it is the right time to assess the Theatrical Quotient (or appeal for the audience to watch a film in the movie-hall at current admission rates much before it streams) of a film project. This should be done analytically and objectively, with external help if needed. After all, when films with big names in the cast like in Selfiee, Bachchan Paandey, Laal Singh Chaddha, Runway 34, Cirkus and Thank God have not enticed the audiences, what price lesser-budgeted films or those with smaller names in the cast and crew? And it is here that the film’s title becomes paramount.

Nimrat Kaur in Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video. Photo: Hype PR

The Title

Like the cover of a book or magazine, or the trailer of a film, the title should not only be apt but also appealing. Most of the above titles for smaller films (and of so many other non-starters, especially in the last five years) do not mean anything to a random viewer: not when the price of a ticket is Rs. 150 all the way to a possible four-figure sum! And so, while franchises can work (even abysmal ones like Dream Girl 2 and Fukrey 3), merely repeating titles of older, hit films (Gumraah, Mili) is a futile exercise with today’s viewers when more relevant ones could have been thought of.

The worst title given to a solid film in recent times remains Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video, a superb movie with a subtle message. The film was earlier thought of with another misleading title in many ways, Happy Teacher’s Day. As for a Jogira Sara Ra Ra, one is tempted to ask: “What’s that???”

Sadly, today, our young filmmakers are more obsessed with such weird names for their films and slice off any interest about a film at this level itself.

Namashi Chakraborty and Amrin Qureshi in Bad Boy. Photo: Universal Communications

The Promotion 

Alas! No one spends money on the right promotions for such films. In fact, awareness of most such films is zilch, simply because their promos do not emphasize a film’s strengths and USP if any, and the titles do not register even after they are known. Worse, only digital marketing is done. Newspaper dailies may carry snippets or write-ups on the film and actors, but none of these substitute for the erstwhile daily ads, as in the olden days in newspapers.

Admittedly, in these days when movies do not have fixed timings, theatres and shows, this can be meaningless for the film buff, and so we lose out on another wide exposure. The most frequent remark of a regular viewer is a disinterested “What? You said you liked Jogira Sara Ra Ra? That’s a movie?! When did it release? Who is in it?”

Promotions need to be well-conceived and implemented. In 2003, a small wonder of a romantic comedy, Chupke Se… was ignored by audiences. When I met the director later, she told me simply, “Replace my lead players (two small names in Zulfi Syed and Masumeh) with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol and without changing a frame, my film would have done 50 weeks!” And she poignantly added that the film’s producers could not arrange sufficient budgets for the promotion!

With Mukesh Bhatt’s Anurag Basu-directed Saaya the same year, the producer was unduly influenced by the success of Bhoot and Darna Mana Hai and marketed the musical romance with a supernatural element as a horror movie. So the film was an acute disappointment, as most viewers went with totally different expectations—of exciting thrills from another horror movie.

And with most of the ‘misses’ we are discussing, promotions were almost non-existent!

The Music

The idea that Hindi films are now meant for ‘global’ or (back home) ‘realism-loving’ audiences has robbed our cinema of its greatest weapon for an initial opening—one or more popular songs. The inability of a modern filmmaker to conceive and execute a situation or any event within a film musically with a song whose lyrical. musical and vocal tenor are glove-fits for the same, has robbed films of a major magnet.

We only have to hark back on movies like the 1940s Rattan, the 1960s Dosti, the 1970s Geet Gaata Chal and innumerable examples all the way to the Aashiqui franchise (in 1990 and as late as in 2013!) to realize what music does when a film has no other factor to invite audience curiosity like stars or a big-name director.

The ‘Multiplex’

A recent story in a daily found a multiplex honcho reveling in not just his chain’s collections in tickets but also about the F&B (food and beverage prices that bring in a bomb) amount they earned during the July to September box-office boom! I recall Farah Khan, before the release of her debut film, Main Hoon Na in 2004, predicting that the multiplexes (then in their infancy in India) will ruin cinema for the common man. Five years or so later, a prominent multiplex chain owner condescendingly told me that the masses will now no longer be able to afford cinema and must now depend on TV serials and catching up with films on TV.

But the hydra-headed devil called the multiplex has many more sins to its name than just the humongous admission fare or the brazen overcharging for tea, popcorn or samosas. Their money-is-all culture leads them to give total priority to movies coming in at frequent intervals from big name banners and top corporate studios. Not all filmmakers can be of  Karan Johar, Bhushan Kumar or Viacom 18 levels, so any high-content movie from lesser names is thus cold-shouldered in the matter of priority of screens and show timings and almost exterminated by rates that are similar to those of big movies.

We must, indeed, consider ourselves fortunate then, that movies like Khosla Ka Ghosla, A Wednesday! and their likes were released before this peak arrogance of multiplex chains was reached.  Today, such masterpieces would never have survived!

The Conclusion

I agree that not all of the films I have mentioned above are ‘treasures’ in the cinematic sense of the term. But without exception, they all deserved better, and were superior to other big and moderately-budgeted films that fared well. And it will be sad if cinematic treasures are lost to us because of such issues that need correction forthwith!

Cheers then, to the future of good cinema.






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