India’s Bollywood film industry, long part of the cultural fabric of the film-crazy country of 1.4 billion people, is facing its biggest crisis yet as streaming services and non-Hindi language rivals steal its shine. The South Asian giant produces an average of 1,600 films a year, more than any other country, traditionally glitzy Bollywood titles, with fans worshiping movie stars like deities and huge crowds for premieres. But now cinemas have gone quiet, even in Bollywood’s nerve center Mumbai, with box office receipts falling ever since the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted.
“This is the worst crisis we have faced,” Mumbai theater owner Manoj Desai told AFP. Some screenings were canceled as “the public wasn’t there”.
The normally bankable megastar Akshay Kumar had three films back to back. Fellow A-lister Aamir Khan, who has been the face of some of India’s most successful films, failed to impress the audience. Forrest Gump Rebuild Lal Singh Chand.
Of the more than 50 Bollywood films released last year – less than usual due to the pandemic – only a fifth have met or surpassed revenue targets, said Kiran Torani, media analyst at Elara Capital. Pre-pandemic it was 50 percent.
In contrast, many Telugu-language aka Tollywood films – a South Indian rival to Hindi-language Bollywood – have risen to the top.
Embarrassingly, the South’s bid to take half the box-office for Hindi-language films from January 2021 to August this year was dubbed, State Bank of India Chief Economic Adviser Soumya Kanti Ghosh said in a recent report.
“Bollywood, after decades of storytelling… seems to be at an inflection point unlike any other disruption before it,” Ghosh wrote.
‘out of touch’
Bollywood, like other film industries, has been affected by the rise of streaming, which began before the pandemic but stalled when millions of Indians were forced indoors.
Almost half of India’s population has access to the internet and streaming services, including international players such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + Hotstar have 96 million subscriptions, according to an official estimate.
Some of the films released during the Covid shutdown went straight to these platforms, while others hit the small screens just weeks after debuting in theaters.
With streaming monthly subscriptions at or below the cost of a single ticket — 100-200 rupees ($1.20-$2.50) at single-screen cinemas and more at multiplexes — price-sensitive audiences were avoiding theaters, analysts said.
Times have been so tight that INOX and PVR, India’s two largest multiplex operators, announced their merger in March to “create scale”.
Meanwhile, subscribers were exposed to local and international streaming content, including southern Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada-language films that already had legions of local fans.
“Regional cinema didn’t travel beyond its borders. But now suddenly everyone is watching Malayalam cinema or Maharashtrian cinema and then you realize that … there are filmmakers who are telling more interesting stories,” film critic Raja Sen. said
“Then they see a Hindi blockbuster coming out with a star that’s just a re-thread of a story they’ve heard a million times, then they’re not impressed anymore.
Critics have also accused Bollywood of making niche or elitist films that don’t resonate in a country where 70 percent of the population lives outside cities.
Aamir Khan admitted this during an interview to the media Lal Singh Chand That Hindi filmmakers “choose what’s relevant to them may not be as relevant to a larger audience”.
At the same time, Tollywood mega smash hit Pushpa: Wake up And RRR highlighted the heroines of the common people while treating the audience to a larger-than-life visual spectacle with captivating song and dance routines.
Such formulas have long been the mainstay of Bollywood, but film critics say the southern challengers were making it bigger and better.
“To bring people to the cinema we need to create a storytelling experience that cannot be replicated at home,” said multi-theatre operator and trade analyst Akshay Rathi.
“What we need to do is respect their time, money and effort. And whenever we do that, for a particular film, they come out in droves.”
A wake up call
Ensuring box office success as a star was no longer a guarantee of your role, said Torani, who described Bollywood’s recent struggles as “dangerous”.
“I think the audience obviously wants the star, but the audience wants the star to appear in a film that has great content,” he added.
Kumar – best known for the nickname “a one-man industry” – said he was going back to the drawing board.
“If my films are not working, it’s our fault, it’s my fault. I have to make changes, I have to understand what the audience wants,” The Indian Express reported Kumar as saying in August.
Adding to Bollywood’s worries, social media campaigns against certain films have been repeated by the Hindu right wing, including Forrest Gump Rebuild.
Recently, there were calls for a new release Brahmastra A few years ago star Ranbir Kapoor was boycotted for his meat-eating comments. Cow is considered sacred among Hindus.
But while generating unwanted noise, analysts say there has been no material impact on box office returns. Brahmastra Really well done.
The real problem, moviegoers told AFP outside a cinema in Mumbai, was that many Bollywood films were not good enough.
“The story should be good (and) the content should be good, so that people want to watch,” said Preeti Sawant, a 22-year-old student.
“So people don’t come to see movies.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)