Thursday, May 26, 2022

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Are Bollywood stars losing their glitter? – by Vinod Mirani

Soon after the reopening of the cinema halls, the first major Hindi film due for release was ‘Sooryavanshi. The film was being held back for the entire period of the two lockdowns forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, when the film was released, it was to coincide with the Diwali festival week.

One would think that it was a happy occasion that the multiplexes, which had suffered the most during the lockdowns, had reopened and they were getting a major Diwali release in ‘Sooryavanshi’. Instead, in a rather odd stand, multiplex managements decided that they will give equal number of play slots to ‘Sooryavanshi’ and the other release, a James Bond franchise Hollywood film, ‘No Time To Die’.

Their contention was that the Hollywood films had kept them sustained with a regular flow of films.

‘No Time To Die’ had created quite a pre-release hype, but so had ‘Sooryavanshi’ over the lockdown waiting period. True, the hype and expectations were not the same at release time, as they were when the film was completed and its promotions started. Somehow, the excitement about the film was not as strong as it was before the lockdowns.

Hollywood films such as ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ were getting excellent advance bookings as well as huge box-office figures. Not very long ago, Hollywood films had a limited audience in India, spread over only in metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore.

Even the cinema theatres screening them were few and usually owned by the Hollywood studios. These films reached the second-rung cities much later. In such an event, the Indian market did not mean much for Hollywood. It had one advantage in India in that the country had a considerable population knowing English. But there were laws against remitting the cash earned through these films in India to offices abroad. The proceeds had to be used within India and re-invested locally.

English films, as the Hollywood films were known in those days, posed no opposition to Hindi, mainstream movies, let alone pose a threat. These Hollywood movies lasted for a week or three at the most at a theatre, even as Hindi films celebrated 25- or even 50-week runs.

Since not very long ago, Hollywood films have invaded and penetrated the Indian market big time. Compared to Indian films, in Hindi as well as in local languages, they were nowhere in contention at the box-office. So, why is it that the tables are turning and the status is being reversed?

Hollywood films now release in India extensively with as many as 2,000 (‘Avengers: Endgame’) to about 3,300 (‘Spider Man: No Way Home’) screens engagements. Not knowing English is not a deterrent now. These films are released in dubbed versions in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

Also, the films being made in Hollywood are not like they were made once upon a time. They are all grand spectacles of action, with hulks as heroes and girls next door as heroines. They are a treat to watch with their computer-generated special effects.

Language matters little now. The Hollywood’s idea of a wholesome movie has changed and, still, the world is lapping it up. An ex-WWE wrestler has become the highest paid actor!

Should it matter to or affect Hindi films? (Films from the south are not affected by these changes at all.) In India today, Hollywood films gross anything from Rs 100+ crore to Rs 300 crore, starting off with excellent advance bookings. Some films, especially the franchises, generate a craze.

The success of Hollywood movies should matter if one compares the advance bookings for Hindi films, which are hardly that impressive. There was a time when people used to throng theatres if a film with a popular star released. Even that is not happening now.

For ‘Spider Man: No Way Home’, based on its advance booking, the trade expected the film to close its opening day with Rs 30 crore. But, at the end of its day one, the film has exceeded the expectations to collect Rs 32 crore (net). Even the tickets priced at Rs 2,000 were booked in advance! How good is that when compared to ‘Sooryavanshi’?

‘Sooryavanshi’ had the best cast, in terms of drawing people to theatres, in Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh. It was a multi-star film after a long time. What better billing can a film get? Yet, it collected Rs 26 crore on its Day One.

Giving out enhanced box-office figures is a trend prevalent in the Hindi film industry. This is because box-office performance is linked to and reflects on the revenues expected from the sale of OTT and satellite rights. The pre-agreed price of a film’s OTT release depends on its box- office performance.

High admission rates are often blamed for films opening below expectations, but, somehow, it does not seem to deter the audience for ‘Avengers’ movies or ‘Spiderman’!

So, why is the Hindi film industry losing its market? This can’t have anything to do with Hollywood films! Simply put, even otherwise, why are Hindi films losing out on their audience? None of the films released since the reopening of the cinema theatres have set the box-office on fire. In fact, just a couple of them have managed to sail through.

It can’t be all because of the OTT platforms, where one can see the same film after a few weeks. After all, films have braved other competitions, including the same-day pirated video release of a new film, which used to be quite common once upon a time.

Is it the overexposure that the stars of a film subject themselves to in the name of promotion by appearing on just about every popular television show? It looks ridiculous when you see a film’s cast on a dance show now and a comedy show soon after, saying the same things over and over! After all, Tobey Maguire (the original Spiderman on screen, who also appears in ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’) did not appear on any of these shows!

Could it be that the Hindi film stars are losing their credibility, the aura, the image or the respect, whatever you may want to call it, in the public eye? A lot has been happening involving film stars that the people may not have taken well.

Since the suspicious death of the rising star Sushant Singh Rajput that things don’t seem to be going in the right directions for the stars. Most remained silent and failed to take a stand on the death. Then the public exhibition of vulgarity on standup comedy shows. Breaking lockdown laws and throwing parties. Making media headlines for all the wrong reasons, such as drug soirees.

There was a time when stars used to maintain a certain dignity and aura around them. That seems to be missing now. Somewhere, along the line, the stars are losing their sheen!  (Agency)

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