Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hindi Cinema. Some Disjoint Thoughts

If you ask what is the most abundant element on Earth, people will tell you its Carbon. If you pose the same question to Karan Johar, most likely, the answer would be Candyfloss !

I have been thinking about this for quite some time. Hindi Cinema has some great directors and Karan Johar is definitely one of the marvels. He has lots of aspiring copy cats like Kunal Kohli/Sajid Khan et al who churn repetitive and brain dead movies one after the other with mathematical precision but KJo is definitely the Big Wolf.

Talking about the Big Wolf and his wolf pack, the question of paramount importance is this -- In what genre would you define KJo's (And all copycats') work ? I propose that KJo is too big to fit in currently defined movie genres like romance/romantic comedy  etc. There should be an entire new genre defined just so that we can describe the mammoth genius that is KJo. I would name that Genre Soc-Fi. It stands for Socio-Economic Fiction. Much like Sci-Fi. 

Why ?

Its quite intuitive actually. In Sci-Fi, the level of Science depicted in the movie is much advanced than the level of Science as witnessed by most audience in their  routine lives. Similarly, in KJo movies, the level of Socio-Economic dynamics depicted is much advanced to the level witnessed by most audience in their routine lives. In a Country like India, if all leading men and women of KJo are driving Mercedes and are running across a football field size lawn, for common man, it is nothing but a Socio-Economic fiction.  KJo's work envisions a world truly beyond the living realities of almost 99% of his audience and hence he should be honored by defining a new genre for his classics ! The Genre of Soc-Fi.

What does it mean for Hindi Cinema ?

One key fact is that a big portion of directors/actors today are second generation film industry practioners who are in this profession by sheer sperm/egg lottery. Any field which selects its a big part of its participants by virtue of birth and not merit is bound to have funny moments. (Like Sonam Kapoor becoming an actress is a funny moment).  Almost all of these film makers have lived a life in their own capsules and the only thing they can portray is typical urban youth struggling with meaning of life. So their movies will mostly show friends travelling to Goa to find solace, or to Spain to live life, or to sing Kuch Kuch hota hai in some really cool college or hating love stories or may be figuring out that why Pappu cant dance. Simply because that's the dominant perspective a man has lived and that's the perspective the man would portray clearly. Nobody's fault. Just circumstantial.

In the end, you keep seeing movies movies where you just can't differentiate one movie from the other on any big point. Not a great state affairs for the Art of story telling.

But then the question, why some/most of these movies become a hit ?Who makes them hit ?

The answer is multiplex. Multiplexes contribute around 65% of the revenue for the films today. And if you include revenues from satellite rights, music rights, merchandise etc, not much is left to get from single screen audiences to breakeven. So,as a thumb rule, if you could please multiplex audience, most likely you make money.

That audience is the holy grail. Who are they ? How many are they ?  

Lets see. PVR and Cinemax which together owns around 220 screens boasts of total annual footfall of roughly 3.5 Crore. Total multiplex screens in India around 1250, makes avg national footfalls in multiplexes around 17 Cr. If one person's foot falls once in a month in a multiplex (One movie in 4 weekends is not a big stretch), then these17 Cr foot would correspond to around 1.45 Cr heads.  Accounting for misses  and omissions, take it total headcount of 2 Cr. Give or take some. That is roughly 2% of India's population.  Just 2%. As a film maker, if you want to make money, just please these 2% of country's population. 

How to please them ? First know who they are

Average multiplex ticket of 135 Rs/Head for a couple, two such movies a month, add 100 Rs F&B. If you assume that movie expense takes half of total entertainment household budget (7% of income as per Govt stats), you reach a rough monthly income of 11,000 Rs. Thats on average, give or take some. This would roughly mean that you can afford multiplex  regularly only if you earn AT LEAST 11k, give or take a few hundreds. These people are young aspirers or middle/old age achievers and hence they either aspire to or already have a reasonably high socio-economic standards. At least higher than almost 90% of their fellow countrymen. They can relate to lot of the stuff shown and unless its outright crap, happy to spend 2 hours watching it for the sake of entertainment. Lack of options helps the cause further.

So in a way, what's being made reflects an acute understanding of economics of film making business by these film makers. Why to blame them for intellectual paralysis. Who cares about it anyways as long as the girl looks hot, dances well and the guy could stretch his arms and run around the trees.

If just 2% is key target, what about the rest 98% ?

This is where classic Indian spirit of entrepreneurship and "jugad" sets in. For the audience who can't relate too much to the context of these urban youth targeting movies and feel severe lack of options have seen local movie industries cropping up. These movies are made with local actors, at low budget with basic tech equipment and are distributed locally to a niche audience. For example Punjab has its own movie industry where even coolness God MTV VJ Ranvijay is a proud participant. Bhojpuri Industry is pretty sizeable. Even Western UP has seen its own local film industry where movies are made on average budget of 3-4 Lakhs and are then distributed through low cost VCDs. If the big guy doesn't take care of you, the fellow around the corner would stand up to fill the void in the most local flavor. Classic elegant Indian solution to big and difficult problems.

If art is about culture, what about it ?

One view is that art (as movies) should not be showing only one aspect of Indian culture where every thing happens in South Mumbai or Bandra or Switzerland. In fact subject matter has seen drastic movement depending on who were the film makers and what general socio-political environment they encountered. Quite obvious for this to happen. So you would see shifts from 2 Bigha Zameen to Golmal to Chupke Chupke to Zanjeer to Dil Chahta hai to Housefull 2.

Who are the film makers, from what socio-economic background they came and in what general socio-political construct they worked in, decides their subjects. One simple example to consider the "Effect of Who makes What" is that since for a long time most film makers have been Chopras, Kapoors and Khoslas, the prevalent culture reflected in movies  has been Punjabi. With people like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap etc, a new cultural perspective is being shown. So in addition to Switzerland, you can see the Gangetic plains as well. That's a good thing on a broader level. Simply because it widens the cultural fabric reflected in films.
Now we don't only know balle balle and kudiyan te mundya but we also know the folksy beats of O Womaniya/Omkara. Corporatization has helped with studios breaking the family/kin strongholds where a newcomer found it difficult to show a divergent story. Studios are happy to back Kashyap, Bhardwaj, Bannerjee or Dhulia, even if its not most commonly occurring candyfloss.

Such variety is good. If movies is about story telling, varied stories in varied settings is awesome to have. Lets hope we get more of variety. Variety well made.