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Indian Cinema: Is content here to stay?
- Planet Bollywood Special Correspondant           Let us know what you think about this article

A wise man once said “The only the constant in life is change”. Indian cinema is no exception and the pace of this transformation and maturing is very evident to see.

Today Indian cinema has come off age, offering audiences a wide range of options – be it genres, subjects, treatment of music and/or visuals, variety of fresh actors and or technicians, etc. 2013 probably has seen not just the most amount of film releases but Debuts as well, both on the acting as well as direction fronts. What however is exciting is that, unlike in the past, audiences have accepted this new talent and encouraged them whole heartedly and box office collections are a clear vindication of the same, eg. Kai Po Che, Fukhrey, Vickey Donor, The Lunchbox etc.

But amongst all this, to me the most heartening and exciting factor is the emergence of content as a key driver in Indian cinema over the last year or so and the clear acceptance by audiences, across all spectrums of society and markets in India. Today, the exceptional and not-so-exceptional performances of star studded movies also are a clear indication of the content they represent. The last year or two is replete of examples of star studded movies just completely rolling of the block either not making any money like Players or marking a huge dip in collections as compared to the stars perceived/expected box office value.

Where did this trend begin and is it here to stay? The industry and the audience were forced to reconsider their scope of interest, when a minimalistic film, Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) hit Indian screens. The film was low budget, set in Delhi giving it certain freshness in those days and purely mounted on talent and content. The film was a massive success, grossing Rs. 48 cr. on the box office. The primary driving factor of the film was the characters were relatable, thus the absence of any star power worked in the favor of the film. Bheja Fry (2007) was another such film that came in the following year. The Boxoffice success of this satirical comedy had proven the merit of scripts like Khosla Ka Ghosla. Though hugely successful and appreciated across platforms both the films were in the comedy genre. Comedies had struck a chord in the alternate fashion in the 80’s as well, with classics like Jane Bhi do Yaroon, Gol Maal etc. Aamir was a film that really set the ball rolling. A simple but hard hitting story, supported by great camera work, direct and rustic screen play and honest delivery caught people’s attention by surprise. The film was success and the word of mouth really propelled the film and at least urban audience took notice. A new segment had been carved into the Indian mindset.

After a sizable gap of 5 years, along came Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Pan Sigh Tomar. The film had very limited buzz and lacked main stream star value. Indian audience was still a few years from recognizing the talent power house that Irrfan is today. The film had an average opening but the word of mouth propelled it to box-office success with Rs. 29.28 crores collection. It established Irrfan as a bankable star and negated the apparent absolute need for dream sequences or melodrama in main stream cinema.

Soon Aamir was back to alter the course of cinema, yet again. This time behind the screen with Peepli Live. The film’s uncanny music and a fresh form of satirical cinema based on the state politics in India. The film did very well in the absence of any star power, purely on the basis of talent. With a total production budget of the film was Rs. 6.75 crores, Peepli Live went on to achieve unprecedented box office success with a total box-office collection of Rs. 29.28 crores. These films and film makers paved the way for the diverse content to hit Indian screens in 2013, amongst the most progressive year for Bollywood. 2013 saw a lot of tasteful, classy cinema made for the main stream audience. It all started with Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, a film that was about a sperm donor based in Delhi. The subject, despite being taboo in Indian society and the lack of any bankable face, VD turned out to be among the most loved films of 2013.

Vicky Donor was considered the film that created a middle path for cinema for the classes and masses and thus started the trend of intelligent mainstream cinema. The trend continued with Kai Po Che, a film purely based on good characters and great script, the box-office collections was Rs. 72. 16 Crores.

The effect of this trend can be seen seeping into the film makers as well. The so called mainstream films are also revamping their style of narrative, the content that they are ready to explore and the pace of delivery. Films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Biopic, INR 163.70 crore), D-Day (espionage, action thriller, INR 28.89 crore) and Madras Café (espionage, action thriller, INR 67.56 crore) all films from different genres but examples of the same thought process where the subjects lay in the interest scope of general audience but the treatment was tweaked, and the audience lapped it up.

Whichever way Indian Cinema, which has just crossed the landmark 100 year mark, goes from here, one thing is amply clear – content is slowly and surely nudging into the main stream and its market share will only increase with time. The main stream masala films have deep rooted audience base and obvious entertainment value and will most probably continue to do well for times to come but they would also need to move away from the absolutely nonsensical at times bordering absurd towards at least a decent content base.

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