Six months down, 2012 has been a good year for Hindi cinema. Box office wise, there have been three huge hits in Agneepath, House Full 2 and Rowdy Rathore. More importantly, at least five films with modest starcast and budgets have found their audiences – Kahaani, Vicky Donor, Gangs Of Wasseypur, Ferrari Ki Sawaari and Paan Singh Tomar. A far more balanced year so far than what 2011 had to offer, where almost all the successes were backed by a big star.
There has been growing recent debate on the 100cr club. A set of critics and cinema aficionados have lamented how relatively mediocre cinema continues to break box office records, even as genuine content struggles to find its feet, and even after audience support (read word of mouth), barely manages to record collections in the vicinity of 30-40% of the big daddies. The cinema taste of the Indian audiences is often under attack in such debates. In fact, many critics are now learning to live with the reality that a certain type of cinema will make money anyway, irrespective of the ‘quality’ of content.
Let’s look at ‘quality’ through the lens of the viewer, the cine-goer, the customer, the ticket buyer. After all, that’s the only ‘quality’ that matters. The question is: Does this person feel House Full 2 or Rowdy Rathore is a better ‘quality’ film than (say) Kahaani or Paan Singh Tomar. The answer, interestingly, is “No”. Word Of Mouth (WOM) data based on surveys we run conclusively proves that the issue is more sampling related than quality related. In other words, getting audience to the theatre (even after very positive WOM) is a far bigger challenge than making them like a good medium budget film.
So where’s the hitch? To understand this, we need to look at a few matter-of-fact things very differently.
Why do we go to the movies? Try answering that in your head. Yes, many of us will say we love cinema. We are “fans”. Others may say they are fans of certain stars and watch movies to watch them come alive on the big screen. Still others may say they watch movies for entertainment, for relaxation, for detox.
All these obvious answers eventually relate to a certain love for cinema, ranging from deep to superficial. But love nevertheless. Over decades, these have been the governing factors behind buying a movie ticket. Passion, Stars or Entertainment.
However, in the last few years, a fourth factor has emerged. A factor so powerful that it is changing the way movies are being consumed in the theaters in our country today. I call this the ‘Hangout’ factor.
What is Hangout in this context? Today, movie going is predominantly a youth activity, especially in the multiplexes. Till about a decade ago, if you had to make a plan to go to the movies (with friends or family), you will decide on the theatre and the show, either book tickets in advance or bank on them being available, and just go for the film on schedule.
Today, youth are increasingly NOT doing this. They make “plans”. Plans that have movies fitted into them, often tentatively. So, a typical plan could look like: Let’s meet at 3pm at the mall. We’ll have coffee at the food court. If everyone is in the mood and if tickets are available, we can watch XYZ. Otherwise let’s go biking. But dinner has to be the pizza at our favorite joint.
You get the point? In a seven-hour plan, a film is but a piece. A piece that has only a specific role to play – to make a larger Hangout plan more enjoyable, more fulfilling. So, you choose a film that’s the lowest common denominator within the gang of friends. You chat with each other through the film. Often, you are on Facebook or BBM discussing the film you are watching sitting next to each other. You don’t really care much about the film itself, as long as you have a good time.
The ‘good time’ has to be had in totality. When you reach home at the end of the day, its not the film but the total ‘Hangout’ that you remember. A good pizza can more than make up for a not-so-great film. As long as everyone in the group could make fun of the film while watching it, and then over the pizza.
All plans may not be seven-hours. But conceptually, they are ‘Hangout’ plans anyway, where “having a good time” is more important than “watching a good film.”
It is very difficult for our “fan minds” to understand this. How can people enter a theater without caring much about how good or bad the film will be? The truth is they can. As long as the Hangout is good. We often hear in our work: “Achhi film thi, lekin mere friends bore ho gaye.” Such films often have limited box office prospects these days.
This is going to become an even more noticeable trend. Movie theaters are going to become hangout destinations like malls, coffee shops and the bazaars. Shorter films addressing a wider taste (read unisex) will be increasingly preferred. A film will be ‘chosen’ if it allows the youth to “have a good time.”
It’s not exactly good news for writers and directors to know that their labour of love may get only as much as attention as a tub of popcorn. But then, the cash registers also ring well these days. And in any case, there are us “fans” to propagate the belief that enough people still watch movies because they actually love them.
PS: The next time you go a theatre, look out for signs of the Hangout trend. They will be tell-tale and in-your-face.