Watching A Movie? No, Just Hanging Out

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.

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About Shailesh Kapoor

Founder & CEO - Ormax Media. Film Lover. Media Insights Detective. Budding Author. Lifelong Student.
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19 Responses to Watching A Movie? No, Just Hanging Out

  1. paritosh says:

    Is this a metro phenomenon, and that too driven by the ‘plexes, or is it more universal extending also to single screens and smaller towns?

    • It’s more metros and mini-metros and more plex-based. But that’s 70%+ box office revenue, and will be 80%+ in a couple of years. So it becomes THE trend.

      • Himanshu Manroa says:

        Shailesh,

        I wonder what do you have to say about this post on boxofficeindia.com. Perhaps, the most appropriate arguement to your assumption of ‘70% BO revenue being multiplex driven’.

        http://www.boxofficeindia.com/boxnewsdetail.php?page=shownews&articleid=4633&nCat=

        Here is what it concludes – “It is pretty weird that it is always reported that its all about multiplexes today when the films that actually make good money have a larger chunk of the all India theatrical revenue coming from single screens”

        Now, back to my original arguement: It’s definitely not the Pizza-globbling, hangout generation that’s driving in the numbers in single screens across the nation? Massy entertainers like Rowdy Rathore, Agneepath and Housefull 2 are actually uniting the HCF of the IUF (Indian Undivided Family) resulting in these monstrous hits! Romcoms still don’t stand a chance in these single screens – be it a Salman or Hrithik! And it’s not that these stars haven’t attempted romcoms before. In the early 2000s, a major chunk of Salman and Hrithik movies sank at the BO despite them being bonafide romance bonanzas.

        It are in fact the single screens that are bringing up the numbers to go beyond the 100 crore mark. That’s the differentiator! Unlike the Hangout phenomenon that you’ve indicated; which to me still remains a very Mumbai-Delhi trend. And that’s definitely not Pan India. There is much more to it!

        Thoughts please?

        • The boi article is technically correct. But to call the hangout phenomenon a Mumbai-Delhi thing only is not true at all. It has percolated down. Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat, Chandigarh were the obvious early cities to take it up. In the last 2-3 years, Indore, Ludhiana, Jaipur, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Lucknow etc. have moved rapidly.
          If you were to calculate the box office revenue contribution of these markets, it comes to 75%+ easily, and almost 80%+ of it is multiplex. BOI article is more in the Rowdy Rathore context. The reverse can be argued with Cocktail when it releases next week.

          • Himanshu Manroa says:

            Exactly Shailesh! But isn’t it the Rowdy Rathore kind of swashbuckling successes that we’re trying to decode! A Dil Chahta was never a major success, and perhaps even if it were released today, may still not hit the 100 Crore mark. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara never crossed 100.

            So yes, we started off by discussing what is causing the grandiose success of flicks on the right side of 100. And I am sure, over here, the rule of 80-20 doesn’t apply. It’s probably 60-40 (or in some cases even 50-50) for Multiplex: Single screens. Movies like Cocktail are too niche to even be in the same consideration set. At its best, a Cocktail may hit a 50 Crore with probably a 90:10 split. So?

            The market hasn’t expanded just due to the increasing consumption of Pizzas by the I-generation (iPod, iPhone, iPad). It is more about ‘Prosperity at the Bottom of Pyramid’. It is the lower end of the spectrum that is fuelling the growth much more fiercely! Even in the tier-II and III cities that you’ve spoken about, Yes, the multiplex footfalls are growing. But perhaps, it’s still not as much about hangouts as it is about the IUF (Indian Undivided Family). Why are comedies like Golmaal series and even a small li’l Khichdi such roaring successes in Gujrat? It are the IUFs coming out in droves! They won’t plan it out as hangout, they won’t order Pizzas. They’ll be there ‘on appointment’. It’s a much planned outing with their dose of Gujrati Thali, shopping and gaming.

            The Hangout phenomenon is good to be discussed as a growing trend. But definitely isn’t ‘The’ Factor behind the 100-club of retro-comic monstrous hits off late. Even if you discuss more urbane successes like Ra.One and Don 2, it was a pleasant surprise to see a sea of grey and bald heads and pleasantly plump uncles-aunties on the opening weekend of Ra.One in a major Mumbai multiplex. Hanging out? Definitely not! But definitely ‘Hanging in’ with their families for a good day at the Movies and beyond.

  2. Sashwat says:

    This is so bloody true. I completely belong to the demographic you mentioned. My friend often make plan for lunch/dinner and movie is an just an add-on. I being the only ‘cinema fan’ in my group, have missed out on so many good films and ended up watching a pirated version later. This saddens me a lot but have no other option as of now….

  3. viky says:

    hi sir apko kya lagta he ek tha tiger ka weekend kitna hoga plz rply sir

  4. vivgup says:

    Totally agree. To reiterate – this is one of four factors. But one that producers or studios will have to start factoring in.

  5. divsbabs says:

    You have missed Shanghai.. which is also comes in the category of Kahaani, GOW, Vicky Donor , FKS and PST…

  6. Himanshu Manroa says:

    Very ture Shailesh. As indicated in my blog earlier, the ‘Casual’ movie watching trend is beginning to change the entire dynamics of business.

    http://himanshumanroa.blogspot.com/2012/06/smart-analytics-for-increasing.html

    No wonder, the mass-entertainers are striking gold at the Box Office, ever since the time Aamir shattered the differences between Multiplex and Single-screens through Ghajini in 2008. He founded the 100-crore club, that has ever since witnessed a spate of massy action and comedy entertainers aimed at the Highest Common Factor (Please note…it’s HCF and not LCD what makers like Rohit Shetty, Sajid Khan and Prabhudeva are gunning for!).

    However, Shailesh looks like you’ve missed the ‘Great Indian Family’ in your ‘Hangout’ argument. If it were just the Pizza-gobbling Yuppie generation making up for the numbers, Romcoms too would’ve been big business, no? But surprisingly none of the Ranbir-Shahid-Imraan mush-tales have hit the 100-crore club as yet. It are the loaded, double income with kid/kids nuclear families that are bringing in the real moolah! Yes, these families too are there for the hangout and trying to make for a wholesome weekend (shopping, movies, gaming, dinning) through wholesome entertainers. As they say, 40s are the new 20s, mid-30s are at their all-time career highs (much sooner) and the families in general are having a good, huge bit of disposable incomes!!

    • The role of the family in movie box office is debatable. Core audience is still the youth, especially for week 1. But yes, families can give a 20% boost. If Salman or Hrithik does a romcom, it will surely cross 100cr. The stars you name may not be the HCF/ LCD for ‘choosing’ a film.

  7. Not sure whether one should be glad or upset about state of our cinema. Raunchy cinema is also raking lot of money. Under such circumstances, gauging a movie by box office gross is not good idea. At least not against the movies released more than a year back.

    First, probably entertainment, specifically movies, is only business in India that has garnered 15 to 25 % year-on-year growth in last decade and continues to grow. May be we were gravely under-served earlier. For example, if MNIK were to be released today, then KJo would have benefited by additional 20 million * 10 = 200 million INR (outside India gross * increase in $ value). That puts the movie in completely different league when you further consider inflation. Many such examples can be quoted.

    Secondly, problem with word of mouth is often that director / producer highly leverage the accolade and tend to increase the budgets during next movies and recovery becomes difficult. GOW and FKS, though have good WOM will be difficult to break-even for distributors as they are not endorsed by big stars. Reaching even 40 crore worldwide is daunting task and distributor lose money.

    Why are distributors and exhibitors deprived of watching the movie before release (leave aside before purchasing)? The industry badly needs regulation. Right now equation is very simple, actors win (by becoming producer), producers win (by making movies in peanuts and selling at prize of almonds), exhibitors win (through appreciation in land prize alone + they are the only one who are creating tangible asset), distributors lose and audience is confused on state of affairs. There is neither clarity nor guarantee if corporate governance is practiced in Bollywood. Not sure how these practices are different from fraud or for that matter day light robbery. Something is definitely wrong otherwise what would explain this irony – Govinda had given hits for 17 consecutive years and is now selling some magical oil on TV. Ditto is case with Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit. The so called “big star” had hardly had any super-hit between Biwi No 1 and Partner. Not to mention speculative greed and dirty deed of mainstream actors, which we get to hear.

    For audience, movie is just incidental passe, while central aspect has become to spend time with family or friends – just the way you have pointed out. I suspect exhibitors would now reach tier 2 and tier 3 cities and we will see further proliferation in reality – making it even more difficult for common man.

  8. Shailesh Kharat says:

    Bang on! You are absolutely right on the youth plan portion. But more importantly I feel that today most people go for a movie that suits them.

  9. Cricendulkar says:

    Also, depends upon the hype created as a salman khan or an aamir khan movie isn’t just entertainment but something important and irrestible,for u don’t want to be mute when your friends r discussing those movies?

  10. So basically the multiplex phenomenon is all set to destroy Indian Cinema’s creativity and progress since an audience can be bought to a movie screen irrespective of the content, and business is measured in terms of how many crores a movie made and not how many people watched a movie. Isn’t it sad?

  11. Arati Kadav says:

    Really interesting point of view and probably true if I remember my college days on how we went and saw the film Josh after our exams [happened a decade ago:) ] . Film makers are individuals but most of film-watchers are a group.

    For a film with no strong star cast but high concept (the kind of film I am trying to market) , how should the promos orient themselves so that they over-ride this lowest common denominator bias?
    Should the promos target the personalities who are the opinion makers in that group as they steer the group to watch a particular movie. Which makes me wonder who would be the opinion makers/drivers in college groups?

    – The girls (who like emotions, songs)
    – The group binder kind of guys who are generally the really cool guys. (who will like some strong concepts)
    (I am not talking about star-cast here. A star in general overrides these parameters)
    However that is a socio-cultural study in itself. What are your thoughts and insights on that ?

    (P.S:
    I remember reading a paper which talked about how ideas can be popular in a population. If an idea has to reach the population then it has to find cult status in atleast 11 % of the population. That was the threshold value and there were statistical analysis done to reach the 11%. So the remaining population seeks out that idea just out of curiosity. I was wondering if you have come across that paper and how you would translate it in a case like this).

    Thank you,
    Arati
    (www.aratikadav.com)

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