By all accounts, 2011 was a bad year for Hindi cinema. Yes, several films grossed well at the box office. It was also the year when the 100cr club came into prominence, with five films crossing the much-hyped mark. But behind all the business success was a sense of hollowness on the content front. Only an odd Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Singham managed to achieve what a film ultimately craves for – box office and audience likeability.
Ironically, the industry, till recently, equated good box office with good audience likeability. So, we hear things like “Fab opening. Thanks for loving the film.” In another piece (here), I wrote about WOM (Word Of Mouth), where we saw that how a film sustains from its first day to its lifetime business is a measure of its audience likeability.
2012 was different. Kahaani opened low, but managed to cross several mainstream films to register a lifetime business a Shahid Kapoor or John Abraham film will crave for. Then came Vicky Donor, which achieved the same feat. Vicky Donor’s success was even more admirable because it had no star value at all. Kahaani at least had Vidya ‘The Dirty Picture’ Balan. Later in the year, Barfi and Oh My God grew by leaps and bounds, and while the former had Ranbir Kapoor in the lead, it became the first film since 3 Idiots to enter the 100cr club on the strength of its content and not its starcast or marketing.
2013 has started very well. Both Special 26 and ABCD had modest openings, but managed to sustain well over two weeks, and are still going strong, albeit with lesser shows and theatres. This weekend, we saw the release of a film that defied all box office conventions. Kai Po Che didn’t have any of the three factors a box office friendly needs to. One, it did not have any star cast value at all. Two, it did not belong to a popular, mainstream genre (i.e. comedy, action, romance or college films). Three, it did not have hit music at the time of release (Amit Trivedi’s soulful music did not cut through the masses, with only one song – Manja – featuring on our consumer charts at no. 15 in the week of release).
Expectedly, Kai Po Che did not have a huge opening. But a 4 cr start for a film of this nature is big in its own way. The campaign tracking suggested that the film should have opened at 3.2 cr or so. But the WOM spread during the day, and as urban audience thronged cinemas on Friday night, the number soared. They soared further on Saturday and Sunday, and the flight has only just taken off. March is as open a month as any, and you can expect Kai Po Che to scale great heights.
If, at the start of 2012, you would have been told that about five films (can also add Paan Singh Tomar to the list, though its base was low) will manage to break box office conventions and become winners purely on strength of their content, making money as well as scoring high on audience likeability, any Hindi film fan would have taken it. Now, we are greedy and want more. Heartening!
What I found even more heartening, though, is that some of the 100 cr type of films have under-delivered vis-a-vis expectations of late. After Rowdy Rathore’s success, there seemed a sense of fatigue with this genre. Bol Bachchan did well enough. But Khiladi 786 did not sustain too well. And then came the real shocker: Dabangg 2 could not build on the revenue of its predecessor, ending with business roughly at the same level as the first film in the franchise.
Is there fatigue? Early trends seem to suggest that in the urban elite audience (also called “high-end multiplex” audience), there is a growing irritation at the sameness of this cinema. This is not to say that these films are being rejected (Dabangg 2 had a fairly decent WOM score). But their sheen is reducing, and the curve is definitely not moving upward.
Himmatwala will be a good test of this trend. We surely don’t expect the film to be a content-based masterpiece. We also know that 100 cr may not be very tough for a film like Himmatwala, given the huge release scale and promotions. But if films like Khiladi 786, Dabangg 2 and Himmatwala hit their glass ceilings set by their predecessors from 2010-11, while content films with lesser known stars continue to define new benchmarks for their type of cinema, we know where we are heading. In a very good direction!
After 3 Idiots (90), no film has crossed the 80-mark on our WOM index. But several content films from 2012-13 have crossed the 70-mark, led by Barfi at 78. We will know in the coming week if Kai Po Che manages to break the 80-barrier. I’m rooting for it personally. Even if it doesn’t, we have three films in the 70+ bracket already – Special 26, ABCD and (in all probability) Kai Po Che. And it’s only February yet!
More power to our audiences who have brought about this change. May their tribe grow.