The year 2017 is turning out to be Bollywood’s toughest in a long time. In the eight complete months of the year (Jan-Aug), the domestic box-office of Hindi films (not counting the dubbed Bahubali 2), has dropped by 16.9% vis-à-vis the same period in 2016. While there are some big films lined up for the rest of the year, 2016’s biggest success (Dangal) was a December release. Hence, the gap could only widen by the time the year ends.
Content not being able to deliver to the audience’s rising expectations is the primary reason for this declining trend, as covered in this column after the debacle of Jab Harry Met Sejal (read here). But there’s another important reason that has been building up over the last decade, and now beginning to have a major impact: Lack of young superstars.
For seven years now, since the start of our star tracking product Ormax Stars India Loves, the same five male stars have consistently taken the Top 5 positions: Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan. Their ranks keep moving a bit, but barring a few weeks when Ranbir Kapoor had found a position in it, the Top 5 list has remained unchanged.
The average age of these five stars today is 50 years. They have been the top stars for more than a decade now, if not longer, when their average age was less than 40 years. If the average age of the top stars in the business doesn’t come down over time, it is bound to impact the content being made. For example, you cannot take a 50-year-old star as the lead in a youthful romantic film. Hence, if you want to make an ambitious, big-budget film in this genre, you will have to scrap the idea, because younger stars do not guarantee the kind of opening required at the box office to make the economies work.
As a result, certain genres could move out of the mainstream over time, either by becoming niche and hence targeting only a smaller section of the mass audiences, or by disappearing altogether. In a category driven by the youth (65% of the first-day business and 59% of the lifetime business of an average Bollywood film comes from audiences in the 15-24 yrs. age group), progressive elimination of youth-centric genres is bound to dent business.
Even if a 50-something established star can fit a role, such as the twins in Judwaa 2, you have probably seen that star do the same stuff already (in Judwaa’s case, literally so), and hence, it may fall short of your expectations from the star. The big superstars are smart enough to realise this. Akshay Kumar, for example, has consciously moved away from his staple genres from the last decade – slapstick comedy and mass action – to offer message comedies and thrillers, and found good success at that.
The younger stars must be able to compete for the top spots to restore the equilibrium between the audiences, the stars and the content. Ranbir Kapoor was at the threshold of breaking into the elite league after Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, but a spate of misfires has held him back.
Over the last two-three years, Varun Dhawan and Ranveer Singh have emerged as strong alternatives to finish the task Ranbir Kapoor couldn’t. The task of becoming a superstar with a mass connect pan India. Dhawan has arguably his most important film releasing today. Judwaa 2’s opening is likely to be big, and the film could firmly establish Dhawan as the most saleable young star. Singh, too, has a big film coming up, in Padmavati on December 1.
In a year when a Shah Rukh Khan film (Jab Harry Met Sejal) could not even open well, and Salman Khan struggled to get audience attention with Tubelight, the success of Judwaa 2 and Padmavati can prepare the ground for a baton change in 2018. The top stars of today will continue to thrive, but addition of young blood in the mix can secure an industry that’s facing a crisis it would like to get out of, sooner than later.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.