What Makes A Medium Budget Film Work

by Biswadeep Ghosh - Apr 22, 2015 04:36 PM
What Makes A Medium Budget Film Work

Medium budget commercial Hindi films succeed very often because the producers are less ambitious and have interesting USPs (Unique Selling Point) that attract the viewer.

Big budget films can mean big turkeys. Pathetic marketing campaigns, in fact, the complete absence of one on occasions, kill many small budget releases. Somewhere in the middle are the medium budget films. Since there is no rigid definition as such, let’s say the ones that get made with a budget of anything between Rs 10 and Rs 25 crore.

Their producers don’t create garish campaigns of the Happy New Year kind; instead, they spend what’s necessary to make the right noises before the film hits the marquee. Reasonable expense, spreading the news, that is the idea.

Smart tactic, that. After all, why should anybody waste Rs 50 crore on marketing when no medium budget film can afford a male lead like Shah Rukh Khan, who has mastered the art of recovering his film’s huge costs in the first weekend itself? What such a film does have – and big budget ones mostly don’t – is a clearly defined USP. Tell the world that Naseeruddin Shah is romancing Madhuri Dixit in Dedh Ishqiya, that sort of well-strategised USP, which acts as a curiosity stimulator.

Thanks to revenues generated from sales at the ticket counters, music rights and satellite rights, among other things, a medium budget film has to be a wretched creation of a misguided mind to actually lose the plot. Do we have such releases? Of course, we do. Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla, the legendary rivals of yesteryears, had confronted each other in Gulaab Gang. A brilliant USP, since this had never happened before. So terrible was the film helmed by Soumik Sen that Juhi’s superb turn as the antagonist couldn’t save it from going down the drain.

Due to the combined star power of Madhuri and Juhi – memories do matter – Gulaab Gang might not have been as big a disaster as it turned out to be. But unfortunately it ran into Queen, possibly the best film of the year which, like Gulaab Gang, also released on 7th March, 2014.

Marginally bigger than a small budget film, Queen made at a cost of Rs 12 crore was an unlikely challenger before the release. The film’s USP was its central character, a role Kangana Ranaut appeared to have internalised as well as anybody else at her best could have. The story of a simple girl, who experiences a setback and eventually turns into a liberated spirit, Queen could have fought pitched battles with big budget releases had its marketing been far more aggressive. Even without any such support, it flattened Gulaab Gang and went on to become a super hit.

Not every USP delivers mind-blowing outcomes in terms of the quality of the film. But, there is an effort to find an extra something, an approach that seems to be paying off in terms of commercial performances if not critical applause.

Consider Heropanti, a horror film without a horror story if that’s even possible. The film’s fate was dependent on Tiger Shroff, the good-looking, almost unrealistically-well-built son of Jackie Shroff. Before the film’s release, Tiger’s face and ripples were marketed for months together. By the time Heropanti hit the big screens, he had already turned into a star of the future. The end result: a super hit from veteran producer Sajid Nadiadwala, who invested 21 crore in a film that earned thrice as much, worldwide.

For budgeters whose stakes are really high, worldwide collections of Rs 100 crore doesn’t mean much these days. Yardsticks are changing, with the Aamir Khan starrer PK having crossed the Rs 600-crore mark worldwide and set a new benchmark which every player must try to emulate. Investors in medium budget films don’t indulge in dreams of chasing the Rs 600-crore mark. They do not eye the far more modest Rs 100-crore mark either. They find some USP they can bank on, invest much less and approach the game of hitting the bull’s eye from a much lesser distance. In their attempts to earn points with the target much closer, they succeed quite often.

The Priyanka Chopra starrer Mary Kom, crossed the Rs 100-crore mark worldwide. The film’s USP: Priyanka, who is a big player’s dream, playing the role of the legendary female boxer MC Mary Kom. After Kom’s bronze medal-winning show at the London Olympics in 2012, this film had to succeed. And so, it did. Strangely though, once the film clicked which was inevitable anyway, hardly anybody mentioned that it had been produced for Rs 15 crore.

For Badlapur, a crime drama, director Sriram Raghavan made Varun Dhawan shed his romantic, cute boy-hero image, a move that was as surprising as the twists and turns in the film’s plot. Varun’s transformation was widely-reported, which guaranteed good footfalls before favourable reviews and positive word of mouth took over.

In Sunny Leone films, be it Ragini MMS2 or the recent release Ek Paheli Leela, male roles need to be curtailed. Sensuality must be highlighted, no matter what the film’s genre, and Sunny needs to rule in terms of screen time. Can the focus on the female actor be called a USP? Possibly yes, until viewers raise their expectations from Sunny in the acting department: or, if they suddenly wish to see her in ‘family films’ which will never happen.

Khubsoorat starred Sonam Kapoor in a remake of the original Rekha starrer, the USP of the fild being its re-creation with affection and intelligence. In Mardaani, Rani Mukherjee emerged from hibernation to play a tough cop who discovers a shocking truth while trying to rescue a kidnapped girl. Something must have convinced director Mohit Suri that Riteish Deshmukh was capable of looking beyond comic buffoonery. Suri cast Riteish in Ek Villain, a thriller in which he played a psychopath to near-perfection.

Both Mardaani and Ek Villain were different, since nobody expects Rani to uncover human trafficking or Riteish in the role of a psychopath in their usual films. These deft strokes to bring out the hidden talent in the actors and showcase them in unfamiliar avatars were the USPs, which attracted the viewers before public perception replaced inquisitiveness as the motivation. Ek Villain involved an investment of Rs 25 crore and earned five times as much, and Mardaani, nowhere near as big, reportedly doubled its investment!

Any medium budget film which has its priorities in the right place is unlikely to disappear from the face of the earth if the maker isn’t distinctly unlucky or if the product isn’t unwatchable. Not every such film succeeds; yet, the list of flops also includes many borderline cases which fail to recover their investments without losing too much.

If many producers are playing the medium budget game these days, it is because they wear life jackets before diving into the sea of uncertainty. They don’t hesitate to take a risk-fraught route, but they don’t wish to drown either. Makes sense, their choice.

Having started out as a journalist at 18, Biswadeep Ghosh let go of a promising future as a singer not much later. He hardly steps out of his rented Pune flat where he alternates between writing or pursuing his other interests and and looks after his pet sons Burp and Jack.
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