Thanks to the internet inclusivity driven by Reliance Jio, the pandemic, and the emergence of streaming platforms, Bollywood today can be segmented into two broad categories.
One, the traditional big cinema, or the Box Office, as many define it. This is where each Friday some production house or artist either carves a new chapter in history or becomes one.
Two, the on-demand platforms, with releases across the week, with new sequels and seasons every month, and with infinite possibilities.
When compared against the pre-pandemic era, the last two years have been about a spree of failures on the Box Office. Movies and artists that were earlier able to get the cash registers ringing are now sinking without a trace.
Commercial entertainers, including remakes from Telugu and Tamil movie industries, where one was supposed to discard rational and logic, are now being rejected firmly. Themes, directors, and artists that found resonance with the audience earlier are now opening to as low as zero.
However, the sinking spree is no indicator of the industry failing at large.
Instead, the producers and other corporate production houses are having the last laugh, for they have another avenue to explore, the on-demand platforms.
The likes of Netflix, Disney, Sony, and Amazon, eager to capture the Indian market, are backing many producers and artists. Once the darling of the Box Office, these production houses have now found solace in the inflated costs being borne by the streaming platforms.
The examples are many. Alia Bhatt’s Darlings made it to Netflix’s quarterly financial release for being one of the most watched movies on the platform. It was produced by Red Chillies Entertainment owned by Shahrukh Khan.
Rocket Boys on Sony Liv, one of the most critically acclaimed series of 2022, was produced by Emmay Entertainment. Khakee: The Bihar Chapter was helmed by Neeraj Pandey, another renowned name in the Box Office universe.
Bottomline; the actors were flopping, not the industry.
Since 2019, when Bollywood was oblivious to streaming and unhindered by the pandemic, producers were speaking of the inflated actor fees, going as high as Rs 135 crore.
This phenomenon continued through the pandemic, leaving some producers to ponder, during an annual roundtable discussion, that how could someone with Rs 2 crore opening demand ten or twenty times the amount as fee?
Why not pay the technicians, editors, and the crew members more that enhance the quality of the film, many producers asked.
The price correction in the actors realm has had an impact on the streaming output.
The year 2022 was a great year for even Netflix India (CAT, Khakee: The Bihar Chapter, Qala) which had so far struggled to appease the Indian market.
The last two years put together was about production houses willing work on better scripts, better actors (usually ignored by producers for the Box Office) and carving out a unique space and audience for themselves digitally. Actors are back on the ground, but movies and series continue to soar high.
The other reason why Bollywood continues to suffer on the Box Office is competition from Hollywood.
Today, audiences have access to the best series from Apple, Amazon, and HBO on their devices. Further, global high-grossers like Top Gun, Thor, Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange, Avatar, Jurassic World, The Batman and many more were able to displace the local releases with little trouble.
Disney’s Brahmastra was an outlier, but for a while now, the Mumbai film industry has been losing to both western and southern counterparts (KGF, Kantara, Pushpa).
It must be noted that the audiences are not averse to the idea of going to the cinemas, provided they are promised quality entertainment or a visual fest.
Brahmastra and The Kashmir Files are two movies that prove this. With producers, directors, and audiences that come from very different worlds, both movies were able to attract a significant footfall to the cinemas, and were the highest global grossers for Bollywood in 2022.
Some other movies worked too (Drishyam 2, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Jugjugg Jeeyo, Vikram Vedha).
The success of Kantara, KGF, and Pushpa in the North India region proves that audiences are willing to explore unchartered film territories as well.
Thus, the challenges for Bollywood firms are plenty.
One, to keep up with the quality to match the productions from both South and the West (Hollywood).
Two, to offer an impeccable visual experience, as the success of Brahmastra and delaying of Adipurush prove.
Three, to focus on the stories and scripts and not inflated stardoms, as the debacle of Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh proves.
So, what could work for Bollywood in 2023?
To begin with, Pathaan, releasing on Republic Day weekend would be a huge litmus test for the future of the industry. If the Yash Raj Group and Shahrukh Khan, coming together, cannot get a bumper opening on the Box Office, then the writing is on the wall.
Other than them, hopes would be pinned on the likes of Ajay Devgn, Kartik Aryan, and Salman Khan to reverse the monetary fortunes of the film industry in 2023. However, quite like Kantara and The Kashmir Files, there would be outliers this year too.
With respect to releases, Bollywood is in a far better place this year than in 2021 or 2022. However, what the artists need to be mindful about is the audience sentiment.
Bollywood and its audience have never been so distant, and this has led to two things. Representatives of Bollywood over-intellectualising issues they do not understand and some viewers over-politicising issues that do not deserve any attention in the first place.
Come 2023, and a balance between Bollywood’s economics and audience's taste could finally be achieved.
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