Sometime in 1993, a man in his 20s loitered around in front of Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow in Juhu. The only thing he wanted was to catch a glimpse of “at least the shadow” of his idol. A hardcore Bachchan fan, he used to imitate everything from the actor’s hairstyle to his gait. Little did he know that in another 20 years, he would be calling the shots and directing Bachchan inside that very house. Neither did he know that he would be hailed as the decade’s biggest changemaker in the Hindi film industry.
Anurag Kashyap’s first film Paanch never saw the light of day. He had to wait two long years to see his second film Black Friday finally get a release. That was ten years ago, in 2004. Today Kashyap’s name pops out the moment you mention change and Bollywood in the same sentence. The reason being that he managed to make fruitful inroads to a commercially driven industry and brought in a whole new language of filmmaking to Bollywood. He also has some sort of a lineage now, with the variety of actors, directors and technicians he has introduced to Hindi films.
But Kashyap, although the best, was not the only thing that happened to Bollywood in 2004, which in many ways was a landmark year for the industry. Along with Veer Zaara, Yash Chopra’s epic Indo-Pak love story, there was also Anurag Basu’s genre-establishing erotic thriller Murder, the one of many to follow Dhoom and the controversial Julie among the names to remember that year. The queen B then, Kareena Kapoor, took a drastic turn with her act as Chameli, while her husband Saif Ali Khan had his National Award-winning performance that year with Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum. The Bachchan bahu shone brightly in friend and filmmaker late Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat and Priyanka Chopra was the vamp in a one of its kind twsited thriller Aitraaz. Imtiaz Ali made his debut with Socha Na Tha, Hrithik Roshan found his calling in Lakshya and Bollywood got its first mainstream movie that touched upon lesbian love Girlfriend. Vishal Bhardwaj kicked off his Shakespearean trilogy with Maqbool, Farah Khan opened her innings as a director with Main Hoon Na and Indra Kumar’s comedy Masti hit the screens this year.
A decade later, Bollywood is in the cusp of another change. The names are pretty much the same, with a few new ones added on. The box office cash registers are ringing as film after film breaks revenue records and the audience is happy that there is a whole lot of content to choose from. The Khans are still ruling the roost, but a few women like Vidya Balan and and Kangna Ranaut have proven that it doesn’t take a man to rake in the moolah. Actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkumar Rao, too, are finding a fan following, along with the Ranbir Kapoors and Ranveer Singhs. While one part of Bollywood still thrives on the Gandi Baat and Lungi Dance routine, there is another that is trying to bring in meaningful and entertaining cinema to the audience. And technology has taken a huge leap with films like Dhoom 3 and Krrish 3 being made solely using Indian technicians.
Change is here and how! But will it stay the same for another ten years? Who will be the next Khan, Kashyap or Balan? What will Bollywood of 2024 look like? THE WEEK speaks to the cream of the industry to find out.
Age of content
The word that has been used and abused the most this year has been “content”. And, this is what Kashyap believes will bring in change in the future. “Have you seen Titli?” he asks, when we meet him at his Andheri office. “Have you seen The Lunchbox, Peddlers and Miss Lovely? This is what the future will look like.” Agrees Sidharth Roy Kapoor, MD of Disney-UTV . “Good content will override every formula that is in place today, even star power,” he says. “If you look at the kind of films that are making money now, be it a Ram Leela, a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a Queen or an Aashiqui 2, we are seeing a massive shift in the audience’s tastes. None of these films have stars, yet they are commercially viable. Audiences are purely reacting to good content. The next decade will therefore be the age of content.”
But these are just a few of the top-grossers, what about Chennai Express, Jai Ho and Dhoom-3? Why have these films managed to make it if the audience is only reacting to good content, we doubt. “Do you know who the most successful director of the 1960s is, purely in terms of box office earnings?” asks Nikhil Advani, who has films like D-Day and Kal Ho Na Ho to his credit. “We always talk about Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Manmohan Desai while talking of that period without having any knowledge of the numbers their movies made. So bad content will never work in the long run. Not then, not now and not in the future.”
This year’s National Awards have also been an indicator of this change. While it was always regional films that bagged the top honours, this time Hindi films have literally swept all the major awards. The notion that Hindi films are all song and dance are also changing now. Anand Gandhi, whose Ship Of Theseus was adjudged the best film this time, says that for long cinema was dumbed down unnecessarily. “Thanks to an evolved audience who are readily accepting good content, filmmakers are now pushing their level of craftsmanship,” he says.
The advent of the multiplex has been what has ushered in this change, believes Lootera director Vikramaditya Motwane. Smaller films have become more accesible and they are ensured of a wide release because of the large rise in the number of screens. He cites the example of his debut film Udaan, which he says, “wouldnt have found a 200 screen release if not for the multiplexes”.
A whole new genre of “festival films” are also finding its way to the audience now. The next decade, feels Nandana Bose, assistant professor of film studies at University of North Carolina Wilmington, will see a rise in such festival films, the rise of what film scholars refer to as New Bollywood (small budget, well-scripted, genre-based cinema made for niche, urban audiences) and of blockbuster family films that reflect/promote conservative Hindu traditions, values, and culture due to the prevailing right wing turn in politics,” says Bose. The biggest deciding factors will be the actions and responses of the newly elected government to the kind of films that are made and the corporate giants who will dictate terms and regulate the cash flow in the industry, she says.
One thing most people attest to is the survival of the star culture in Bollywood. Be it 10 or 20 years from now, stars will still be idolised and their films will be watched. The classic example of this is how even in this day and age, thousands throng outside Bachchan’s bungalow every Sunday to catch a glimpse of the star.
“We as a culture love icons,” says Hansal Mehta, director of Shahid. “We keep creating icons and dropping them. It is almost like we have newer versions of an operating system every year.” Mehta says that he doesn’t see the star system going away any time now. The only way, he says, is to use this system to good effect. “In Hollywood, a star like George Clooney does both a highly commercial Oceans franchise and also puts his might behind films like Syriana or Darfur Now,” he says. “We are yet to see our stars do so.”
However, Advani disagrees that the stars of Bollywood aren’t experimenting enough. Unconventional is becoming the convention now and most actors are seeking this out. He feels it is unfair to blame the stars as they haven’t been bestowed upon this status overnight. “It is the same audience who are welcoming new content that is promoting stars and their films, too,” says Advani. “On their part, stars are also changing. Shah Rukh Khan did a Chennai Express and will continue to do films like that to make ends meet as a producer. But we have to appreciate the fact he is also doing a Rahul Dholakia (of Parzania fame) film Raees and a Maneesh Sharma film Fan.”
It is when the star takes precedence over the story and the whole process of filmmaking itself that we see a regressive trend, says Motwane. “If you look at the past, you will see that a lot of films had a great story at its centre, had stars attached to it and still were very entertaining. But somewhere down the line, the stories started taking a backseat and the formula took precedence, with the success of films like Sholay,” he says. “As children who grew up in the 80s, we never went to the theatres as there were no stories being told, just antics to glorify a single actor or a group of actors.” What we need to do is tap in on the market value of the stars to say a story, adds his partner and director Vikas Bahl.
The star system of Bollywood is also the base on which a lot of anciliary industries, like the beauty and fashion industries, are built. So it is unlikely that it will crumble anytime soon. “The good thing is that even filmmakers are becoming stars or celebrities now,” says Shoojit Sircar, of Madras Cafe and Vicky Donor fame. “Now people want to know who is directing the film. There is a certain star value attacched to the makers too. That is a good turn for filmmakers as cinema is a director’s medium.” With new actors who are not expected to go down the usual song and fight route emerging successful in the scene, what is expected is that Bollywood will follow the Hollywood model of stardom. “There will be clearer divisions like A-list stars and B-list stars,” says Bose. “Television actors will form the next rung of the ladder with reality TV stars finding a special place in the whole scheme.”
Women on top
In 2004, the mainstream had started embracing “women-centric” films like Chameli, Meenaxi, Phir Milenge and Raincoat. But it was only recently that the industry sat up to notice that films with women in the lead can also manage to be hits. The success of a film like Queen has proven that there exists an audience who are willing to part with their money to watch stories revolving around women. But what is problematic is that, alongside Queen, the other film with a female protagonist that has gone on to make money is Ragini MMS 2, which stars erstwhile porn star Sunny Leone. While the former talks about the journey of a woman to rediscover herself, the latter has been boxed in the newly-coined “horrex” (an unintelligent summation of horror and sex) genre. Produced by Ekta Kapoor (one of the most powerful women in the Indian media scene), Ragini MMS 2 stands testimony to the fact that Bollywood still objectifies its women.
Over the years, Bollywood hasn’t been an industry that has invested a lot in moulding its female characters. Save a few, all our films had at its centre a man, around whom everything, starting from the story to the supporting cast, revolved. The woman was always the hero’s mother, daughter, wife, lover or sister. Divya Dutta, an actor who has been in the industry for 20 years now, agrees that even offscreen a woman was always judged by the role she played in relation to the male lead in a film. “When I started out in the industry, I had played friend and sister to many actors,” she says. “A lot of people believe that despite having the talent I could never play the lead in any of my films till now only because of this.”
Although there is a small wave of change, it is still largely a man’s world, rues Kalki Koechlin. “The first question everyone has to ask when they hear about a film is ‘hero kaun hai?’,” she says. “What we need to do in the coming years is to make more mainstream or commercial films that deal with not just the dark issues surrounding a woman, but also on the fun aspects of being a woman.” Her latest film, Jiah Aur Jiah, treads the rather untouched ground of female bonding on a road trip. The idea is to do away with the concept that films with female protagonists are preachy and boring.
It is sad, but true that for the past two decades and more, it has been the Khans who have been ruling Bollywood. Many female actors who have played their love interests ten years ago have disappeared from the scene or are in what looks like the last phase of their careers. “Men get everything–good roles, the limelight and all the money,” agrees Kangna Ranaut. “It is annoying in a sense that despite having consistently given good performances, female actors always get quizzed about their limited ‘shelf-lives’.” The change has started in a small way with a few filmmakers writing stories for female actors, too.
Even women actors are now not shying away from playing their age or accepting roles which were earlier considered a strict no-no for them. Says Patralekha, who makes her debut with Hansal Mehta’s CityLights, in which she plays a mother of a : “The story is what matters, not whether you are playing a mother or a wife. My character Rakhi hails from a Rajasthani village and many girls there get married at a young age and have children early in their lives. The way women are portrayed is definitely changing because Rakhi is not the cliched village belle who hides behind her dupatta and depends on her husband or father to make decisions for her. She has a mind of her own and enjoys an equal stand in her marriage.”
The next decade will be a good space for women, says Jyoti Kapur Das, creative head of Viacom18 Motion Pictures. “Why are more and more female-oriented stories told on TV?” she asks. “It is because the people demanding them are mostly women. Same goes with films. They have been largely male-centric because it was always the man who demanded content in films and they have been the ones who were paying for the tickets.” With more women being financially independent, they are capable of demanding that content be created around them. This will increase in the coming years, thereby giving the right push to women-centric films.
Choice will be the flavour of the season in the next decade, and the internet will be the driving force. “Every laptop is a film institue now,” says Nitin Kakkad, whose much-acclaimed debut film Filmistaan is now up for release. “The kind of exposure the internet provides to youngsters now is unbelievable and it will decide the way films and stories shape up in the future.” The next big film, says Advani, will be the visual equivalent of Kolaveri Di. “The avenues available to filmmakers now are unlimited,” he says. “Anybody can make a film, upload it on YouTube, and use the social media to promote his/her work. Social media has brought in a kind of democracy to the filmmaking process.”
The CII-PwC India Entertainment and Media Outlook report of 2013 had predicted a slump in the growth rate of the film industry from the current 12 per cent to about 9 per cent in the next five years. Television will continue to remain the industry leader, says the report. This gives some weightage to acclaimed filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s argument that in the next decade all good and individual content will now go straight to television. During a discussion following the success of his film Lincoln, Spielberg pointed out that this could be his last serious film that finds a release. “Ask its producers, Lincoln just scraped through a release, my next film may not,” he said.
Not just television, the next decade will see a boom in terms of mobile and internet film viewing. “There will be larger choice in the medium that audiences choose to view their films in,” says Aseem Arora, writer of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. “The future is not on the big screen.” Kapoor both agrees and disagrees with Arora. “While I agree that there will be different avenues for viewing your cinema, we as a studio will keep trying to get audiences to the theatre,” he says. “We will try to use the advent of technology in such a way that the theatre experience is enhanced.”
Writer and filmmaker Amit Khanna goes a step ahead in predicting the future of Bollywood and says that choice will not be limited to technology and media, but even in content. “We are awaiting a revolution now,” he said, speaking at the 2013 CII Big Picture Summit. “It will not be long before we move towards films which will have multiple endings suiting different markets. It will be the same narrative but the filmmaker shoots two or three different ends depending upon the geography or demographics to suit those audiences.”
The visionaries have spoken and the changes awaited seem exciting. But what is to be done to ensure that all this comes into practice? We, as a country has the demographic advantage of having almost 50 per cent of the population who are less than 25 years old. This, coupled with rising spending power due to increasing GDP per capita, will ensure the growth in revenues from Bollywood, says the 2014 FICCI-KPMG report on Indian Media and Entertainment. “What is needed is to devise a blueprint which will guarantee that we monetise on these advantages.”
In the last few years, the time available between the release of a film in the theatre and in other media has shortened sharply. So producers and distributers try to make the most by making content available on different platforms, including broadcast and new media rights, merchandizing and gaming revenue. This will see a huge increase as this gap will further narrow down in the coming years, predicts, the Ernst and Young report on New Horizons in the Indian FIlm Industry. It might be possible in the near future that a film simultaneously releases on more than one such platform. “We are moving toward a multiple-screen world with each screen having the ability to consume the same mass of intellectual property in different forms,” says the report.
We need to concentrate more on the planning process, says Motwane. “A Hollywood film typically takes 36 months to plan and 12 months to execute, where as an Indian film takes 6 months in planning and 18 months in execution,” he says. “This should be reversed, with more importance given to the pre- and post production, which will help in proper execution as well.
“The most important thing to secure the future of the industry is to create an ecosystem,” says The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra. “This ecosystem of studios, production houses, filmmakers with truly independent voices, talent development programs, festivals with real curatorial authority and most importantly organizations and institutions dedicated to audience building is what has to be created.”
It is also important to embrace the advancements in technology as and when they become known to us, says Kashyap. “People have started to wake up to India and they believe that India can also make serious cinema,” he says. “There is a section that is proud of our mainstream, there is another which is not and in 10 years that section is going to find something to be proud of.”