Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh Khan is in the news. The impending release of Siddharth Anand’s action drama Pathaan with him in the central role has given rise to trending hashtags on social media, among them #BoycottPathaan and #BoycottBollywood, with the latter rearing its head for the umpteenth time. Also making headlines is his interview with Deadline in which he shares his belief that cinema will rediscover its ability to get audiences back to the theatres.
What did SRK say?
The megastar said, “Cinema viewing is not going to shut down anytime soon because I have been through these phases, television coming in, ‘oh nobody’s watching movies’, VCR coming in, ‘Nobody’s watching movies.’ It’s been 32 years, I have seen it through. Yes, there’s always a dent, there is a bit of a problem, but cinema changes itself and then comes back and invites people in hordes.”
He added, “When you go to watch movies in a theatre, it’s an outing. Films and box office have been affected. Because of Covid-19, watching habits have changed. But I think it will all settle down and films will find their space at the box office. Some films will find space on streaming platforms, and some will stick to television.”
OTT: A more powerful force
The OTT platform is not the VCR or satellite television. Neither, as we know so well, could eclipse the supremacy of cinema as a form of entertainment. That said, the OTT platform is a more powerful disruptive threat because of a variety of reasons.
The spoilt-for-choice subscriber of, say, Netflix, can watch one of the many documentaries on the OTT platform and opt for a regional language film thereafter. The sequencing of shows is not rigid, which is the shortcoming of television. The once-ubiquitous VCR allowed freedom of choice, but it forced the viewer to stick to a film s/he decided to watch. A theatrical release is similar, but it has the obvious advantage of offering a big-screen experience for the price of a ticket.
The OTT medium’s USPs are easy accessibility and diversity packaged attractively that is available for a monthly subscription fee. Moreover, many subscribers choose to watch a web series or a film online at home during the weekend after fatigue-inducing days at the workplace. Making them gravitate to the theatres after such a transformative impact on their lifestyles is a huge challenge.
Unappealing content is the real problem
Cinema changes because society does. Hindi theatrical releases have been changing, too, but most outcomes lack that X factor that can attract audiences to the theatres.
There have been exceptions such as Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files, a small-budget social drama on the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from their state in the 1990s. Agnihotri’s controversial treatment of the subject drew audiences on both sides of the ideological fence to the theatres, resulting in a surprise blockbuster.
Abhishek Pathak’s crime thriller Drishyam 2, the remake of Jeethu Joseph’s Malayalam film of the same name, has worked. The Ajay Devgn-led success story is the outcome of fine performances, self-assured direction and a gripping screenplay with intelligently made changes in the original story, also by Joseph.
The power of interesting content has resulted in South Indian theatrical successes in recent times. Rishab Shetty’s small-budget Kannada action mythological Kantara dubbed in Hindi impressed the viewer with its portrayal of rituals and customs in coastal Karnataka. Kantara’s success is a reminder that Bollywood must intensify its search for good screenplays of theatrical releases.
Prashanth Neel’s Kannada action drama KGF: Chapter 2, the bigger success among the two KGF films also dubbed in Hindi, depicts a world in which the protagonist’s larger-than-life appeal rules. Can the Hindi film industry produce similar films that force the viewer to suspend disbelief gleefully until the last second of runtime? Recent releases suggest that makers have forgotten how to do it.
Other obstacles for Bollywood
The urban viewer in times of OTT platforms is far more aware of diversity in cinema of all kinds. The inability to please this viewer is the reason why many lavishly mounted Hindi theatrical releases headlined by big stars have been struck hard by negative feedback, resulting in box-office failures.
The industry has antagonised a high percentage of participants on social media, who initiate and support frequent calls for the boycott of hyped films. It must find ways to reduce such widespread hostility, which will not be easy.
Akshay Kumar’s series of failures and Ajay Devgn’s recent success with Drishyam 2 after failures show that a film with a good story supported by first-rate performances will attract audiences to the theatres.
Can Bollywood regain its hold on the masses? It can be the day it realises the need for prioritising screenplays ahead of stardom and hype.
The author, a journalist for three decades, writes on literature and pop culture. Among his books are ‘MSD: The Man, The Leader’, the bestselling biography of former Indian captain MS Dhoni, and the ‘Hall of Fame’ series of film star biographies. Views expressed are personal.
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Updated Date: December 14, 2022 19:05:20 IST
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Shah Rukh Khan