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Recession Proof: Moolah Spinning Bollywood

Even as multiple sectors in India ranging from manufacturing to software report sluggish growth, auto and telecom sales have dipped, Bollywood has been churning out one big hit after another, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi

Though India’s economy has slowed, it is still raining Bollywood blockbusters, the latest being Salman Khan-starrer Ek Tha Tiger, that has breached the Rs. 2 billion mark in combined collections, only the second Hindi movie ever to do so, the other being 3 Idiots, an Aamir Khan movie.

The new benchmark — Rs. 1 billion in domestic revenues earned. A business level that was unthinkable five years back around the same time that India’s GDP growth had begun to decelerate. A series of movies have since breached the magic mark — 3 Idiots, Ghajini, Housefull II, Bodyguard, Dabangg, Ready, Singham, Bol Bachchan, Don 2, Agneepath and more. Given the talk of overall recession, economic uncertainties, rising cost of living, this is a remarkable achievement.

The current annual Rs. 100 billion Indian film industry is projected to grow to Rs. 150 billion by 2016, clocking 10% annual growth, double the economy. Bollywood, of course remains one of the two ultimate entertainment avenues that Indians love, the other being cricket, with the two often competing for business space, eyeballs, celebrity endorsements and more.

One cannot pin down one universal factor that makes Hindi movies such a draw. The majority watches cricket on TV for free at home. Watching a film is not cheap. Weekend multiplex ticket price when viewership is maximum, can range to Rs. 250-300. Parking could cost over Rs. 100.

Even driving to a cinema hall is expensive given the rising fuel prices. A family of four could easily spend in the range of Rs. 2,000-3,000, including meals that are usually mandatory in Indian outings, to catch the latest release. Then there could be some shopping as movie halls and shopping complexes usually adjoin.

This is when pirated DVD copies, with reasonably good prints, of latest releases are readily available for as little as Rs. 50 at any local market.

Predictably, the actors are the main draw — the Rs. 1 billion winners boast the A-list super stars —Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, all incidentally in their 40s, but supremely fit boasting six-pack abs, bulging tattooed biceps and perfectly honed hip thrusting dancing skills that form essential ingredients to any mainstream masala film.

This is important to appeal to a pre-dominantly under-30 Indian population, though the reach of Bollywood cuts age, language and socio-economic barriers. Movie he-man Salman Khan, whose robust bachelor life attracts as much gossip as the much younger Prince Harry, sits at the top in terms of number of hits.
Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
Again, predictably, top actresses, essentially essaying the role of perfect bodied dancing eye candies, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor, Asin too feature in the potboilers.  While the stars do matter quite a bit, it would be still be premature to assert that the big Bollywood hit story ends here.

There is clearly more. Script is important, especially with the ever-cerebral Aamir Khan or even the Salman’s Dabangg. But, they still don’t justify the collections. There are many creative efforts produced regularly, Vicky Donor being one such latest. But, they don’t gross Rs. 1 billion.

Indeed, blockbuster Hindi movies also offer an overall experience to the viewer that is unmatched in entertainment value.

A rich canvas that mixes at least some of the following elements is invariably fitted into a storyline that can be weak – fantastic locales, great music, latest fashion, hair styles, the accessories, eccentric dance moves, smart one liners, comedy, action, latest gadgets, fast cars, perfect bodies and more.

In short, the Hindi biggie panders to varied emotions – the viewer is transported to a supermarket of multiple stimuli all neatly packaged and arranged in a time span of under three hours.

The big screen is the closest to the real adventure, without the discomfort of wearing ill-fitting, skin hurting 3-D goggles - it could be traversing travel hot spots from Prague to New York to New Zealand or a visit to a high-end mall peddling latest shoes and apparel. Then, there is the story, music, the laughs and the tears, the hero and heroine up close, six packs showing or in a bikini that everyone obsesses about. And, the whole package is for just a couple of hundred.

It is worth every penny, with the audience yearning for a similar experience next Friday, when new movies hit the theaters.

The family invariably goes back home sated and satiated. In local dialect it is paisa vasool or money well spent. After all, an actual visit to Prague could cost Rs 200,000. Quite a few do that taking the movie cue, but many more do it too, via the great escapist Hindi movie experience, at a much lower price.

The producers could still price the tickets more and get away with it, I think.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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