Farhan Akhtar On Bollywood Bole Toh: Movies Dying In India?

I’m sorry to sound alarmist, but here’s the fact: A plastic bag has been put over the head of the movie industry in India. The challenges before it are obvious. What are we doing about it? Absolutely nothing. Of course, at one end, there’s the invasion from digital space, which is actually a good thing, because it helps enhance content.

But what about the content that we create for audiences to view on big screens? It’s hard enough to tell stories we want to, given the censors decide what that should be. Once the content does get created, where do you even watch them? There are hardly any cinemas.

Plain statistics to ponder over: There are 8.5 cinema-screens per million in India. The world average is 47.8. Let’s hop across to neighbouring China that, until a decade or so ago, had very similar screen-per- population figures as India. China had 39,194 screens at the end of 2016. It adds 27 screens, everyday! So there are 35,109 Chinese people per screen, as against India, that has 1,54,241! The biggest Indian blockbusters get theatrical footfalls of less than 3.5 million people, from a population of more than 1.3 billion!

Let’s put this into perspective. Dangal does the best ever business here. It makes under Rs 400 crore. It’s also a Bollywood movie that does well in China—it makes over Rs 1,500 crore. Ever heard of a Johnny Depp flick coming out on the same weekend as a Martin Scorsese film, being touted as a huge deal? It doesn’t matter. America has enough screens. The massive “Friday box-office clash” between two big movies is an Indian phenomenon. Because we don’t have enough screens to even accommodate two blockbusters on the same weekend!

Forget people cribbing in Bandra, because they have to go to Juhu to watch a movie. You live in Uttar Pradesh, you’ll have to travel distances as far as Mumbai-Pune to watch a movie. Would you bother? I wouldn’t. If the supply is low, is it a wonder that the ticket prices are so high?

Until there’s a theatre in every nook and cranny, making it easy to get off TV/Internet, and catch a film at a cinema nearby, it’d be impossible to compete with alternate sources of entertainment that will only grow in the future. You obviously cannot cater to new audiences, unless you build new outlets.

More screens, equal more revenue, for the government. Should the state not incentivise this, as it did with initial tax holidays, when multiplexes entered the scene in the early 2000s?

When Indians go abroad, the first thing they get identified with is Bollywood, and the stars, and the movies. That’s what we’re known for. Yet, you’ll always hear — both from foreigners and Indians back home—that Bollywood only makes certain kind of movies.

I’m sorry, how are you supposed to tell all sorts of stories when there is a Censor Board that, on a whim, decides that now you can’t even show people smoking and drinking on screen—treating audiences like little children, rather than thinking adults. Where did a whole new 1.3 billion people who supposedly can’t handle different kinds of entertainment suddenly appear from?

There is a Shyam Benegal Committee Report lying with the government that relooks at censorship. What happened to that? Bollywood doesn’t even have a unified body, built on unanimous consensus, to strongly represent itself before the state.

So movies bring in revenues at home. They generate goodwill across the globe. Still, they are not taken seriously. Is it a surprise then that the film industry itself is suffocating?

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