Developments in Hindi cinema: Will the big kill the good?

As big budget movies with huge marketing costs become popular and movie halls change, will the big drive out the small?

Diwali is a time for new movies in India.  Two big budget movies this time decided to go for huge spending on marketing.  OSO and Sawariya together spent over Rs. 10 crores on marketing, swamping the media.  Money was clearly spent on public relations rather than overt advertisements.  “King Khan” was all over the place: watching cricket, dancing with cricket stars, doing shows, and being in any place that attracts public attention.  Even if OSO were not mentioned overtly in some of these, his mere presence brings advertisement to the movie.

PR worked wonders for these movies and the Hindi movie industry this diwali was reduced to “Sawariya Vs. OSO”.  A series of glittery events were organised in the run up to the two releases, and the two producers did everything to make the public forget that other movies are in the fray – effectively.  All English news channels carried an overdose of these and Headlines Today sold themselves out to this PR ploy. The growing Americanisation of Indian movie market looks terrible for the future of good Indian movies.  Not surprisingly, a Hollywood company produced Sawariya.

There are other signs of Americanisation of Indian movie industry that are worrying.  Small theatres with reasonable pricing are now being replaced by “multiplexes” that are a lot costlier.  Some movie chains are fast coming up.  When they gain market power, they are likely to insist on movies that spend big on advertising – reducing the room for small budget movies even more.  It is said that with the evolution of such theatres in the US, viewership of foreign movies reduced dramatically – simply because many of these could not afford the ad budgets and thus did not find a space in “happening” movie halls.

In a recent talk at Madras, Amol Palekar rued how Hindi cinema is going the Hollywood way – big in technique and empty in content.  Supporters say that such movies reflect demand. What they fail to ask is, what does demand reflect?  It is undeniable that huge spending and visibility that these movies generate keep these movies in public consciousness.  They shut out information about smaller movies – that may sometimes be better.  Good ideas for small budget movies will find fewer takers since ‘smallness’ itself becomes a market risk, and bigger a movie gets the more formulaic it will become.  Movies with established stars will swamp the media with growing PR touch, making small budget less known actors a risky business.

These trends are not new but are bound to become more acute with the growing dominance of electronic media and public relations.  With Hindi movies getting worse, I guess I will have to depend on other regional movies in India – and perhaps look to Iran to produce good movies.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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