Brand Bollywood: A New Global Entertainment Order

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Derek Bose

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    Dedication

    To my wife, Bhaswati

    Acknowledgements

    The inspiration for this book comes from Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra. I do not know of anybody else in the Indian film industry who has so seamlessly combined the art of film-making with the business of entertainment and made a success of it. Today, if Bollywood cinema is going places and should, in the near future, emerge as a global entertainment power, the credit for providing the initial impetus would rest squarely on these two young film-making entrepreneurs.

    I owe this book also to Siddhartha Dasgupta of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Rajesh Jain of KPMG and Deepak Kapoor of Pricewaterhouse Coopers for their valuable inputs and for parting with the reports of studies on media convergence in India conducted by their respective organisations. Without their help, I could not have written this book.

    Friends like Chandana Banerjee, Hemanth Vengali, Dharam Gulati, Arunoday Sharma and R. Venkatakrishnan also deserve mention for their advice and insightful comments during writing. To Raibat Basu, Vasudha Majumdar and, above all, my mother Deepika, I remain grateful for their encouragement and being beside me at all times.

    I wish to thank my sister Basushree as well for uncomplainingly going through the manuscript and helping out with the research.

    Introduction

    I do not know who is responsible for coining the word, Bollywood. Film factotum and man about town, Amit Khanna claims to be the first to have used the expression in a news story published some time in the seventies. From whatever archival material I have been able to gather, it appears that the Journal of the Bengal Motion Pictures Association had coined the word, Tollywood—way back in the thirties—to describe a certain kind of ‘progressive’ (read ‘Westernised’) cinema produced by Calcutta's Tollygunge Studios. Those movies supposedly approximated the kind of productions Hollywood was then known for, only that they were not in English but in Bengali. From Tollywood came Mollywood for the films produced by the studio hub of Madras, Lollywood for the films made in Lahore, Kollywood for the films coming from Karachi, and somewhere along the way Bollywood gained currency.

    The Oxford English Dictionary recognises Bollywood as a colloquial representation of ‘India's popular film industry based in Mumbai—a blend of Bombay (Mumbai was earlier known as Bombay) and Hollywood.’ As we understand, Bollywood cinema upholds a tradition of film-making replete with mindless songs and dances, star-crossed lovers, ostentatious celebrations of glamour and spectacle, lost and found brothers, convenient coincidences and happy endings. Many of us may not approve of the glycerine tears and tomato ketchup or the frenzied running around trees, the white sari drenched in artificial rain or the rising crescendo of a hundred violins. But these are precisely the elements that have not only sustained a brand of cinema for nearly a century but have increasingly found acceptance across continents. Whether it is Aamir Khan scoring the winning run in Lagaan (2000) or Sanjay Leela Bhansali making a meal out of Shahrukh Khan's sorrow in Devdas (2002) or Karan Johar coming up with yet another three-hour candyfloss romance, audiences in London, Cape Town, Los Angeles and Shanghai are responding to them with the same emotions as those who watch these films back home in India. Indeed, Brand Bollywood going global has become a reality.

    There are, of course, carping critics who debunk Bollywood as a ‘wannabe Hollywood’, what with a global market share of barely 2 per cent—that our ticket prices are the lowest in the world; that we are yet to produce a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000); that our films are screened in rundown theatres abroad, patronised only by expatriates from the subcontinent; and that for every Hindi film released with 600-odd prints on an average, there is a Godfather (1972) that strikes out with 14,000 prints. In other words, Bollywood going global is just a lot of hype and hope, perhaps holding as much promise as a passable item number in a run-of-the-mill Hindi potboiler. The critics are also quick to point out that the West has never been blind to Indian cinema, whether it was Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957), Raj Kapoor's Awara (1951), Kamaal Amrohi's Pakeezah (1971) or even the Mithun Chakraborty starrer, Disco Dancer (1982). So what's new?

    The answer to this question lies in the reasons a sizzling number like ‘Chumma Chumma’ from China Gate (1998) gets transposed in a mainstream Hollywood film, Moulin Rouge (2001) or say, Andrew Lloyd Webber makes a song and dance out of Bollywood's extravagant cinematic traditions in Bombay Dreams (2002). Indians, such as Shekhar Kapur and Mira Nair are equally at home in Bollywood and Hollywood. Even otherwise, with the economy opening up in the nineties, the boundaries of Bollywood cinema are getting blurred. Unlike most other industries in India, film-making does not attract any restriction on FDI (foreign direct investment). Giant Hollywood production houses and studios like Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox and Universal Pictures are setting up shop in Mumbai. Already, India has become an international hub for animation and special effects. Much as the Gurinder Chadha's (Bride and Prejudice) and the Deepa Mehta's (Water) make films ‘with an Indian soul in a foreign body’, the anxiety to reach out to a global audience at all levels cannot be overlooked. As any industry watcher will point out, never before has there been such a worldwide awakening towards Bollywood cinema and cross-fertilisation of film ideas and talent from the subcontinent. In effect, mainstream Hindi film-makers are beginning to realise that it is possible to intelligently design films that are viable both locally and internationally.

    If we look at the bigger picture, the possibilities appear all the more exciting. Today, no producer or director, big or small, depends solely on box-office collections—both domestic and overseas—for recovering his investments. The music rights he holds can well take care of his production budget. He holds the telecast rights as well, which can again bring in substantial revenue. Then there are a host of other rights for dubbing and subtitling in languages other than Hindi, merchandising and release of promotional material, in-film advertising and co-production and distribution treaties. Taken together, the returns from all these sources can gross up to more than anything a theatre release through conventional distribution channels might possibly generate.

    That is not all. Bollywood film-makers are now being presented with some never-before opportunities in keeping with global trends in the entertainment sector. Take, for instance, the mobile phone with which we are downloading movie clips, wallpapers, ring-tones and dialer tones sourced from mainstream Hindi cinema. As wireless uptake in India grows at a healthy 80 per cent annually, Bollywood has another revenue stream opening up for selling its entertainment content. Radio offers yet another lucrative option. Private FM radio broadcasters are dependent on film inputs for songs, news and current affairs as well as sponsored and commissioned programmes. Broadband Internet is another unfolding opportunity, insofar as home entertainment is concerned. Here too, downloads of movies, songs, stills and wallpapers have become the order of the day. Internet and gaming, not to mention home video (DVDs and VCDs) as well as live entertainment have all become part of the ever-expanding spectrum of possibilities Bollywood producers are being exposed to.

    All this would not have been possible, were it not for what is commonly described as the ‘convergence of the media’. And driving this convergence is technology. Thus, banking on the collections of ‘first day, first show’ has become a practice of the past. For that matter, nobody is talking about the FSS factor these days—the planning and strategy that goes into maximising box-office receipts on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of a film's release. Subhash Ghai may well have registered a flop with Kisna at the theatres in early 2005, but he has more than made up for his losses through radio and television, sale of music rights, mobile ring-tones and home video alternatives. Ditto for Ramgopal Varma's Naach (2004), Ashutosh Gowarikar's Swades (2005), Farhan Akhtar's Lakshya (2004), Akbar Khan's Taj Mahal (2006), and so on. For box-office hits like Karan Johar's Kal Ho Na Ho (2003), Rakesh Roshan's Koi… Mil Gaya (2002) and Yash Chopra's Veer–Zaara (2004), the returns are infinitely greater. In fact, it is very hard to lose money on films these days. If you walk down the streets of Amsterdam or are sitting in a pub at Sydney, you will hear Hindi film songs played on jukeboxes that you might not have known of till then. The films will have come and gone without your knowledge. Little wonder, many foreigners appear more knowledgeable about Bollywood cinema than most of us in India, all thanks to media convergence.

    Convergence is verily a buzzword, the new mantra of this century. And those who have not realised this yet are bound to be left out of the biggest entertainment revolution overtaking us. With every passing day, technology is making leisure and recreational activities cheaper, more accessible, convenient and personalised. The innovations being brought about are so rapid and all-encompassing that media professionals never tire of telling us that we've ‘not seen nothing yet’. Research groups like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Yes Bank, KPMG and Indian Marketing and Research Bureau have estimated that at its present rate of development, the entertainment industry in India would leapfrog from 4.5 billion dollars in 2005 and cross the 10 billion dollar mark by 2010. In holding a market share of 28 per cent—next only to television, which accounts for 65 per cent—Bollywood, without doubt, stands to be a major beneficiary.

    Where does this leave the common man? Here, I must point out that it is economic growth, more than technology or any other factor, which becomes the prime driver for the convergence of entertainment processes. Without a qualitative improvement in standards of living, the benefits of technology will not percolate down to the masses. You may go about flashing the latest gizmo around town—even get a Shahrukh Khan to walk out live from a flickering screen (so to speak) in an auditorium—but how does it at all matter to the man on the street who is unsure of where his next meal is going to come from? Raising aspiration levels is one thing, but affordability, quite another—especially where large sections of the population are denied access to the basics of livelihood. Entertainment can thus become a cruel joke.

    Fortunately, all that is changing, gradually but surely. We will again have to resort to the findings of research bodies tracking the income levels and spending habits of Indians. For instance, we have the international Goldman Sachs report of October 2003, which states that over the next 50 years, four countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC economies)—will become key players in the world marketplace. ‘India could emerge as the world's third largest economy and of these four countries, it has the potential to show the fastest growth over the next 30 to 50 years’, the report states. ‘Rising incomes may also see these economies move through the sweet spot of growth for different kinds of products, as local spending patterns change.’ It goes on to predict that ‘the Indian entertainment industry would significantly benefit from the fast economic growth as this cyclically sensitive industry grows faster when the economy is expanding’. As incomes rise, proportionately more resources get spent on leisure and entertainment than on basic necessities, the report adds.

    There is also the Nasscom-McKinsey study of 2005 which states that leisure spending in India will be stimulated largely by the IT-enabled industry (which will generate over two million jobs) and a parallel support/services industry (creating employment for another two million people). Besides, on an average, 30 to 40 million Indians are joining the middle classes every year, triggering huge spending on mobile phones, television sets, music systems and other similar goods, following a consumption pattern typically associated with rising incomes. There are other reports as well of retail consultancies which attribute consumption spending to increasing disposable incomes on account of sustained growth in income levels and reduction in personal tax. In this, changes in rural lifestyles and their impacting the growth of the Indian entertainment sector cannot be overlooked. With its vast size of 128 million households—nearly three times that of urban India—the rural market offers yet another huge opportunity that has, so far, remained largely untapped for reasons of accessibility and affordability. Growing affluence, fuelled by good monsoons and an increase in agricultural output, have created a potential consuming class constituting 40 per cent of India's middle class and over 50 per cent of the total disposable income.

    So far so good. But what these figures do not reveal (or rather disguise) are two fundamental ground realities. One, rising levels in disposable income do not necessarily lead to an increase in spending on entertainment. In fact, the contrary is true of a developing country like India. A jobless or under-employed youth is always prone to visit the cinemas, watch television, listen to music for hours and play computer games, simply because time ‘hangs heavily’ on him. The moment he gets busy, the finite aspect of time dawns on him. A day has 24 hours, no more. He could be earning well and improving his financial prospects, but his time-spend on entertainment gets severely curtailed. In so-called DINK (double-income no-kids) households, where both the husband and wife are pursuing successful careers, the television set is rarely switched on. The film trade has also realised that the clientele for multiplexes (usually located in up-market residential areas) generally watch between four and seven films in a year, not because they cannot afford the inflated ticket rates, but, simply, because they do not have the time for entertainment. In contrast, traditional single screen theatres in the heart of slums and middle-class colonies are continuing to do roaring business in spite of poor projection facilities, bad seating and unhygienic conditions in washrooms. The average cine-goer at these theatres has the time to watch around 25 films in a year. How he affords it is inconsequential. The point is, all industry projections of time-spend on entertainment activities shooting up from 20 to 24 hours a week to the Western norm of 80 to 100 hours, will remain a pipe dream for the present generation of Indians.

    The second dampener for any real convergence to take place is the scourge of counterfeiting. Who is not aware of the grey market for computer software flourishing right under the nose of the law? What have we done to curb audio and video piracy? How successful has Bollywood been at checking the clandestine telecasting of its films by unscrupulous cable operators? Intercepting satellite signals of Indian television channels by operators located abroad (to cater to a diaspora viewership) is the latest nuisance to torment the entertainment industry. Piracy or infringement of copyright laws is after all a borderless crime. Sadly, it is perceived as a victimless crime as well. Herein lies the crux of the problem. Unless, the industry is able to close its ranks and put in place adequate safeguards, there is no way it will be able to grow, let alone draw any advantage from the opportunities which convergence holds for the future.

    On the positive side, due to the prevailing trend of moving away from analogue entertainment packages—particularly in cinema, thanks to a rise in the number of digital cinemas—much of the leakages in revenue are being plugged. For once, top Bollywood producers are venturing into individual distribution arrangements so as to claim their share which was earlier lost to piracy. The number of Hindi film prints being released to overseas theatres is also rising steadily. Moreover, the emergence of professionally run international companies, who are exclusively handling Indian movies, has contributed towards an increase in the legitimate revenues of our film-makers. At present, with nearly 800 releases in a year, India holds the distinction of making more films than all the countries of Europe combined and roughly four times that of the U.S. It is thus pre-eminently positioned to call the shots in the international marketplace despite content being a perennial letdown.

    This book examines these and various other related issues which affect the Indian entertainment industry on its growth path. Since cinema is a crucial constituent of this industry, my primary focus is on Bollywood—the various challenges it faces, the unfolding opportunities, new concerns, stumbling blocks, possibilities and the pitfalls it is bound to encounter while heading in the direction of media convergence. Going by past trends, the future is doubtless bright, but it is imperative to get real and not be swayed by hype in order to make the most of the new emerging global entertainment order. Another word of caution: Statistics have a way of getting dated and tend to misguide rather than inform or enlighten. So I have deliberately steered clear of fanciful figures and charts, unless absolutely necessary and verifiable. The idea is not to present a status report on Hindi cinema, but a roadmap into the fast changing entertainment landscape of India—a revolution that is bound to touch all our lives.

  • About the Author

    Derek Bose is a senior journalist and film jurist. He is also the group editor with a leading publishing house in Mumbai, which publishes lifestyle magazines. He has worked as Features Editor with the Press Trust of India, as International Editor for Indian Express and as the South Asia correspondent with Asian Leader, a leading British newspaper. He has been extensively published in various journals and has officiated on the jury of several national and international film festivals. His authored books include Bollywood Unplugged: Deconstructing Cinema in Black and White; Kishore Kumar: Method in Madness; Bollywood Uncensored: What You Don't See on Screen and Why; and Everybody Wants Hits: 10 Mantras of Success in Bollywood Cinema.

    Apart from his love for cinema, Derek Bose is a keen Sunday painter and has directed several short films including the award-winning documentary, Dance of the Gods.


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