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Housefull
Year 2018 has been going gangbusters for B-Town as cinema gets truly democratised and new digital platforms are set to disrupt the equilibrium

Film folks around the world, more particularly India, are always a decade, if not more, behind the technology curve. I have seen it in Bollywood in the past 50 years. For example while Hollywood went mostly colour in the fifties, we started well into the sixties. We got stereo only a decade after Hollywood and so on. When TV started in the 1970s, Bollywood fought the medium saying it was eating into box office returns. Except for a brave few, rest only accepted the medium at the end of the century when Amitabh Bachchan hosted Kaun Banega Corepati. The other top stars followed a few years later. Surprisingly, most heroines are still shy of doing TV, though all stars will gladly do TV commercials or even dance at weddings. Similarly video technology, digital projection, digital postproduction, even editing, were shunned till a few years ago.

Today no film (there may be a rare exception) is shot on conventional film or with an analogue camera. All post production, including song recording, are done in digital studios. All films are released digitally. TV channels have gone digital. Recorded media like CDs and DVDs are on the verge of extinction. So from conception to screen, the entire value chain is digital. Globally too, a cataclysmic transformation is taking place as many large studios are being taken over by communication giants. New media money is the biggest source of funding in Hollywood today. The obsession of some filmmakers, critics and even a few cinemagoers with celluloid looks anachronistic. While a handful of countries led by China are still witnessing a rise in theatrical attendance, most of the growth in films is coming from non-theatrical revenue. It’s a trend, which is irreversible.

This massive disruption is usually traditional business is causing much debate and some resentment. There is also a lark back to good old days), I don’t know why. I have been a part of good old days and they were not what they are made out to be. What is eternal is our love for stories. We have listened to them, watched them even told the them since the beginning of history. Beyond a point the medium becomes irrelevant. With time new formats, in fact new art forms develop. There is no doubt the films are a major part of the Indian mindscape. For over a century, India has been obsessed with films. Our passionate love for any thing showbiz is a phenomenon. We worship movie stars (in South they even have a temples of a few stars) watch films many times over, sing film songs and many a conversation across India irrespective caste, creed or religion is peppered with references to movies. Arguably, the biggest social influencer in the country for a century, movies have attained a hierarchal supremacy in our collective dreams and aspirations. Our film crazy people will keep giving the business of cinema new bursts of life for a long time. India has the largest number of dedicated TV channels, websites and publication devoted to films. All other media feeds on cinema and this is one more reason that perpetuates the myth of movies.

With ubiquitous connectivity, always on Internet billions of devices are around the world are now are our gateway to information and entertainment. The sanctity of watching a film in a darkened auditorium is a generational hang up, like it is a generational thing to listen to music on discs and tapes. We have already witnessed the transformation where music is entirely consumed electronically from the humble radio to mobile phone to high-end home systems. Yes more creative people are getting paid to create their kind of music and address it to specific audience segment. Digital streaming and storage has not only enlarged the audience, it has given us more choice and in a way helped revive the live entertainment (concert) circuit as more fans now want to see the their favourites perform live.  Today there are literally thousands of curated playlists on the net and on a mere click or voice demand ready to belt out your favourites.  You have the choice of listening to the music of your choice on any device. You can even store your playlist in the cloud. Apple,  Google, Spotify, Gaana, Hungama, Sawan, Vibe and countless other apps and Over the Top Platforms (OTT) are creating the biggest eco-system for music worldwide personalised for each one of us. It’s a win-win for all — artistes, labels, stations and other platforms. Similarly customised home viewing of movies is fast becoming popular across geographies and demographics.

Streaming video has been around for over two decades but it is only in the last few years that on demand-filmed entertainment has caught on. Now OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Voot and Alt etc. are gaining ground in India. In the US, for example, Netflix is rewriting the film scene altogether, taking away audience in large chunks. Now with Apple, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Ten Cent, AT &T, Comcast, even Disney and Sony entering the screens, it’s going to be one helluva show. Last year Apple, Netflix and Amazon were the largest investors in film production in the world. In India too, the maximum money is being pumped in by companies like Reliance Jio, Amazon, Netflix, Star, Zee and Alt. Existing players like YRF, Dharma, Excel, Phantom, Vishesh,  T Series and Red Chillies and new ones like Applause (Aditya Birla Group), Hungama and Times of India are all making direct to video films and series.  Today the new digital movie services are giving gainful employment to young and old professionals in various segments—creative, technical, sales and marketing, advertising, legal and device manufacturers. The government also benefits from the taxes accrued and the employment generated. Some mega deals with major stars and these new media giants have already been signed by production houses in Hollywood and Bollywood. In showbiz, it is said that those who have the cash, call the shots. So we know which side the dice is loaded.

While convenience and cost are determining the growing popularity of these new platforms, some inherent weaknesses in Indian film industry are favouring this growth. Though the country hugely lacks cinemas and Indians cannot afford to watch more than a limited number of films, we are over producing films by a factor of 3. This is the reason why for the past five years, cinema footfalls are down sequentially, making growth of theatrical viewing not just difficult, but almost impossible soon. (China is the only exception, but there again the number of screens will plateau out in a couple of years.) India, which has only 9,000 screens, will in the best case scenario, double its screen count in the next 10 years by which time the whole scene would have changed. Rising cost of production and marketing, and too many varying entertainment options like live events, sports, gaming and social media (the time spent before a TV is 4 hours a day and talking and messaging on the phone is another hour) are other impediments for growth of cinema audiences.

If we look at recent trends in Bollywood (and other regional markets like Telugu and Tamil) or for that matter internationally, it’s the big star extravaganzas such as Bahubali, Bajrangi Bhaijan, Dangal, Padmavati, Golmaal, Judwa, Baghi, Toilet - Ek Prem Katha, Padman and a few unusual content driven films like  Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, Tumhari Sullu, Hindi Medium, Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety and the recent 102 Not Out that have done well. Recent results show that there are only a few genres which are working at theatrical box office today. Big action,  historicals, top star extravaganzas, romcoms and family entertainers. Occasionally, a political film works and sometimes an offbeat social subject. Dark films are a complete no-no in India. Also melodramas seem to have lost out. The audience is clear that it will watch spectacles and big star films in theatres and a chosen few quirky films. By and large, feel good films work big time. Overseas markets, if tapped intelligently, have the potential to become huge.We have seen it happen in China in case of the few Indian successes there.

On an average, a  person will watch one film a month in theatres (with our population this itself is a massive number). People will  go to cinemas for watching movies with all the bells and whistles — IMAX, 3 D, VFX, Atmos sound and VR etc accompanied by popcorn (or samosa or whatever) and colas. Often the food courts at multiplexes become an added attraction. A visit to a theatre is more like an outing. Most of movie watching  will be at home on different devices. The younger preferring to stream or download films from OTTs while the older opting for either TV premieres or simple TV releases. Appointment viewing will be a thing of the past and in a few years every entertainment will be on demand and customised for individual taste. Film makers are already thinking in terms of multiple story lines for their movies and other programmes, given that the number of films is not going down soon. Fresh capital from glamour-struck investors keep the cameras whirring. The digital revolution is Godsent.

For the first time since its invention more than a century ago, film production, distribution and viewing has been democratised. Many young filmmakers are today using simple Rs 20,000 cameras, even smartphones to make films. Anyone can put up his/her product on the internet and garner viewership. At present the revenue model is a bit shaky but in a couple of years some ‘payment’ model is bound to emerge. As it is, new platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and the like have much deeper pockets than any existing or past film companies. The sheer reach and scale will make even a token fee paid by individual customers worthwhile for creative proffessionals in the filmed entertainment space. What is important is that we learn to take the platform and the viewer seriously and not spew out junk and hope to get paid for it. It is just a matter of time when straight to platform films and programmes will be made by top talent in India. In five years, the digital market will become twice the size of the conventional theatrical market. The need to engage a paying viewer with a shortened  attention span will be the key.

India has its own dynamics. We are a multi-lingual and economically varied   and diverse country. This inherent paradox creates an environment where legacy media survives longer. So broadcast TV and radio will survive here longer than most developed markets. Quite like the print media, (India is one of the few markets where it is still growing in double digits annually) the overall size of Indian filmed entertainment business too will keep growing and is expected to rise to $6 billion (on a consumer spend basis) by 2025.  However, the structure will change dramatically. Theatrical release will be the privilege of about 150 films (in today’s context only 10% of the total number of films produced). This would largely be either big star films or spectacles and perhaps 20 odd offbeat films. Another 100 films in various languages will get commissioned by digital platforms. Shorter duration narrative films and documentaries will rise on account of increased viewership on digital platforms. Mini series will be another attraction. Immersive entertainment, musical shows, mythologicals, thrillers, comedy, romance, drama, edgy content, documentaries  et al will survive. The question is who is able to get a sliver of the wallet.

In this race, the new platforms will dominate, while traditional theatrical circuit plays the quintessesntial second fiddle.

The writer is an industry veteran and media guru


The Big Ticket
10 Big budget films to look forward to in 2018

Race 3

Whether it was by releasing on-location pictures with his co-star Jacqueline Fernandez  from Kashmir, or the racy new posters that hint at multiple plot twists, Race 3 actor and producer Salman Khan has kept viewers hooked with the publicity surrounding his next film. According to reports, Race 3 will mark Salman Khan’s debut in the role of a a villain, something he has scrupulously avoided throughout his long career.
Touted as one of the most ambitious Bollywood film in recent times, Race 3 is said to have cost a whopping Rs 120 crore to make and its satellite and digital rights are projected at a price of Rs 150 crore.
Abbas-Mustan directed the first two films in the uber sucessful Race franchise the third instalment is produced by Salman Khan Films and Ramesh Taurani under the banner of Tips Films. Khan has roped in Remo D’ Souza to helm the third. This time the makers have reshuffled the lineup for the latest instalment which will not see Saif Ali Khan as the leading man anymore. Saif on his part has taken the shake-up in his stride telling the media,  “Who better than Salman Khan for this? I wish both of them luck”.
Besides Salman Khan, Bobby Deol and Jacqueline Fernandez, Race 3 will also star Anil Kapoor, Daisy Shah and Saqib Saleem.

Why it’s worth a watch

The surprise package of the film may well turn out to be 90’s heart-throb Bobby Deol, who was last seen in Poster Boys. Deol’s career has been in a bit of slump for a while and Race 3 might be exactly what he needs to make a comeback. Salman  had motivated him to work on his physique and Deol   has been putting in the hours at the gym and even sharing a picture of his transformed self on social media.

Date of release

June 15, 2018

Sanju
Within hours of its release the teaser of Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic on Sanjay Dutt titled Sanju sent critics and audiences into a frenzy. The reason? The uncanny resemblance between  lead actor Ranbir Kapoor and Dutt’s looks. While the launch and the film’s tagline ‘one man..many lives’ trended all over microblogging site Twitter, the teaser garnered 16 million views in less than 24 hours on YouTube.
Sanju, which director Hirani claims will cover everything from Dutt’s drug addiction to his imprisonment and multiple marriages, has been in the making for more than a year and moved its release date quite a few times. It took a lot of time to even decide on a title as Hirani and his team were very clear  that they wanted a neutral title. Hirani revealed in an interview that ‘Dutt’ seemed a little harsh to him. Then he came to know that Sanjay Dutt's mother Nargis used to call him ‘Sanju’. 
Distributor Fox Star Studios is said to have bought the film rights for   Rs 180 crore. Fox Star is currently on a high in Bollywood as its six releases in 2017, including blockbusters Jolly LLB 2, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Judwaa 2, earned about Rs 440 crore in domestic collections alone.
Why it’s worth a watch
The films lead actor Ranbir Kapoor, who hasn’t tasted success at the box office for a while, could certainly do with a hit.  Kapoor’s last release, the insipid Jagga Jasoos, was a damp squib. Kapoor’s next outing in Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil fared a little better at the box-office taking home Rs112 crore but trade experts believe Kapoor’s last legitimate hit was Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani which released way back in 2013. Kapoor is widely considered to be a powerhouse of talent and fans are hoping this film puts him back in the reckoning.
Date of release
June 29, 2018

Thugs of Hindostan

A story of crime and retribution, Thugs of Hindostan is  based on the 1839 English novel, Confession of a Thug by Philip Meaor Taylor which was based on the Thuggee cult that was prevalent during the British Raj in India. The film tells a fictional story set between 1790 and 1805.
The protagonist Ameer Ali is portrayed by Aamir Khan. The film also stars Amitabh Bachchan, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Katrina Kaif.  Lead actor Aamir Khan who will be seen as a conniving criminal in the film told the media that his character in the film isn’t someone you could trust. “Thugs of Hindostan is a big action-adventure film. There’s no message in that. I am playing a character who cannot be trusted at all – [so it’s the] very opposite of Dangal … He’s a very slippery character. He has no scruples at all — for money he can sell his mother out. He’s like that,” he said about the role. But [the character] is a very entertaining guy. So it’s a very entertaining kind of a film. (The film has ) No message this time. Just have a good time,” he added. The film is directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya. This is Khan's second time collaborating with Acharya and Katrina Kaif, after Dhoom 3 (2013).
According to reports the makers of Thugs Of Hindostan are planning to release the film simultaneously in India and China.
Aamir is already a huge star in China and with Thugs of Hindostan releasing simultaneously in India and China, it is assumed the film can break his previous films records in overseas market.
Why it’s worth a watch
The film's production budget is ₹210 crore (US$32 million), making it the most expensive Yash Raj Films production
Date of release
november 7, 18

2.0

2.0 is an upcoming Indian science fiction film written and directed by S. Shankar, co-written by B. Jeyamohan and produced by Subaskaran Allirajah. Touted as the ‘spiritual successor’ to the 2010 Tamil film Enthiran, 2.0 features Southern superstar Rajinikanth who reprises the roles of Dr. Vaseegaran and Chitti, alongside Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson. The film is produced by Lyca Productions and with an estimated budget of Rs 450 crore, it is said to be the most expensive Indian film made to date.
After the success of Enthiran, Shankar held initial discussions with Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan, and then Vikram about acting in a sequel but nothing  materialised. Subsequently, Shankar’s team held talks with Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who agreed to work on the film for a record remuneration but the talks ultimately fell through for reasons that have never been made public. The film is being shot simultaneously in Tamil and Hindi with a release date yet to be confirmed and additional dubbed releases in several other languages including Telugu. 2.0 was earlier planned for a release on Diwali last year but the film was postponed due to the post-production work. The makers  have explained the VFX work for the film is taking a longer time than expected.
Why it’s worth a watch
Apart from Rajinikanth, 2.0 also stars Bollywood star Akshay Kumar in the lead, who is reported to be playing the main antagonist.
Date of release
end of 2018 (to be announced)

Gold

Gold has been long rumoured to be a biopic based on the life of former hockey legend Balbir Singh, who led India to its first ever independent Olympic win in 1948. But its makers are quick to point out that the film is a fictional tale based on the backdrop of the win. Talking about the film, the director Reema Kagti said, “Mine would be a fictional take on what actually happened. The game of hockey would feature prominently in the plot. But there will also be a strong human drama playing at the forefront. And it wouldn’t be just the Olympics victory in 1948 we will be looking at. Gold will look at 12 crucial years in India’s history.”
The film’s co-producer Ritesh Sidhwani also clarified that the film is not a biopic. “It is a completely fictional story but it is set against a real backdrop between 1933-48 India about what the country was, the sports… About hockey. It is not based on any character.” The film, which also stars Mouni Roy and Amit Sadh in pivotal roles, will see Akshay Kumar in a never-seen-before avatar of a Bengali hockey coach who is deeply in love with his country and the sport of hockey. In an interview  Kagti explained what motivated her to make a film on  hockey. “I’ve always been interested in the great sports films. I can watch them over and over again. And I wanted to direct a sports film. It wasn’t until my friend the lyricist-writer Ankur Tiwari shared the idea of a film on a historic hockey match that India played at the 1948 Olympics and brought home India’s first gold medal, that I finally got down to doing my own sports film.”
Why it’s worth a watch
Arjuna Award winner and former Indian national hockey team captain, Sandeep Singh, was signed to train the actors to improve their hockey skills.
Date of release
August 15, 2018

Manikarnika

Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi has been making headlines ever since it went on the floors. The upcoming epic biographical film is based on the life of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi,  the  nineteenth-century queen of Jhansi. Laxmi Bai is a prominent figure in Indian modern history.  Queen star and National Award winning actress Kangana Ranaut will play the title role of Rani Laxmibai. The biographical period drama will be based on the warrior queen’s war with the British East India Company during the 1857 revolt.
Producer Kamal Jain explained that the film celebrates the legendary queen’s bravery and patriotism, “The film shows Rani Laxmibai in a respectful manner. We have taken care about portraying her including consulting historians and scholars in Jhansi. She was a freedom fighter and one of the most respected leader our country has seen. She is a symbol of valour in our country. The film’s story depicts the same.

This film also marks the Bollywood debut of popular TV actor Ankita Lokhande who plays Jhalkari Bai, who was one of Rani Laxmibai’s most trusted aides.
Why it’s worth a watch
The film began shooting in 2017 and quickly came under fire from a Brahmin outfit in Rajasthan which claimed that the movie has an “indecent portrayal” of Rani Laxmibai, who was a Brahmin. The main objection is against an apparent depiction of the queen as represented in a book written by the London-based author, Jaishree Misra called Rani which was banned in Uttar Pradesh in 2008 by the then Mayawati-led government. In the historical fiction written by Mishra, Laxmibai is shown to be involved in an affair with a British officer Robert Ellis. The filmmaker have vehemently denied any such portrayal.
Date of release
April 27, 2018

Student of the Year 2

Student Of The Year 2 is a sequel to the 2012 romantic comedy, Student Of The Year which launched the  careers of Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra who went on to make a name for themselves in Bollywood. Directed by Karan Johar the films was a huge  box office success. The sequel is directed by Punit Malhotra, is distributed by Fox Star Studios and produced by Dharma Productions. After a long wait, the much anticipated film has finally gone on the floors and stars Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria and Ananya Pandey in the lead roles.
Reports about the much anticipated Student Of The Year 2 have been making the rounds for quite a while  with photographs of the young actors Tiger Shroff, Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria who are currently busy shooting in Mussoorie being widely shared on social media.
Reports suggest that in the sequel Tara and Ananya will compete against each other to win Tiger's heart. After wrapping with the Mussoorie schedule the crew will reportedly return to Mumbai and then head to Pune for another month-long schedule.

Why it’s worth a watch
Audiences will be eager to see if young Tiger Shroff, who has been declared Bollywood’s new action hero  can work his magic at the box-office in a film with limited scope for violence. The film also marks the Bollywood debut of 80s star Chunky Panday’s daughter Ananya. Proud father Panday revealed he had tears in his eyes when he saw the first posters of Ananya from the film. It has also been reported that ‘first batch students’ Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra will appear in a cameo.
Date of release
November 23, 2018

Sui Dhaaga
Anushka Sharma essays the role of an embroiderer and Varun Dhawa plays a tailor in the heart-warming film Sui Dhaaga (Needle and Thread). The release of a few posters have set the tone of the film which promotes the campaign of Make In India.

In the first look of Sui Dhaaga, Anushka is portrayed as a simpleton named Mamta who wears a saree, bangles and blushes like any 90s or 80s newly married girl would. Varun Dhawan is a young man named Mauji who takes you back to a bygone era with his moustached look. Sui Dhaaga is film about finding love and respect through self-reliance. Principal photography began at Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh in February 2018. About the film, Varun said, “From Gandhiji to Modiji (Narendra Modi), our country's leaders have always endorsed the mantra of Made in India. With Sui Dhaaga, I am proud to take their message to millions of movie lovers in a manner that is entertaining and relevant. I really liked the script Sharat had written and I am happy that I am teaming up with YRF on this movie. Anushka and I are teaming up for the first time so I am sure there will be fireworks.”

Actor Anushka Sharma added, “It's a story of self-reliance that I believe will connect with every Indian. And I am really looking forward to work with Varun and the team of Maneesh and Sharat.”

Why it’s worth a watch

Apart from the unusual lead pair, the film is directed by Dum Laga Ke Haisha director Sharat Katariya.

Date of release

september 28, 2018

Simbaa

Bollywood has a new super cop and he goes by the name Sangram Bhalerao! Ranveer Singh   will soon be seen in his cop avatar, complete with the handlebar moustache and aviators,  in the action flick Simbaa, directed by Rohit Shetty and co-produced by Karan Johar.  Karan and Ranveer took to their social media handles and shared the first look of Ranveer as Inspector Sangram Bhalerao. Karan said, “It has been years since Rohit Shetty evinced interest in remaking Ram Lakhan, that cult action comedy, with Ranveer Singh starring as Lakhan — a never-do-gooder who becomes a cop and was originally played by Anil Kapoor. But that was not to be. So, Ranveer and Rohit did the next best thing — brought Karan Johar on board as the producer and decided to make a cop drama called Simbaa.” Director Rohit  Shetty was quick to ward of comparisons. “No, the Ram Lakhan remake is not happening. Two stars don’t want to work together, they just want to promote each other’s films. This young lot, they will tweet for each other, but they will not work with each other.”

Recent reports claim the film is loosely based on Jr NTR-starrer Temper. “We have bought the rights of Temper but our film is not exactly a remake. We wanted to take four-five scenes from Temper but we thought it’s better to buy the rights,” explained Rohit.

Why it’s worth a watch

Sara, the beauteous daughter of actor Saif Ali Khan, is expected to make her Bollywood debut with this film. Her first film was supposed to be Kedarnath but the film is supposedly in troubled waters due to a fight between director Abhishek Kapoor and the producer.

Date of release
dec 28, 2018

zero

One of the most awaited films of this year, Shah Rukh Khan’s  Zero has already created a buzz among fans. If reports are to be believed then Shah Rukh Khan will be seen playing the role of a vertically challenged man. The plot follows Khan as a man of short stature, who falls in love with a superstar played by actor Katrina Kaif. Anushka Sharma portrays the character of a girl with intellectual disability. Directed by Aanand L. Rai Zero is a romantic drama written by Himanshu Sharma.

Rai conceived the film in 2012 after watching Krrish and drawing parallels of the titular character with that of American superheroes such as Spider-Man, Batman and Superman. He appreciated the achievements of Indians having their own superhero film but felt wary of the outreach, saying, “I loved seeing Hrithik (Roshan) fly off a 250-feet building, it was brilliantly done, but deep down I felt this wasn’t us. Apart from our mythological demigods, Indians aren’t ready for superheroes, we are still short in height. That’s what made me want to live life from the perspective of a dwarf.” The film was initially titled Katrina Meri Jaan. However, this was later scrapped because the producers thought the title would be too misleading to people and make them presume the film was about Kaif.

The film also boasts of a  a special performance by Salman Khan. Apart from him, Rani Mukerji, Kajol, Karisma Kapoor, and Alia Bhatt, will also be seen in cameos.

Why it’s worth a watch

Zero also marks the last film appearance of Sridevi, who died on February 24 shortly after completing the film. Khan is the fourth actor of normal stature in Indian cinema to play a little person after Kamal Haasan in Apoorva Sagodharargal (1989), Johnny Lever in Aashiq (2001) and Anupam Kher in Jaan-E-Mann (2006).

Date of release
Dec 21, 2018