Not so long ago people loved films because they were good. They eagerly waited for the release of a film with great expectations, some times because of a star, or a production banner, or a known producer or director. They knew what to expect from those films. Those were the times when films were sold as soon as they were announced and were not yet gone on the shooting floor. The films were shot according to a schedule and released methodically keeping the promise made by the producer to sundry distributors, exhibitors and ultimately viewers.
Those were the days when tickets were sold in advance, days before the release of the film. In rare cases like “Bobby”, “Jai Santoshi Maa”, “Sholay”, “Hum Aapke Hai Koun” and “DDLJ” tickets were sold in advance for months. In certain extra-special cases, the current booking windows did not open for months together. The “house full” board was a regular feature outside most theatres and men and even women who sold tickets in the black market built houses of their own with the money they earned. It was such a profitable business that even the mafia got into the game. Even before common Indians knew about black money, they were aware of black tickets.
That was the golden era of cinema when everyone knew the names of ushers and ticket booking clerks of the local cinema hall even if one didn’t know the name of the Prime Minister of India. Now, the audience expects nothing from films and does not bother much about what film is releasing when. Even a top of the line star can never be certain of the box office return on his/her film. Just a few weeks ago we saw how an invincible star was proven to be so vulnerable after delivering a dud. When even superstars and megastars cannot inspire people to get up on a Friday morning and throng theatres, you know for certain all is not well. Isn’t this a bleak and distressing scenario?
Why has the scene changed so drastically? Let us examine what has gone wrong with cinema business and why is it in shambles. We spoke to a few people while walking around empty theatres and multiplexes to find out what is it that keeps audiences away from cinema theatres.
The one major factor is the spiraling prices of cinema tickets. Families cannot afford an outing to cinema any more. They don’t have that kind of budget. In our random survey more than one family came up with the same explanation, “We could have better food and we could give our children a better education or a way of life by saving money that we would have to spend on seeing a film”.
It has almost become impossible for the middle and the lower income groups to go and watch a film in a cinema theatre. Cinema is no more a poor man’s entertainment. Only the rich can afford it. Unfortunately, the multiplex culture is encouraging this trend, which means deliberately keeping the common masses away from cinema by giving them an inferiority complex.
One can imagine a scenario where a lower middle class family goes to watch a film in a multiplex in one of those weekday early morning shows with affordable ticket rates and their young daughter suddenly has the urge to eat popcorn and drink Coke like other children. While the family bought the cinema ticket for about Rs.100/- per person, the price of a small popcorn-Coke combo is nearly Rs.300/-. If the parents satisfied the urge of the kid that day, they are never going to return to the multiplex for at least a few months. The multiplex management had its kill over the Popcorn-Coke combo but it also killed the audience of cinema.
Now, suppose you spend a few thousand rupees on the family outing to the nearest theatre, you will expect the film to offer some ‘paisa vasool’ experience. That’s not happening either. In rarest of rare cases do we get to watch a film that can be considered a ‘paisa vasool’ experience in true sense. Most of the time it’s ‘the money gone down the drain’ experience. Nearly 95% of the films that finally get released are unwatchable. You can only sit through them with eyes closed and ears plugged.
The audience is now trying to satisfy their need for entertainment through other means now. Social media has become the most exciting place with smart jokes, gags, and even shorts coming your way nearly free of charge. The flow is constant and the content is varied. Gags in films are pedestrian stuff in comparison. It also offers a wide variety of choices. If that’s not enough to wean the audience away from cinema we have satellite and Internet TV to compete with. They certainly offer far most varied and exciting content. Even the news TV channels offer a whole lot of engaging and entertaining drama.
Interestingly, the big film and TV producers’ associations that charge their members exorbitant fees and are sitting on huge funds have not bothered to conduct a serious and enlightening study of the phenomenon of ‘missing cinema audiences’. They should do it. That will help them understand the changing market scenario and evolve strategies to address the issue and help their members and save the industry.