How has the pandemic affected Bollywood and the entertainment industry in general? Will the entertainment industry, especially the theatrical movie industry, get back to how it was? Why do Spider-Man and some Southern movies do well at the box office, while Hindi movies struggle? Is there a need for a collective course correction for Bollywood, and is there a need to reach out and rebuild our bases among the masses? These are questions that are constantly discussed. These questions have been asked in various forums as well as in private. I will try to build a story of answers to answer them.
For Bollywood, the pandemic was not or is not a bad dream from which it will just wake up. Rather, it’s like a long tunnel that took us to a different landscape, a landscape that has similarities to our previous world but that has changed dramatically. It feels like you’re or being inside a time machine, and the film industry hasn’t picked up where it left off two years ago.
So what has changed? Why is the world of entertainment not the same since the first lockdown in March 2020?
OTT. OTT. OTT
Those who say that the introduction of a new medium is never a game-changer for existing media are telling us, at best, a half-truth. Imagine India in 1965 when Dev Anand’s Guidebook first came out. The only forms of mass media that existed outside of cinema were radio and newspapers. Now imagine if this continues to be the case even today. While we would have had many more movie screens to watch the same movie, and the movie industry would have been much larger in terms of financial size, the means of consuming entertainment would have remained unchanged.
But television came along, so did satellite channels, and the Internet followed. Then came social media and now we have streaming services. Technology is always making changes in the way we live, and if it doesn’t kill the old, it certainly changes it.
OTT has changed audiences in remarkable ways and for the better. The pandemic lockdown has acted as a massive catalyst to popularize streaming platforms. What would have taken us ten years has happened in the last two. The audience came across a box of Pandora content. We watch Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Israeli content, enjoying and celebrating it like never before. Our entertainment industry competes with Money Heist, Squid Game, and Fauda, as well as local shows like Mirzapur, Paataal Lok, and The Family Man. Regional content from across India is also a major player in this content renaissance. Bollywood has found a place to release its films on OTT platforms, but it knows full well that for Hindi (or any other language) cinema and its stars to survive in the long term, theatrical flourishing is a must. It is the magic of box office numbers that creates fame.
OTT has set the bar for content very high. It made our audience expect more from their listening time. This syndrome has the power to improve the content of our films. This will push the creators of cinematic content out of their comfort zone.
Rise of Hollywood and South India
To be fair, this is a pre-pandemic trend that gained momentum as the market reopened. Hollywood ‘event’ films like Spider-Man: No Way Home which are gaining a massive opening across all film markets and demographics in India, is a stark reminder of a trend that has started to emerge with Marvel films like The Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Disney’s The Jungle Book.
Pushpa, a Telugu film dubbed in Hindi, starring an actor who has never made a film in Hindi, is likely to make more than Rs 50 crore net in Hindi markets. This is inexplicable even if we take Baahubali syndrome into account. Allu Arjun seems to have had dormant fan cells, deep within the Hindi heart. What makes the young at heart Hindi who grew up on the staple Bollywood diet go crazy over Prabhas, Allu Arjun and junior NTR? Do they relate more to content produced by the south?
Social conversations and value systems
While the pandemic lockdown period was almost sterile for businesses except for the OTT versions, social media was abuzz with conversations about Bollywood. The lack of responsibility, the right, the display of privilege on social media, while the common man was in pain, became a constant topic of conversation. The lack of Friday releases did not help the disconnect Bollywood was developing with the collective consciousness of our society. In fact, it accelerated the process of alienation.
Cumulatively, WE have a job to do
Entertainment marketers are a small community and we need to understand that our job is not just to sell but to connect. We need a road map. This 100-year-old industry continues to have a profound impact on the making of our pop culture. He also has a lot of inherent strength. Change is not necessarily a crisis until it has become one through lack of recognition or inflexibility. Each change brings in itself a set of opportunities. The challenge from OTT content can revolutionize cinematic content in India.
The coexistence of OTT and the theatrical form of entertainment is perhaps the best news for the creative talent of our country as well as for the public. Collaboration with southern industry can create a truly pan-Indian film industry. Bollywood stars and their choices continue to be consumed in various industries and consumer segments in India.
What needs to be done is recognize a changing environment and an urgent need to connect with the masses. Content that captures the imaginations of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities is what we desperately need, and we need young stars who can speak to various Indian audience segments simultaneously. The job is done for filmmakers and marketers like me.
The writer is the founder of Spice PR and Entropy digital.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are those of the author.