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Guest Article: Neeraj Vyas: The new Bollywood - How much is too much for TV?

By Neeraj Vyas , SET Max, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | September 17, 2013
New age movies showcase a typically urban mindset which may not appeal to larger television audiences.

For the past 100 years, Bollywood has evolved to play an important cultural role within Indian communities. Hindi films are not only consumed as entertainment, but have also offered viewers the emotional satisfaction of celebrating cultural roots and traditions. In India and elsewhere, Bollywood has provided the platform for meaningful entertainment and the opportunity for shared family viewing across generations.

Neeraj Vyas

Considering more than half the Indian population owns a television and a majority of them are one-TV homes, the content consumed in these homes is extremely controlled. Bollywood, for as long as one can remember, has encouraged collective family viewing.

However, the enigma and charm of cinema has evolved to give way to racier, realistic movies which portray life as we experience it. New age filmmakers believe in cinema that is hard-hitting, realistic and close to the bone of real India. While these films are well accepted in theatres, where viewing is typically in peer groups, the same films have not elicited similar success on television premieres watched by the entire family. New age movies showcase a typically urban mindset which may not appeal to larger Indian audiences, who evaluate on the basis of family groups watching a film and the 'decency' quotient of the material.

For example: The Dirty Picture, a bold biopic with all flavours of entertainment including songs, edgy dialogues and romance, is a colourful, well-created insight of Bollywood of the 70-80's. While all of it is good entertainment and well-received in theatres, to view this kind of content in the presence of an extended family is yet unthinkable in most Indian homes. This reality is true even for most urban homes, not to mention homes in small towns.

Although this evolution is the next natural step for the industry, it may not spell success for the movie channels at play. Most of our ratings come from smaller towns, typically catering to SEC C D E audiences.

That brings me to the next point. As essentially urban products, the shelf-life of Bollywood films has reduced considerably in recent years. The intrinsic repeat value/quality of a movie is a moot point. Films do not enjoy the 50-week runs in theatres and a television premiere is slated within two-three months of a film's launch by producers eager to book their profits. Films are sold to television networks at high prices and this is an area of concern. I have said this before, and will reiterate, that we must "figure out the right price to pay for such films, because none of the films have longevity beyond a point. They have limited repeat viewing value."

The total shelf life has reduced, unlike in the past, when films sustained post release and turned some movies into cult classics. The films today do not have a shelf life of more than two-three weekends at the box office (some even less). As a direct impact of the shrinkage of the longevity of the films in theatres, films nowadays do not achieve iconic statures like earlier.

Ultimately, over the past 50 years, Bollywood enjoyed being an integral part of Indian culture principally because of the familiarity of locations, the depiction of Indian home life - in particular, the extended family settings and even the themes used in the films. Viewers also identified with familiar themes such as family ties, honour, revenge and sacrifice, and action common to Indian mythology and culture. Elements such as romance, humour, societal issues, style, fashion and language, have drawn audiences closer to the genre.

Films being made today are creatively better, technically more sound, performance wise better and also show bold attitudes. Movies today are edgier, slicker and racier. While all of this is good from a cinematic point of view and from a theatre-going point of view, this does not work on TV.

In my opinion, Bollywood emotionally resonates with cinematic audiences as family friendly entertainment. Bollywood movies are mainstream entertainment made to be enjoyed by all generations of the family. As a film channel, we operate in that space and have to continuously protect those boundaries.

Although classic Bollywood lacked realism, new age cinema takes pride in the fact that it mirrors society in many ways. This evolution in the industry is welcome by movie buffs like me. However, it may not translate well for the movie channels as far as growth of viewership is concerned.

The writer is executive vice-president and business head, SET Max.