<drop_initial>It has been over a year now since cinemas have opened to full capacity and without restrictions. Yet, despite a spate of large and mid-budget releases, the box office revenues of Hindi films has recovered only up to 75 per cent - 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

Footfalls are down almost 30-35 per cent compared to pre-Covid levels due to multiple reasons like 1) content not doing well; 2) most of the stories/scripts have been conceptualised in pre-Covid times and audience preferences have changed since then; 3) sharp decline in collections of small to medium budget films; 4) rapid adoption of social media makes audience reviews have utmost importance; 5) reduced frequency of the cinema audiences due to vast variety of content on OTT.

Star power vs content has been a big dilemma for the Hindi film industry over the last year, but the success of star-driven films like Pathaan, Drishyam-2, Brahmastra, Bhool Bhulaiya-2 have proved the point that star power coupled with content is the clear winner and increases the probability of the film doing well in cinemas. The Hindi film industry may make a strong comeback in calendar year 2023 and beyond if this blend is used well.

Winning formula

Factors that augur well for good quality content are 1) franchise led films ( as they have a strong recall), 2) original scripts (Hindi films need to create their own stories rather than creating remakes of Hollywood/regional films), 3) use of tech/VFX (Large scale production and good use of VFX and tech is needed so that it can be consumed in the 3D/Imax format), 4) creation of intellectual property (themes like spy universe need to be explored to capture young audiences), and 5) appeal to a wider target audience (Hindi films need to be made for the masses – pan India, as dubbing is an untapped opportunity).

As far as star power is concerned, the Hindi box office’s dependence on big names has been gaining traction in the post-Covid era. And it’s not just actors who have star value — in the new “content is king” era, directors/creators are also considered to be a star as their track record brings a very strong recall for the film. For instance, take examples like Sooryavanshi, Avatar, RRR, KGF-2, Gangubai Kathiwadi, Pathaan, which have been made by some renowned directors and have done healthy Box Office collections in the post-Covid era.

Large budget films accounted for 60 per cent of the Hindi box office in the post-Covid era, which was around 35 per cent in the pre-Covid times; we believe there is a very low likelihood of small/medium budget films making a comeback now, as only selective films with really compelling content may do well with robust collections (for example, Kashmir Files).

This is because audience frequency at theatres has come down in the recent past, despite release windows being rolled back to pre-Covid times. We believe the Hindi film industry needs to focus on releasing multiple large budget, star-driven and franchise-based films for the masses as cinema remains a family viewing experience. This in turn will propel frequency of audience to flock back in large numbers.

We have seen these kind of cycles in the past too (FY15-FY18), wherein the quality of content and approach needed a change. Post the transition and change in content, Hindi Box Office breached its own lifetime records in terms of total box office collections in FY19 and FY20 despite the launch of multiple OTT platforms.

There’s optimism that this trend will repeat in FY24 and beyond too, helped by the correct blend of star power and content— the only success formula needed for the Hindi film industry to get back its lost crown.

Karan Taurani is Senior Vice President, Elara Capital, closely tracking the media sector