Calling all teens and tweens

Shashi Baliga | Updated on March 31, 2011 Published on March 31, 2011

By GenY: Shraddha Kapoor and Taaha Shah in Y Films' Luv ka The End.

So it's official now. Yash Raj Films, ever the trend-setter, has launched a full-fledged youth films studio christened Y Films (spread the Y-rus, you are urged). Like a middle-aged man who finally marries his young mistress to make it legit, Yash Raj has now solemnised its love affair with tweens, teens, and the 20-somethings. Is it true love or is Yash Raj just interested in their money? As the B-town cynic might say, true love is to be found only onscreen.

The numbers tell the story: Over 50 per cent of India's population is under the age of 25. Even more significantly, over 65 per cent is under 35. Not only are the segments huge in sheer numbers, they are also age groups that go to the movies regularly. Unlike choosier older viewers, they don't wait for the critically acclaimed film; they will happily buy tickets for a 2-star movie if they are in the mood for a film. They might walk out half-way through if they don't like what they see, but then, the ticket window has collected their money.

Their tastes are, but naturally, quite different from older segments; their idea of romance, for instance, is I Hate Luv Storys. Indeed, the audience has changed so dramatically that a number of genres have simply disappeared.

Remember the family drama, full of teary women, heroes who spoke in ‘dialogue', villains who went ha-ha-ha-ha and an ageing mother who coughed violently every time the hero came home? That's gone, kaput. All the women who paid to sob through these movies are now doing so for free with the saas-bahu serials.

The family film in the manner of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…! (1994) has disappeared too; again, you can blame the TV serials, where the lavish wedding and the consequences thereof seem to take up the most screen time.

The ‘Muslim social' died a long time ago, dispatched by an era of terrorism and fundamentalism. By and large, women patronised these three genres and the movies lost a big chunk of the audience when they started staying home.

But they gained a whole new young segment, one starting with tweens and going up to the 20- and 30-somethings. And thus the rise of the rom-com (romantic comedy films). Another big reason for the popularity of the rom-com (and the coming-of-age film) is that the average age of those making movies has dropped as well.

From directors to technicians, film crews are getting younger by the year. Anybody who is familiar with the Bollywood sets of 10 years ago will testify to this change with pimply directors, assistant directors and their assistants now swarming around, handing out orders with (justified) confidence.

Punit Malhotra, director and quirky speller of I Hate Luv Storys, was 28 when the movie released. Ayan Mukerji was just 26 when his coming-of-age flick, Wake Up Sid, hit the marquee. And he had already spent quite a few years in the business before that, assisting Ashutosh Gowariker on Swades (2004) and then Karan Johar on Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). Johar was 26, too, when he came up with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, his take on the quintessential college romance of comic-book characters Archie, Betty and Veronica. The bubblegum colours of his movie said it all.

Johar himself had earned his stripes as assistant director on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), whose director, Aditya Chopra, was just 24 when he announced the New Order with DDLJ.

And Farhan Akhtar was all of 27 when he took Bollywood by storm with Dil Chahta Hai.

In fact, many of the movies mentioned have been landmark films that were not only commercial successes but shook up the old guard — and audiences — with their new cinematic voice and language. The films of both Ayan Mukerji and Punit Malhotra were produced by Johar's Dharma Productions and that's no coincidence. (What all these directors also have in common is that they are all industry insiders who have learnt about the business at the dinner table, but let's leave that for another day).

There are quite a few young directors outside the Johar-Chopra school of film-making too. Like Faruque Kabir, 28, who made Allah Ke Banday, or Kunal Deshmukh, who was only 26 when he made Jannat.

Now, I can hear someone say: Big deal — Raj Kapoor produced, wrote and directed Aag when he was just 24. Yes, but he lived in a very different India, a world which did not have CEOs in their 20s. There were not too many directors of his age around, or crew members for that matter. On Punit Malhotra's sets, for instance, few crew members were over 30.

Most of the campus crews come via television, where under-18s are common. Not only can they handle the long schedules better, they also come cheap — a big plus point for the producers of serials, who watch their budgets far more sharply than film-makers do.

We haven't yet got to our version of the teen flick or created stars like Hannah Montana's Miley Cyrus (though television has its Avika Gor of Balika Vadhu). But Y Films does say its first movie, Luv ka The End, will be an “anti rom-com”, whatever that turns out to be.

It also adds quietly that it will “sign new talent on the basis of the requirement of the script and characters, not necessarily limited to the 16 to 22 age group.” Now, it doesn't specify an upper limit, so there's no knowing how old they will go.

But Y Films is just being pragmatic in an industry where a 75-year-old Gulzar goes Dhan Te Nan, 66-year-old Javed Akhtar writes the lyrics for Rock On, Rajkumar Hirani, arguably the most successful director today, is 48, and the three big Khans will all turn 46 this year. The other two biggies, Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan, are 43 and 41 respectively. And if Aamir Khan could play a college student at age 45, the bubblegum brigade can't coast on the advantage of youth; it's got to watch its back even as it romps around.

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Published on March 31, 2011
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