The 100-Crore Syndrome
Despite the initial spurt of monsoon the sewage in the Mithi river that dissects tinsel town before drowning itself in the Arabian sea, the debate and controversy around films ostensibly doing Rs 100-crore business shows no signs of convergence. For the uninitiated this river is both the bane and the lifeline of Mumbai as it changes colours, becoming a natural confluence of overflow of rain water from Vihar to Pawai lakes before merging into the sea. And when it dries up it is a spectacle of municipal and industrial waste from which stink rises to pollute the air. The same is the case with the business of cinema. It is the monsoon fury when a film is declared a big hit, or a flop. Once upon a time it was measured by the number of weeks it runs at the movie theatre which, with the turn of the century of even a little before that how many days in lasts in the theatres. The advent of multiplexes with 10 shows a day was bound to change the concept and complexion.
During the last couple of years a new disease has inflected the film makers and the stars who work in them: the 100-crore business drama that is gradually shaping into an unhealed wound; a yardstick of box office success without any one really getting into the nitty-gritty of business, or actual facts. The fumes and the fury continue unabated since Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s came down heavily on Rowdy Rathore being declared a 100 crore hit. In retaliation, his detractors match fury with fury and declared his Ferrari ki Sawaari a complete dud, both seem true. Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Rowdy Rathore, another remake of a Tamil and Telegu hits Sivithai and Vikramarkadu—directed by Prabhudeva, with reckless violence and no storyline has been declared a successor to Ghajini (a Tamil original also directed by AR Murugadoss), 3 Idiots (an original adapted from a Chetan Bhagat novel), Dabangg (it reversed the trend as it was later remade in Tamil and Telegu), Ready (remake of 2008 Telegu hit by Sreenu Viatla, Bodyguard (a remake of the Malayalam with the same title and Tamil Kavalan by the same director, Siddique), Singham (a remake of Tamil Singam), Agneepath (a modernized version of Amitabh Bachchan starrer by the same banner directed by the late Mukul S Anand) by Karan Malhotra, Houseful 2 (action-comedy, slapstick rolled into one by Sajid Khan an original nevertheless, the last being also not in the same league.
Unlike films in the 1980s made essentially for the front benchers, with stories set in a rural background that made Amitabh Bachchan the megastar a close look will indicate nothing has changed, except, perhaps, an intended popular number now re-designated ‘item number’ (a vamp or a cabaret girl in the past) and the hero’s love interest that had, sadly, given secondary import in the Bachchan movies. All revenge dramas, avenging the wrongs done by the local mafia committing atrocities on hapless underdogs through direct political patronage the common element in these 100-crore blockbusters most authentically incorporated in the Singham narrative, partially hinted at in Wanted (adapted from Puri Jagannadh’s Telegu blockbuster, Pokiri by Prabhudeva who also wielded the megaphone in Rowdy Rathore.
Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s castigation of the 100-crore syndrome matches the fury of monsoon that is lashing out Mumbai. He seemed to have put his left foot in mouth again when he said, on the eve of the release of Ferrrari ki Sawaari: “It is shameful that today people define cinema with such tags. Cinema is cinema. Do not judge it as 100-crore film. Our films have done much more business than 100-crores. We have even reached Rs 400-crores (supposedly with 3 Idiots). But we never make claims that our film is better because it made so much money….Cinema has a different value. Whether Ferrari Ki Sawaari earns 100-crores or nothing, I will be proud of this film.”
While the concerned parties have suitably retaliated, flashing box office figures like Bodyguard, Agneepath, Houseful 2, Rowdy Rathore pegged at Rs 230, 193, 180, 124 respectively, support has come from some unexpected quarters. Naseeruddin Shah has been quoted as having said: “It is like a balloon which will burst soon. People in this industry like to boast, which is why the term 100-crore has come up.” Supporting the senior actor, Shahid Kapoor has also believed to have said: “The 100-crore club is just a fad which has come up in the industry for the past three years. The films that come under this category are of a certain genre only and done by those actors who have been in the industry for the last 20 years.”
All the touted figures are publicity gimmicks, otherwise the numbers won’t vary. A-list of recent dozen blockbusters appear elsewhere as: 202 (3 Idiots), 148 (Bodyguard), 143, (Dabangg), 128 (Rowdy Rathore), 122 (Agneepath), 121 (Ready), 118 RaOne (including Tamil, Telegu versions), 115 (Ghajini), 112 (Houseful 2), 110 (Don 2), 108 (Golmaal 3) and 100 crore (Singham) all featuring the six big Bollywood male stars, each with a fee varying from Rs 25 to 40-crore bracket. Some of them even co-producers or profit sharers. These figures ought to have grown considerably through subsequent re-runs, but no statistic is available, nor details of tax returns.
However, the economics of current film making in Bollywood sing a different tune. Box office collections are generally big bluffs. Besides, even if they are not fudged those figures do not translate into profits. First, take into account the investment. The collections have to be in proportion to the overall cost of production. In the case of a hit film it is generally only 35 to 40 per cent. Almost all of them claim to have been made at a cost of Rs 50-60-crores, add to this another 10- cr towards promotion and publicity. In such a situation even if a film does 100-cr-plus business, it is not a profitable venture. Compare these with more moderately made 2011 hits like The Dirty Picture, Rockstar, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara; or those made money in 2010: Tere Bin Laden, Ishqiya, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Peepli Live, Love Sex Aur Dhoka.
To quote Karan Johar from his interview in June 09, 2012 issue: “The elite 100-crore club is more a prestige label and less a barometer of a film’s success. The profit to cost ratio is definitely more an indicator of a film’s success. A movie star definitely ensures a bumper start if the vibe of the film supports it but then the Monday drop or stability is an audience prerogative. While we may celebrate the 100-crore phenomenon as film makers, we must look at the larger picture which includes the budget or then the MG (Minimum Guarantee) factor.”
And therein lies the truth.
By Suresh Kohli