Films were known to define the identity of India, act as the brand ambassador of the highest film-producing country in the world. They were touted as a showcase of Indian culture all over the world. A tall claim, for no foreigners ever saw Indian films. Of course, they were exported to other countries, but catered mainly to the Indian diaspora.
Indian films were also known as the great unifiers and got credit for keeping the crime rate under control by ensuring that the anti-social elements of society were kept occupied in the cinemas.
A lot of this was true when going to the cinema was affordable and the country had a spread of cinema and cinema theatres to cater to all kinds of audiences. Yes, films were a great unifier as a hall full of people laughed, sobbed or danced in unison with the proceedings on the screen. It was called the silver screen and it mesmerised the viewer.
There was a generation of compulsive moviegoers; there was an audience for the first day first show and the first day last show; and there was the Sunday family audience. Cinema was called the opium of the masses.
The problem started when the masses ceased to be the audience once the multiplex era set in. The audience was reduced to the moneyed elite. The admission rates were raised from Rs 2 and Rs 5 to hundreds. These rates meant loss of patronage of the masses.
Now, of course, the collection figures are flashed instantly to the distributor by the cinema management through the Internet. But, not very long ago, distributors got the numbers through what was called a Daily Collection Report (DCR), which took a couple of days or three days to reach them. These DCRs mentioned the other entertainment available in town which would possibly affect a film's collections (a bigger film, a travelling circus) or help them grow (like a fair or a weekly bazaar).
With the onset of the multiplex culture, a film's admission rates became its main and major opposition. This factor, followed by Covid-19, coupled with the poor content and quality of films, have spelt disaster for the Hindi film industry.
The stars, in their 50s, have overexposed themselves appearing all over, destroying their image that the public loved their films for and failing to provide what was expected of them.
The films of the biggest stars are failing on a regular basis. Looks like these stars have not only overstayed their welcome, they have also been taking their audience for granted. They come up with poor content again and again.
These stars seem to have become insecure. Especially after dubbed films from the South are being released in the Hindi belt and lapped up by the Hindi-viewing audience, which has also been rejecting the biggest of the regular Hindi films, the star notwithstanding.
Various factors, mainly the greedy stars and exhibitors, have brought the Hindi film industry to a point of no immediate return.
Now, cricket is the new magnet, the opium of the masses, addiction, or whatever you want to call it. Especially the IPL version. The Indian Premier League has been able to change people's preferences. It used to be films.
Actually, it was the 50-over, one-day matches that gradually started pulling the crowds to cricket viewing. Devoting one day to watching cricket was fine, unlike in the case of five-day Test matches, where one was satisfied just to keep up with the latest score. Real cricket buffs used to carry a cigarette packet-sized radio in their pocket for this purpose.
The success of the T20 format adopted by the cricket-playing countries the world over, and later adopted by smaller countries that did not traditionally play cricket, has now taken the game to the farthest corners in the world.
The format that has united the people of India is the IPL, and there are so many reasons for that. There are 10 IPL teams now. Each team plays the other teams in its group twice, which makes it eight matches, and then it plays another six games against the five teams in the other group (one against each and two against a designated team). The matches are played and telecast live in the evenings when it is easy for one to catch up. In most cases, the matches are engrossing, there are twists and turns aplenty, and the climax can never be predicted. There is no script or a director calling shots in the arena.
But, above all, cricket provides an opportunity to young players from all over, be it a city or a far-off village. A small-town boy can make it big here and become a millionaire instantly once chosen (Rs 20 lakh being the minimum bidding price) and more if he proves his worth.
People from all over come to watch IPL matches because they have local reasons to do so. Everybody wants to see a local boy make it big and draw inspiration from it. That, mainly, has been a major factor in attracting viewers from all over the country as well as other parts of the world. After all, this game also involves players from the other cricket-playing countries and that brotherhood on the field is palpable.
In a three-hour IPL match, there are 22 performers and anyone of them can throw up a surprise. Cricket now has become a full- time profession and top cricketers play for more than 250 days a year. That is more than the busiest actor Akshay Kumar's schedule of shooting days for the four to five films he comes up with every year.
Is the IPL craze and its viewership dwindling? A prominent channel was in a hurry to declare it was. It claimed the viewership was down by as much as 35 per cent!
What happened at the IPL 2022 was that the top teams, notably Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders played disappointing cricket from the start. They have commanded the biggest viewership in the past, so, as their performance continued to be dismal, there may have been a drop. It did, however, serve the purpose of the main sponsor, namely, Tata Neu.
The mammoth figures for which the auction of telecast, digital and other rights have fetched for the BCCI for 2023-27 belie that claim. The Indian sub-continent TV rights were sold for Rs 23,575 crore; the digital rights for Rs 20,500 crore; the digital special bouquet for Rs 3,258 crore; and the digital and TV package for the rest of the world for Rs 1,058 crore. All told, the total adds up to Rs 48,390.50 crore.
It may not be fair to compare films with IPL, but when one talks of the drawing power, one can't help but compare. Even the pre- Covid-19 era falls short when one talks about money. In 2018, the Hindi film business was pegged at Rs 3,300 crore, which rose to Rs 4,400 crore in 2019.
In the post-lockdown period, Hindi films have failed to regain their audience. The relief for the cinemas has come from dubbed films from the South and Hollywood films. Rs 100 crore is a forgotten mark for Hindi films. With the IPL, we are talking of Rs 118 crore per three-hour fixture! And this does not include the gate money.
In the two months when the IPL is played, it has proven itself to be the major opposition to the film business. Still, to start with, the industry can start thinking of better films that will draw the audience during the rest of the year. Asking for films that can create an opposition to cricket will be asking for too much -- at least in the present scenario.