Mumbai: The highest earning film in India this year -- "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" -- was neither an original Hindi movie nor featured an established star. That says a lot about the changing dynamics of Bollywood which, in 2017, saw a mixed bag of projects that drew audiences mainly with solid content, notwithstanding star power.
Salman Khan's "Tubelight", Shah Rukh Khan's "Jab Harry Met Sejal" and Ranbir Kapoor-starrer "Jagga Jasoos" are cases in point. They failed to elicit the expected response despite the buzz -- falling flat in such a way that Salman and Shah Rukh reportedly compensated the distributors for the losses they incurred due to their movies.
There is no centralised agency to record Bollywood's box office numbers. But as per trade experts, while no Bollywood film has so far managed to cross the Rs 400 crore mark at the domestic box office, S.S. Rajamouli's magnum opus "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" -- featuring Prabhas, Rana Daggubati and Anushka Shetty -- did the unexpected by minting Rs 510.99 crore.
Siddharth Roy Kapur, President of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, says "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" -- the sequel to hugely successful fantasy drama "Baahubali: The Beginning" -- was a game changer as "a dubbed Telugu language film became the biggest Hindi language blockbuster of all time".
"It really says a lot to everyone who works within Hindi cinema. It says that we can't make any excuses. 'Baahubali', in conventional terms, had everything going against it. The Hindi audience has traditionally not looked at southern stars as appealing and those who featured in 'Baahubali' had no name recognition in the Hindi market.
"Dubbed movies were always considered to be weaker at the box office because of the fact that they were not in the original language. But 'Baahubali' has come and dispelled all those myths," Kapur told IANS.
Largely, it boils down to the fact that "if you give people a cinematic experience and have the confidence and the gusto and the flair to be able to tell that story uninhibitedly in the way you want to tell it, then the audience will come and watch the film," Kapur added.
As far as Bollywood originals are concerned, nine films marched past the Rs 100 crore benchmark in a year when the central government introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) -- for tickets below Rs 100, it stands at 18 per cent and for tickets above Rs 100 at 28 per cent.
"Tiger Zinda Hai" turned out to be the highest grosser among Bollywood originals with a collection of Rs 206.4 crore till December 28.
Even the team of Reliance Entertainment-backed "Golmaal Again" laughed its way to the bank with a collection of Rs 205.67 crore.
There were others -- "Raees" (Rs 137.71 crore), "Kaabil" (Rs 103.84 crore), "Jolly LLB 2" (Rs 117 crore), "Badrinath Ki Dulhania" (Rs 116.68 crore), "Toilet: Ek Prem Katha" (Rs 134.22 crore), "Judwaa 2" (Rs 138.61 crore) and the latest, "Tiger Zinda Hai" (Rs 173 crore and counting).
"Tubelight", though not counted among Salman's hits, also went past the Rs 100 crore mark by minting Rs 119.26 crore.
According to Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, "Tubelight" was one example of how "stars on their own are not enough to pull in audiences".
"See Salman in 'Tiger Zinda Hai'. It's an established franchise but also a film with a strong nationalistic flavour and content that's appealing to a broad section of people. It has been a respite at the box office, but see the same Salman in a long and slow film like 'Tubelight', which was not suitable to the actor's image," Gianchandani told IANS.
"Well-drafted, well-written, well-packaged and well-presented content with a star, creates magic at the box office," added Gianchandani, who appreciated how smaller films like "Newton" and "Tumhari Sulu" did well.
"Each time there was a good film, the audiences came out in big numbers and supported it."
"Naam Shabana", "Hindi Medium", "Sachin - A Billion Dreams", "Mom", "Lipstick Under My Burkha", "Bareilly Ki Barfi", "Shubh Mangal Saavdhan", "Secret Superstar" and "Fukrey Returns" were some such titles which found resonance with the audience. As always, content was king.
The movies which fell flat against expectations include "Ok Jaanu", "Rangoon", "Begum Jaan", "Noor", "Sarkar 3", "Meri Pyaari Bindu", "Raabta", "A Gentleman", "Simran", "Bhoomi", "Haseena Parkar", "Chef" and "Firangi".
Besides that, the big-ticket "Padmavati", which was due to release on December 1, got caught in a spiralling controversy which has kept it away from hitting the screens.
Girish Johar, film business and trade analyst, told IANS: "Had 'Baahubali' not been there, Bollywood would have performed poorly. Hindi films per se haven't done great. 'Padmavati' was supposed to release in December, but it did not, so all eyes were on 'Tiger Zinda Hai'.
"I think we are still falling short of 10-12 per cent on the annual box office returns, and that's a depressing way to end the year."
The solution, as Kapur pointed out, lies in "better stories and better scripts".
(Radhika Bhirani & Sandeep Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)