The long tail of Indian Cinemas
The compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone - that's why they call it the lowest common denominator.Bollywood Then
Was this the reason why we were constantly fed with a stream of movies that had everything rolled up into one movie - dance, drama, action, emotion, romance, vengeance, comedy, tragedy, suspense, spirituality and sensuousness. Movies that appealed to the Lowest Common Denominator? Think about it.. the movie that comes to mind is "Sholay" - the masterpiece of Bollwood hit culture.
Sholay had comedy in the form of "mausiji and basanti" (and a lot more). It had drama in terms of Vijay and Veeru turning over new leaf. It had the tragedy of Thakur and the tender romance of Veeru and Thakur's son's widow. It had great sexy sequences of "Mehbooba" and action of fight sequences, train chases, et al. Yet, the movie had one central theme of hunting down one villian who'd robbed the pleasure and peace from the lives of goanwaalon.
This movie was an exception. It could hold on to its theme without losing sight of the central plot. How many movies could replicate this? They would try to focus on each of the subject, each of the emotion and somehow fail to appeal to any of the senses. That's why the typical attitude of Indians who say, "Keep your brain outside before entering a movie theatre". Think Ranjini and Mithuda :)
The place where the Long Tail kicked in is the multiplex culture. The movie which proved such a latent demand was Hyderabad Blues. Consider this - it did not have an appealing star, no songs and dance sequence, no exotic location, no villian (unless you consider Kuknoor's parents) and nothing in the name of action. Yet, it was a huge hit in the cities, especially in South Indian cities. On the other hand, it did not even bother to look for distributors in smaller cities or rural areas. Once this movie paved the way, suddenly, you had a deluge of movies like Naach, Ek Haseena Thi, Blossoms, Bheja Fry, Khosla ka Ghosla and so on. In a sentence, they did not appeal to the lowest common denominator. It appealed to an audience set that was well above the "lowest" in terms of expectations.
These became the so-called "Multiplex" movies. They are not your "hits". They don't appeal to everyone and anyone. The target is generally a specific set of audience in cities. The topics are more serious or mundane. They are generally not fantastic in scope or thought. Yet, they appear genuine and sincere in the making and appeal. Made with shoe-string budgets and professional deadlines, these movies appeal to only those that matter and convert them. So, almost all movies recover money and some end up with big profits. Yet, the money recovered is not anywhere near a super major SRK/Karan Johar hit. Still, people are happy and it has a loyal audience.
What was the reason for the sudden explosion of the market? The change is the simple demand-supply economics. There were a set number of theatres that had to pay through nose for a movie. It had to get a huge number of fans to recover the costs. Unless people came in hordes and watched it again and again, the movie could not recover the costs. On the other hand, the new age cinemas had a much smaller budget, no expenditure on snappy music or slick editing. All it has is a solid niche oriented story line told sincerely. Slick editing, et al. is just an add-on.
Since production costs are less and the barriers to entry are lowered, the number of movie makers suddenly shot up. You now have Kannada movies being seen in UK, and actually becoming hits. (Mungaru male was played at East Ham, something unheard of in London). Similarly, VJs from TV channels pool in and become movie celebrities. The targeting is nice specific and money is almost always recovered. The ensuing repeat telecasts on innumerable 24 hour channels are just icing on the cake.
Next step - Chaos
The next thing to see is the clear demarcation on what constituted a Bollywood movie itself is getting unclear. There are movies like Hyderabad Blues, the Angrez - movies really made in other places but, having hindi or hindi-like dialogues. In fact, this movie had telugu, hindi and english as its languages. So where exactly does it fit in?
Similarly, with the advent of shows like "Great India Comedy Show", et al. you now have an almost unlimited supply of talent. With cheap tools like digicam, cheap distribution like YouTube and cheap marketing mechanisms like Google Ad-words, Facebook, Orkut and so on, anyone can produce a movie and just get the attention. Sure, it may not be a coherent movie or a great production. But, who knows one such collaboration could surely spawn a real diamond of a movie!
Even otherwise, the target could be just a specific set and within those groups, the group could be famous.
The question that remains though is this - Will people pay? Audience may like to watch these shows and programs but, will they be interested in actually paying for these so called amateurish efforts as compared to the professionalized broadcast of the Big Bollywood? I am not really sure. I have a feeling that it could be explored for a business model - just that nobody's really thought over it or probably more Indians need to be on the Web to start this work.