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Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
A.Sandeep Editors Desk
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Small-budget movies hit big box office buttons
Low-budget movies with quality content and refreshing storylines are reaping a rich harvest. Are movie moghuls ready to switch the paradigm?
What is the similarity in films like Love Sex Aur Dhokha, Shor in the City, I Am, Yeh Saali Zindagi, Tanu Weds Manu, Shaitan, That Girl in Yellow Boots, Dhobi Ghat, Delhi Belly and Stanley Ka Dabba? Yes, they are all relatively recent Bollywood releases. They may not have set the box office on fire but they sure have been sleeper hits in their own rights. Which is not something to be cavalier about considering the fact that the flicks were all launched without any fanfaronade of media attention, nor did they have the agitprop of swashbuckling star names to draw out people into cinema aisles. Yet, given their puny production budgets of Rs.4-8 crore, the slate of movies in question have all reported blowout earnings, making their success all the more stellar. Made on shoe-string budgets, these films were anchored in crackerjack script and riveting content, which not only made them stand out from the clutter but saved them from becoming the misbegotten box-office disasters that has been the fate of many big-budget blockbusters.

As trends go, small-budget but slickly crafted films are the flavour among the cinema-loving audience. The latest crop of small-budget releases – Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani and Vicy Donor – have all hit the bull's eye at the box office and garnered rave reviews from critics and fans alike. As per trade reports, Vicky Donor was produced on a tight budget of Rs.5 crore and had already grossed over Rs.28 crore within three weeks of its release. In contrast, budget-busting flicks like Players, starring the leading lights of the Hindi cinema industry – Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor – proved to be thin gruel for audeinces’ taste buds. Other recent big-budget releases with a star cast of reigning Bollywood supernovas – like Ra.One and Agent Vinod – and made on mind-numbing budgets of Rs.100 crore and Rs.60 crore respectively, fell like nine pins without even a cheep of concern from moviemongers. Looking at such unmitigated flops, it seems that mega budgets and marquee names, without credible content, can no longer set alight the tinsel screens or make the audience’s pulse race. “More and more movie-lovers are gravitating towards meaningful cinema with palatable content that they can relate to and empathise with. And you don't need mega budgets to make such films,” says Aparna Hoshing, Producer, Rash Production.

Many also see the present success of the small-budget films as a pointer to the productive phase for Indian cinema. “There is a risk involved in making unconventional small-budget films but at the end of the day we have to take the risk. But producers and distributors have become more affirmative in taking up such films,” says Girish Wankehde, Deputy General Manager, Public Relations and Corporate Communciation, Cinemax. He attributes the good performance of small-budget films to their new themes and refreshing storylines. “Also, as investment is less, these films do well with the right kind of marketing,” says Wankehde who also looks after the distribution of small-budget films made by independent film makers under the Cinemax banner. A similar view about the industry becoming more confident in launching small-budget projects is voiced by Hoshing. “There are primarily two reasons for producers investing in small-budget films. Firstly, the small cost of such projects makes the whole proposition risk-free. Producers do not have to invest a lot in various aspects of movie-making. Secondly, the returns are quite high if the film is even an average hit.” The math, in fact, is pretty simple. For example, if a producer invests Rs.3 crore in a movie and even if he manages to get a return of Rs.1 crore, he ends up making a neat pile on his modest investment, in this case a profit of 33%.

But movie-making has always been an unpredicatble business and a gamble. The ruling orthodoxy has been that film producers love playing for big bucks and it’s the big-budget films where fortunes are made and blown. So, it’s not just the fun of making a few odd lucky crores that’s driving the roller-coaster ride and churn of small-budget movies. According to analysts, the advent of corporates into the movie business, both at the production and distribution ends, has remarkably leavened the dynamics for making small-budget movies. In the process, many bright and talented new directors have been attracted to the corporate film-making tent, giving traction and imbuing a new spirit to the term ‘new cinema’, which has become almost synonymous with small-budget films. Two such corporate gaints to have made a formidable presence in the industry are Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Reliance Entertainment. Viacom, which started off the blocks in 2007, has a well spread-out bouquet to include small, medium and big movies, and has been pretty prolific in producing small films that have differentiated content, and are of diverse genres and sensibilities. Some of its recent small-budget hits are Tanu Weds Manu, Pyaar ka Punchnama and Shaitan. Its latest potboiler Kahaani starring Vidya Balan and made on a budget of Rs.8 crore proved to be a smash with a windfall of over Rs.100 crore. VMP has some promising low and medium budget films films lined up for release later this year– Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur and Bombay Velvet, Ram Gopal Varma’s Department, Sudhir Mishra’s untitled project with Arjun Rampal and Chitrangada Singh, David Dhawan’s Chashme-baddoor and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag with Farhan Akhtar.

Reliance Entertainment forayed into Hindi and regional films in 2008 and since then it has distributed some noted small budget films like I am Kalam, Well Done Abba and Mirch. Like Reliance, other big distributing chains are also putting money into making small-budget films. According to Cinemax’s Wankehde, his firm released two films, Staying Alive (2012) and Land Gold Woman last year and will release another film titled Love, Lies and Seeta this month. Says Wankehde, “We are willing to take risk with these kinds of films because the content is good and we believe they should reach larger audiences.” Besides raking in a tidy bounty, smart small-budget films also attract international notice and kudos, which act as a confidence fairy for aspiring and talented fim makers. Take the case of Nagesh Kuknoor’s Iqbal, which has become a trailblazer for small-budget films looking to make a brobdingnagian impact. The film, made on a footling budget of just Rs.78 lakh, not only became a toast at international film festivals and raised the profile of Indian cinema, it also pulled in the mega bucks, collecting a cool Rs.45 crore at the turnstiles.

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