The failure of ‘Bell Bottom’ at the box-office, very unusual for an Akshay Kumar starrer, highlights the serious challenge the film industry faces at the present. It was screened in the traditional movie theatres and multi-plexes in the expectation that the crowds would return. In the past, it would have been easier to recover from a Covid like setback, but with the OTT platform available to all as an alternative it will require a major effort to get the cinema halls and multiplexes going again.
What is the cinema experience that cannot be replicated on the screen at home, be it TV, laptop or mobile, which needs to be revived by the filmmakers to resuscitate the industry? It has much to do with suspension of disbelief and being overwhelmed by the experience. Cinematography, music, drama, action sequences have to be designed for the large screen. One of the reasons that sci-fi, action and superhero movies have been so hugely successful in the past is the scale of the presentation – the small screen proves inhibitive, restricting that total experience. Of course, the screens are getting larger at home and that is exactly due to the quality and content of films, requiring replication of the theatre experience.
Another very important reason is the social aspect of watching films in the theatres. It is almost like a party experience going with friends as an outing, which includes the popcorn and other snacks, making it a more than individual experience. Traditionally, in India, it is also a relief for the working class to get away from harsh weather into three hours of relative air-conditioned comfort. The closed doors prevent the intrusion of real life into the fantasy that is not possible in most homes.
Covid has greatly damaged this totality of experience. Coupled with the rising cost of tickets, particularly in the multiplexes, the need for social distancing has created a psychological barrier that will take quite some time to overcome. If the filmmakers wish to speed up the process, they will need to work on making truly ‘spectacular’ films that not only have great plots and acting but also are great viewing – the kind provided by the hugely successful ‘Marvel’ genre celebrating The Hulk, Thor, Spiderman, etc. Bollywood movies provide poor quality ‘action’ and ‘stunts’ and it is Hollywood that will have to be leveraged to bring in that section of viewers. Indian movies will have to depend on music and dance, the long time staple, while at the same time becoming more thematically realistic. Merely signing on a megastar will not do the trick, anymore.