Showtime: What is hurting box office success of Gujarati movies?

Gujarati movies have been getting popular lately. However, producers and actors say that the success rate is less and very slow. DNA talks to film industry stakeholders

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Gujarati movies have been bitten by the 7-year itch but in quite the contrary direction. They seem to be have been given a new lease of life, both in Gujarat and Mumbai, as can be seen by the collections at the box office. "It has been three weeks in succession that Chal Jivi Laiye is running houseful in multiplexes. Of late, Gujarati movies are doing good at the box office," admitted Rakesh Patel, director of Wide Angle multiplex in Ahmedabad.

Once a thriving industry, Gujarati films started witnessing a steep decline from the mid-1980s, which continued for the next two decades or so. The rise in popularity of Hindi movies, the monotonous content in Gujarati movies and a rise in Television programmes were some of the reasons for the downturn.

For the last twenty years, Gujarati movies, more or less, used rural background settings. The same time also saw the emergence of Vikram Thakor as a superstar. With a dedicated and a loyal following, his films ran houseful in all smaller centres. The urban audience was not drawn in though.

Better Half, produced by Ashish Kakkad and released in 2008, was the first proper attempt at drawing in an urban audience. While the film was acclaimed critically, it failed to gain commercial success. But, in 2012, the winds changed direction. The trend, that began with Abhishek Jain directed 'Kevi Rite Jaish' in 2012, continued with super hits like 'Be Yaar' (2014), Chhello Divas (2015), Gujjubhai The Great (2015), Wrong Side Raju (2016), Thai Jashe (2016), Karsandas Pay and Use (2017), Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye (2017), Love Ni Bhavai (2017), Gujjubhai – Most Wanted (2018), Sharato Lagu (2018), and finally Chal Jivi Laiye (2019).

While many Gujarati filmmakers are laughing all the way to the bank, stakeholders say there is a long way before anyone can claim that a new era has begun in the industry. As of the 60-odd movies that were released in past two years each, only a handful have succeeded at the box office. It is still a start when seen in the light of how they fare since the 1980s.

Content is king

Actors, producers, directors, distributors, and other stakeholders in Gujarati cinema are unanimous about one thing and that is that content drives good Gujarati cinema. The scripts need to be innovative and appeal to the younger generation and of course, marketing and other outreach exercises need to be carried out to make a hit.

"Viewers understand the content, whether it is a regional movie, a Bollywood movie or a Hollywood movie. So much so that if the content is strong, the film draws viewers in huge numbers. Take the case of Karsandas Pay And Use. With an entirely new cast, the picture was a hit," said Vaishal Shah, producer of movies like 'Chhello Diwas', 'Karsandas Pay And Use' and 'Shu Thayu'.

Sharing his experience, film distributor and Managing Director of Rupan Entertainment, Vandan Shah, said that any film which has good comic content will appeal to moviegoers across the spectrum. Actor Malhar Thakar said that stories need to be written with the Gujarati audience in mind. Rakesh Patel, director of Wide Angle multiplex, said that it once happened that he had to reduce screens of Thugs of Hindustan to show Sharato Laagu, as the former was not generating business as the latter was. "As a Gujarati, I am committed to show Gujarati movies. It feels great to see that Gujarati movies are doing good," said Patel.

Films are being made with different storylines. Right from 'Better Half', released in 2008, to movies like Kevi Rite Jaish, Bey Yaar, Chhello Divas, Gujjubhai The Great, Wrong Side Raju, Thai Jashe, Karsandas Pay and Use, Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye, Love Ni Bhavai, Reva, Gujjubhai – Most Wanted, Sharato Lagu, Chal Jivi Laiye, and the latest release Saheb, all are based on different topics.

The first Gujarati movie 'Narsinh Mehta' (made in 1932) had solid content. The film was directed by Nanubhai Vakil. "But after a good start, content dd not match up later," said Harsukh Patel, who has also been instrumental in making Vikram Thakor a star in Gujarati movies. In fact, his late uncle Govindbhai Patel made the movie 'Desh Re Joya Re

Dada Pardesh Joya' way back in 1998 when making a Gujarati movie was nothing but a risk. "The film had a Box Office collection or Rs 22 crore in days when tickets were sold for Rs 10 or Rs 15. Even most recent movies are not able to reach this milestone even if tickets are sold at Rs 150-200. It was a success, both with rural audience and urban audience," said Harsukh Patel.

Distributor Vandan Shah feels that movies do not do well because they are urban or rural - it is the cinematic experience that pulls the audience. Mushrooming of multiplexes and decline of single screen cinemas has changed the way in which people watch movies. "Movies with typically rural themes are released in single screen cinemas. Unlikely

that a typical urban moviegoer will want to watch a movie like this," said Shah. Still, Ahmedabad has single screen cinemas and whenever films with rural content are screened here, they find audiences.

Shrinking Screens

Shrinking infrastructure for watching movies in Gujarat is one of the major bottlenecks, especially for Gujarati film industry. Film distributor and MD of Rupam Entertainment Private Ltd said that with the advent of multiplexes, there is a decline in single screen cinemas in the state. The losers are the smaller cities and towns. Number of single screen cinemas in the state has declined from 700 about two decades ago to about 70 now. There are about 150 multiplexes in the state with around 450 screens.

Film producer Saandeep Patel said that unlike Hindi movies, Gujarati movies are entirely dependent upon Box Office collections for revenue. For Hindi movies, BO collections could be only 30-40 per cent.

"Producers of Hindi movies have other avenues like music rights, television rights, digital rights, and overseas rights. For Hindi movies, producers sell these rights and earn money. So, by the time a movie is released in the theatres, break even is achieved. It is then that BO collection pitches in. For Gujarati movies, music and other rights emerge only after the movie proves to be a hit among the viewers," said Patel.

Superstar of yesteryears, Naresh Kanodia laments that cinemas are being converted into shopping malls. This has deprived fans in smaller centres of cinema viewing experience. And those who want to, need to come to the nearest centre to watch a movie. "Earlier, tickets for Gujarati movies were subsidised, but now they are at par with those for Hindi movies. A segment that wants to see Gujarati movies now cannot afford some of the tickets," said Kanodia.

The phase, since 1990s, was extremely challenging for cinema owners, said film producer Harsukh Patel. "My uncle and film producer Govind Patel had to handhold many cinema houses during this period. We provided the sound systems and took care of other expenses. That is how many have survived till date," he said.

"State government must encourage mini theatres or Janta Theatres in villages and small towns to promote the Gujarati film industry. Lack of access means viewers being deprived of film entertainment and filmmakers losing a big chunk of viewers," said Saandeep Patel, producer of Gujarati movies. Love Ni Bhavai is his latest hit.

Language issue

One major problem that troubles producers and actors alike is the indifference of Gujarati population towards Gujarati language. This has a direct impact on the viewership of Gujarati movies. This is in complete contrast to that attitude of masses in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, and the southern states.

Veteran actor Siddharth Randeria sites a recent survey, according to which, viewership base of Gujarati movies is just 17 lakh in a population of over six crore people. Randeria feels that even if we consider the population of four top cities of Gujarat - Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot, to expect 50 lakh viewers for Gujarati movies is not unreasonable.

"The kind that pride locals have in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal and in the southern states is severely lacking in Gujarat. There people may even prefer to watch vernacular movies instead of Hindi, while Gujarati viewers are content with watching Hindi movies. It is agreeable that one may not watch every movie but one can definitely watch at least some movies," complains Randeria.

Abhishek Jain, producer of movies like Kevi Rite Jaish, Be Yaar and Wrongside Raju said that not only in Gujarat, but even worldwide, the indifference of Gujaratis towards their mother tongue is quite obvious. "During my overseas shows, I found that Gujaratis did not enjoy talking about a Gujarati movie they watched. Also, they would speak in English," said Jain.

Producers Speak

Abhishek Jain

Gujarati movies have come of age. For Kevi Rite Jaish, we struggled to get screens. Now, multiplex owners welcome Gujarati movies with open arms. Series players are entering the industry. The content is also diverse. Producers and actors are experimenting. In terms of commercial success, it is a mix bag. Combination of content, monetary investment and promotional efforts are driving Gujarati films. But as an industry, breaking even is difficult not only for Gujarati films but for many Hindi films as well. Success of a few films creates a false impression that the industry as a whole is profitable.

Vaishal Shah

The content in our movies is good. We have some directors who make both, Hindi as well as Gujarati movies. Special efforts are made for marketing and promotion of our movies. In addition to big cities, films are getting a good reception in smaller centres like Mehsana, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Anand, Nadiad and others. Our viewers are appreciating the content even if actors are not established. Reduction in GST has also helped industry get more viewers. Slowly but steadily, viability is being witnessed. The fact that Shu Thayu (released on August 24, 2018) collected Rs 22 crore is a testimony to that. Piracy is a major problem though.

Harsukh Patel

In 2006, when we brought Vikram Thakor, no one was ready to bet on Gujarati movies. My uncle and veteran producer Govind Patel also advised me not to make Gujarati movies. But Thakor proved to be a hit. Some of his movies have run for 20 weeks. We made lots of efforts for that. The audience found a connection with such movies. Even college students in urban areas watched the movies. Gujarati movies running good for three or weeks is not a big deal now. Producers are investing a lot in Gujarati movies, even their promotions.

Saandeep Patel

A lot of change is visible in Gujarati films over past few years. Kevi Rite Jaish started the trend. Be Yaar made more money. Love Ni Bhavai and Chal Jivi Laiye are making more money. Whether it is content, cinematography or music, Gujarati films are contemporary with respect to their peers in Hindi cinema. People danced to the tunes of songs of Love Ni Bhavai songs in marriage processions. We are witnessing the emergence of stars like Malhar Thakar, Pratik Gandhi, and Aarohi Patel. A negative reaction on social media can ruin prospects for a movie. The challenge is to meet the expectation of new age viewers.

Actors Speak

Siddharth Randeria

We can say that it is a dawn of a new era of Gujarati movies only if 2-3 movies do good simultaneously at the box office and we get about 15 hit movies every year. Of the 70-odd Gujarati movies being released every year, only about three are hit. Gujarati movies may be houseful because not enough screens are allotted to them. Access to movies in

smaller cities and towns is still a problem. Indifference of Gujarati viewers towards Gujarati language is a big problem. Shahrukh Khan has to appear in popular Marathi TV shows before the release of his movie. There is only one Gujarati entertainment channel, compared to three or four in other languages, limiting revenues for producers. Still, box office is the only mode of revenue for Gujarati films. Cinemas won't give screens if films fail to attract viewers.

Malhar Thakar

Viewers are very sharp. They do not want repetitive subjects. Chhelo Divas worked, but movie that followed on the same topic didn't. Originality of content is what viewers want and it is good that films with diverse topics are getting reception from the viewers. The most important thing is that viewers feels a personal touch. They need to feel that the story is about them, and feel associated with the content and characters. There is nothing like an urban Gujarati movie or a rural Gujarati movie. It is a Gujarati movie. I loved the subject of Maa Baap Na Ashirvad, featuring Vikram Thakor. The next big thing in the Gujarati film industry should be an award winning Gujarati film (at national or international level). Marketing is very important for films now, whether it is social media, hoardings or news articles.

Naresh Kanodia

Earlier, films were viewed by masses. Now, the content and ticket rates are such that they are consumed only by a particular section of people. Moreover, we never had to go out and woo viewers to watch films. Now, producers and actors have to make an extra effort to promote their movies. Of about 125 of my movies, over 100 were silver jubilees. It is sad that today movies are classified as urban movies or rural ones. In our times, movies were never classified as such. Earlier, movies had a message in it and were depicting the culture. What is wrong in wearing kediu (traditional Gujarati attire)? During Navratri, everyone is wearing one. Don't movies in southern India have men wearing dhotis? We had movies on kings, saints which showcased our values, in a way. Moreover, songs of movies of yesteryears were such that people would sing them over generations — even now. None of the songs of recent movie has such recall value. Single theatres made movies accessible to rural audience. Now, their numbers are dwindling. Theatres are being converted into shopping centres, which should not happen.

Viewers Speak

Girish Pandya

I feel a pride in watching Gujarati movies. The subjects of movies are such that the young generation likes them. A movie, which we recently watched, is about the communication gap between a father and his son. It is very topical. Viewers are opening upto Gujarati movies. Now, they are very well made. Sound, music, and the overall production quality has improved a lot.

Ketan Shah & Nirali Shah

We regularly watch Gujarati movies. Our children also like them. Watching a movie made in one's mother tongue is a totally different experience. A movie, which we recently watched, is about how we get so busy that we are don't devote time to our family members. It presses on the fact that whatever be the case, we should devote time to them. It is a very touching movie.

Varsha & Vishwa Trivedi

I had seen a movie with my friends which I wanted my mother to watch too. So, we both watched the movie together. For past four or five years, Gujarati movies have been picking up pace. Songs are nice. They are on very specific themes, which the young generation like. These movies, we can watch with entire family.

  • 700 to 70 single screen cinemas’ decline in past two decades
  • 150-odd multiplexes with about 450 screens at present in the state
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