Bollywood: There’s a Change in the Air

by Noël de Souza July 24, 2019
A Netflix outdoor in India


When one hears the name Bollywood, what comes to mind, most often than not, are three-hour-long movies with song and dance no matter what the genre, movies driven by star power such as Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. These stars will still shine but they seem to be losing a little bit of their luster as is evident from the latest box office figures, all recent films starring the four actors have opened with good box office numbers and then have taken a nosedive.

It was once good enough to have an Aamir or a Salman or an Akshay in a film which had a catchy song. In fact, in many cases, the song was released much in advance of the film leaving the audience with a thirst that had to be quenched by seeing how the song was depicted on screen.

But with today’s informed audience, tastes are changing. They are no longer content seeing their stars run around trees,  singing songs that have been filmed in breath-taking foreign locations or suddenly breaking into extravagant dance numbers.

Today’s audience wants to see something more real on the screen, we live in times where films are no longer an aspirational medium but are more inspirational, hence more character or more real character-driven stories seem to be replacing the true and tried formula stories that once were a sure bet at the box-office. Hinterland struggle stories, development issues and issues of human rights, everyday struggles and complicated romances with medical issues like erectile disfunction are taking a front seat.

Scenes from new Bollywood movies

(Top) Bollywood celebrities Nawazuddin Siddique, Radhika Apte, Anurag Kashyap during the screening of  Netflix's Sacred Games;(bottom) scenes from Margarita with a Straw and Manto.

pacific press/jyoti kapoor/ getty images/wolfe releasing/film stoc/viacom18 motion pictures


The change has been long in coming, such directors as Shonali Bose (Margarita with a Straw, Amu), Nandita Das (Firaaq, Manto) and Anurag Kashyap (Lust Stories, the Netflix series Sacred Games) have been the forerunners and have all had a hard time getting their films released in India even though they have garnished international recognition at festivals.

Topics of women liberation have far more appeal than hot bikini-clad heroines. Internet is there to fulfill these and other fantasies and hence films are getting more real, and the stars to regain their luster will have to be more content-aware.

So, today India’s content landscape could not be more exciting and promising. Digital has a lot to do with it and though many may see digital as a threat it can be perceived as an enhancement and as an extension to the cinema landscape.