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Pushpa to Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2—Covid altered Indians’ entertainment buds, masala movies are back

RRR, KGF 2, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 are breaking box office records. But films with a social message like Anek are struggling to meet budget costs.

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The much-awaited announcement of Shah Rukh Khan’s 2023 release Jawan, directed by Atlee Kumar, adds to a growing list of ‘larger than life’ action entertainers that have recently started featuring on the silver screen in India as the pandemic abates. This year’s releases, such as RRR, KGF 2, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and last year’s Pushpa, and their box office success tell us that the era of action-filled fantasy and ‘masala’ films are back. Filmmakers are simply picking the hint that audiences have left for them in the post-Covid world—they want to enjoy fantasy, escapist cinema that enable them to forget reality for a while. Subject-based, serious cinema is now being restricted to OTT platforms.

The entertainment industry across the world saw a dark phase during Covid when cinema halls were shut and the lockdown was imposed for months at a stretch. And now, when films are back on the big screen, audiences seem to have their priorities sorted.

Subject-heavy films with a social message—like this year’s Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Hurdang, and Anek—have failed to pick the interest of people. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is nearing a collection of 150 crore, while Anek, an Anubhav Sinha-Ayushman film (another was Article 15 that came out in 2021), is struggling to even get closer to its budget mark. This tells that in the post-Covid era, only larger-than-life films have the ability to attract people to cinema halls.

Also read: Don’t get lost in the bhool bhulaiya of remakes, see Mohanlal’s Manichitratazhu—the original

Big screen for ‘big action’

With increased reach and access to OTT platforms, good content is just a click away. In such a scenario, if one has to spend more than a thousand bucks to go out to the cinema hall to watch a film, it better have the entertainment quotient—that seems to be the increasing realisation among moviegoers. The gloom that took over during and after Covid may also have a role to play. People are interested in watching films that can take them away from reality for a couple of hours — films that are heavily loaded with a sense of victory and glory.

But it doesn’t mean that content is not ‘king’ anymore. Subject-based, light-hearted films and series are doing well on OTT platforms—Panchayat Season 2, Modern Love: Mumbai, and Gullak are a few.

Cinema was a means to escape reality in India when commercial, masala films were doing well. The trends started changing when films like Masaan (2015), Piku (2015), Newton (2017) and Padman (2018) created a buzz and even small budget films received good box office returns. But with the advent of multiple OTT platforms, the trend swerved again—the coming days are going to be ruled by larger-than-life cinema. Even big filmmakers are taking their big-budget films to OTT. Dharma Production’s Gehraiyaan (2022) is an example—the Shakun Batra film was released on Amazon Prime and was a hit among audiences. 83 (2022), which couldn’t be labelled as ‘commercially successful’, was viewed and liked on OTT platforms later. Buzz is that after the box office failure of Kangana Ranaut-starrer Dhaakad (2022), the actor’s next film—Tejas—may release on an OTT platform.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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