Es­capism

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

With some 1,800 re­leases in 2018, In­dia is home to the world's big­gest film-mak­ing ma­chine and Bol­ly­wood is ar­guably its most high­est-pro­file star.

De­spite the mar­ket en­try of global video stream­ing play­ers such as Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime, the home­grown in­dus­try re­tains a pow­er­ful hold on the In­dian imag­i­na­tion.

"In 2019, Bol­ly­wood has been per­form­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well in the last three quar­ters and has grown by 15 per cent in com­par­i­son to last year," Mumbai-based film trade an­a­lyst Girish Jo­har told AFP.

The Bol­ly­wood boom even prompted a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter to claim that In­dia's eco­nomic slow­down was over­stated, spark­ing a flood of crit­i­cism.

Nev­er­the­less, in­dus­try fig­ures in­di­cate that even as In­di­ans cut back on buy­ing es­sen­tial items, in­clud­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles, movie ticket sales have only in­creased.

"Films are the low­est hang­ing fruit for many to ac­cess en­ter­tain­ment with­out spend­ing much dur­ing a slow­down," said Ka­mal Gian­chan­dani, CEO of PVR Cin­e­mas, the coun­try's largest op­er­a­tor of multi-screen the­atres.

For the rel­a­tively af­ford­able sum of R75 (US$1), a movie­goer liv­ing in In­dia's most ex­pen­sive city Mumbai can ven­ture to a sin­gle-screen cin­ema and spend three hours in air-con­di­tioned com­fort, dis­tracted from their trou­bles.

Din­ner at a ca­sual restau­rant costs sig­nif­i­cantly more.

In 2018/19, as In­dia's econ­omy wors­ened, PVR's an­nual earn­ings jumped by nearly a third to US$435mn. This year is set to be even bet­ter, Gian­chan­dani told AFP, as more and more peo­ple seek cheap es­capist fare.

A sim­i­lar trend ap­peared to be un­der way dur­ing the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, when movie rev­enues grew as In­dia's econ­omy stum­bled.

‘Lip­stick in­dex’

There is no sin­gle of­fi­cial source for film rev­enues due to In­dia's com­plex dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem cov­er­ing thou­sands of in­de­pen­dent ex­hibitors.

But fig­ures from widely re­spected trade por­tal Box Of­fice In­dia show a nearly 19 per cent in­crease in earn­ings be­tween 2006 and 2009.

Con­versely, when the econ­omy picked up steam in 2014 on op­ti­mism sur­round­ing the elec­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, movie rev­enues ac­tu­ally fell to US$511mn from US$525mn the year be­fore, ac­cord­ing to the web­site.

The trend evokes com­par­isons to the oft-quoted ‘Lip­stick In­dex’, a term coined by Leonard Lauder, chair­man of the US cos­met­ics gi­ant Es­tee Lauder, in the early 2000s to ex­plain why lip­stick sales go up dur­ing a down­turn.

The rea­son­ing is that con­sumers ap­par­ently hold back on mak­ing big-ticket pur­chases dur­ing a slow­down and in­stead splurge on smaller in­dul­gences.

With the ex­cep­tion of high-end mul­ti­plexes, ticket prices are very low in In­dia com­pared to other mar­kets, un­der­cut­ting prof­its but mak­ing movies an ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury for many film-crazy In­di­ans.

For graphic de­signer Shruti Kulka­rni, the cin­ema of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to leave a cramped house and un­wind. Down­load­ing a film on her smart­phone or lap­top is sim­ply not the same, she told AFP.

"There is some­thing about watch­ing a movie in a the­atre where you are alone, yet sur­rounded by hun­dreds of strangers and shar­ing the same ex­pe­ri­ence. I en­joy it," the 26 year old said.

(AFP pho­tos)

Bol­ly­wood ac­tor and stunt per­former Vidyut Jamwal (C with black cap) is mobbed by me­dia and fans out­side a cin­ema in Mumbai

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