ExplainersOpinion

Why Do Art Films Fail At the Indian Box-Office, Explained

February 19, 2017
5 min read

It is often been said that the Indian film industry runs on the power of its stars. Sadly, this is true to a very large extent. The industry has always been driven by the big films of the big actors. Over the years, we have had many artists who have tried to break the shackles and create something new. They have succeeded to a certain degree but their success hasn’t been long-lasting. There is no dearth of talent in India as we have actors, directors and technicians all who are highly qualified. The mainstream films are always more successful at the box-office but the art films never truly taste the kind of success that the big films get. In India, we have a movement in films known as Parallel Cinema. This was established as an alternative to the mainstream films. While they found critical acclaim, public approval has never been too high. We have to consider the fact that, despite these films not making much money, they are still being made. So, are films only about money or is something more deeper involved. There are a few factors that contribute to this situation, let’s have a look at some of them.

Films As Entertainment Alone

In a country like India, a majority of the cinema viewing audience watches a film purely for the sake of being entertained. The concept of entertainment has been well and truly established by our film fraternity. The song, dance and fight routine is what most people appreciate and that’s what they want. Anything that deviates a little from this routine, makes the viewer a little apprehensive. The truth is that it is wrong to blame the audience alone for this. The filmmakers see that something works and want to drain every ounce of potential success out of it. If a certain kind of film works, there will be a glut of the same kind of films coming out. The creators don’t want to try anything new thinking that the audience don’t want it. But how will the viewers want to watch something if they are not offered it. There have been many instances where these experiments have worked before. While they may not rake in the same amount of money as a formula film, it is something worth trying.

The Mindset Of The Viewer

One reason for the performance of these kind of films is the audience themselves. When talking about the Indian audience, we have to take a few factors into consideration. For example, if a person sees a lot of terrible things in their life or around them, they would not want to watch the same thing on the screen. This is where escapism comes into play. People want to step into a world that is unlike the one they live in. There is a lot of wish fulfillment that these formula films provide. Suppose you witness some sort of injustice on the streets, but are unable to do something about it, and then see a hero bash up goons in a film, it provides you some sense of satisfaction. The movie allows you to vicariously do what you wanted to do in real life. It is completely fine for a film to provide some kind of escapist pleasure. But when so many films try to do the same thing, it becomes tedious for the audience. At times, people watch a film because they don’t have to be intellectually invested in it. They do not want to analyze the subtext, the symbolism and other such facets of a film. Even when watching a film in the theater, people often look at their phone and end up not paying enough attention. Though this is fine with a formula film as there is a sense of familiarity, it makes the viewer miss out on a lot of details in an art film.

Perspective And The Film

If a person is not interested in a particular kind of film, it is hard to make he/she watch it. Another factor to be considered is that, there is a general lack of perspective when watching a film. Let’s say you are watching a film of Anurag Kashyap, you need to know at least a little bit about him, his background etc. to really appreciate the films he makes. It can certainly be argued that one doesn’t need to research before watching a film. But, unless you have some knowledge about what your watching, how can you understand what it is trying to say. Even though you can watch a film without knowing about it, a lot of viewers end up putting their own expectations on the film based on a preconceived notion. This ends up hampering their experience on the whole. One common factor that affects these art films is that, people tend tend to appreciate them and understand their quality at a much later date.

Art films are always going to have a niche audience, the problem is that the size of this niche is quite small in India. It has to be mentioned that, more and more viewers are getting tired of the same formulaic stories. While this has not always translated into success for the art film, they are on the right path. An ideal scenario would be where both types of films co-exist without one dominating the other. But is that really possible ? To conclude, the viewer must be able to choose from a variety of films and not just one story in different films. It is encouraging to see that actors seem to have realized the need for reinvention and have started doing more offbeat films. May this trend continue for a long time.

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