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Small-budget movies hit big box office buttons


Small-budget movies with quality content and refreshing storylines are reaping a rich harvest. Are movie moghuls ready to switch the paradigm?
MANISH PANDEY | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Bollywood | Low-budget films | English Vinglish | Vicky Donor | Kahaani | Paan Singh Tomar | Mere Dad Ki Maruti |

What is the similarity in films like English Vinglish, Vicky Donor, Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, Mere Dad Ki Maruti? Yes, they are all relatively recent Bollywood releases. They may not have set the box office on fire but they sure have been sleeper hits in their own rights. Which is not something to be cavalier about considering the fact that the flicks were all launched without any fanfaronade of media attention, nor did they have the agitprop of swashbuckling star names to draw out people into cinema aisles. Yet, given their puny production budgets of Rs.4-8 crore, the slate of movies in question have all reported blowout earnings, making their success all the more stellar.

As trends go, small-budget but slickly crafted films are the flavour among the cinema-loving audience. The latest crop of small-budget releases have all hit the bull's eye at the box office and garnered rave reviews from critics and fans alike. For instance, Vicky Donor was produced on a tight budget of Rs.5 crore, but it grossed about Rs.38 crore. In contrast, its budget-busting counterparts like Players, starring the leading lights of the Bollywood – Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor – proved to be thin gruel for audeinces’ taste buds. This clearly indicates that mega budgets and marquee names, without credible content, can no longer set alight the tinsel screens or make the audience’s pulse race.

“More and more movie-lovers are gravitating towards meaningful cinema with palatable content that they can relate to and empathise with. And you don't need mega budgets to make such films,” says Aparna Hoshing, Producer, Rash Production.

Many also see the present success of the small-budget films as a pointer to the productive phase for Indian cinema. “There is a risk involved in making unconventional small-budget films but at the end of the day we have to take the risk. But producers and distributors have become more affirmative in taking up such films,” says Girish Wankehde, DGM, Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Cinemax. He attributes the good performance of small-budget films to their new themes and refreshing storylines. “Also, as investment is less, these films do well with the right kind of marketing,” adds Wankehde who also looks after the distribution of small-budget films made by independent film makers under the Cinemax banner. A similar view about the industry becoming more confident in launching small-budget projects is voiced by Hoshing. “There are primarily two reasons for producers investing in small-budget films. Firstly, the small cost of such projects makes the whole proposition risk-free. Producers do not have to invest a lot in various aspects of movie-making. Secondly, the returns are quite high if the film is even an average hit.” The math, in fact, is pretty simple. For example, if a producer invests Rs.3 crore in a movie and even if he manages to get a return of Rs.1 crore, he ends up making a neat pile on his modest investment, in this case a profit of 33%.

But movie-making has always been an unpredictable business and a gamble. The ruling orthodoxy has been that film producers love playing for big bucks and it’s the big-budget films where fortunes are made and blown. So, it’s not just the fun of making a few odd lucky crores that’s driving the roller-coaster ride and churn of small-budget movies.

According to analysts, the advent of corporates into the movie business, both at the production and distribution ends, has remarkably leavened the dynamics for making small-budget movies. In the process, many bright and talented new directors have been attracted to the corporate film-making tent, giving traction and imbuing a new spirit to the term ‘new cinema’, which has become almost synonymous with small-budget films. Two such corporate giants to have made a formidable presence in the industry are Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Reliance Entertainment. Viacom, which started off in 2007, has been pretty prolific in producing small films that have differentiated content, and are of diverse genres and sensibilities. Some of its recent small-budget hits are Tanu Weds Manu, Pyaar ka Punchnama and Shaitan. Its latest potboiler Kahaani made on a budget of Rs.8 crore proved to be a smash with a windfall of over Rs.100 crore.

Reliance Entertainment forayed into Hindi and regional films in 2008 and since then it has distributed some noted small-budget films like I am Kalam, Well Done Abba and Mirch. Like Reliance, other big distributing chains are also putting money into making small-budget films. According to Cinemax’s Wankehde, his firm has released three films – Staying Alive (2012), Land Gold Woman, Love, Lies and Seeta – so far and plans to release more going forward. Says Wankehde, “We are willing to take risk with these kinds of films because the content is good and we believe they should reach larger audiences.” Besides raking in a tidy bounty, smart small-budget films also attract international notice and kudos, which act as a confidence fairy for aspiring and talented film makers. Take the case of Nagesh Kuknoor’s Iqbal, which has become a trailblazer for small-budget films looking to make a brobdingnagian impact. The film, made on a footling budget of just Rs.78 lakh, not only became a toast at international film festivals and raised the profile of Indian cinema, it also pulled in the mega bucks – a cool Rs.45 crore.

But not every small-budget film lays the golden egg or sets audiences’ hearts aflutter. Noted film critic Subhash K. Jha says, “It is a myth that small-budget films work, actually very few do. For every Pan Singh Tomar and Vicky Donor that work there are a dozen duds like Bittoo Boss that don’t work. Sad to say but audiences still flock to see stars rather than films.” Murli Chhatwani, Head - Distribution, DAR Media, says that though small-budget films are certainly a lucrative business proposition for corporates and investors, yet it would be a fallacy to paint all films in this genre with the same profitable brush. “Not all small budget films do well. It has to be a high concept movie like Kahaani or Vicky Donor, with something different to offer.” Then, there are some challenges sui generis to small-budget films. As Chhatwani puts it, “Of the total 52 weeks in a year during which some 150 Bollywood movies are released, 20 weeks are occupied with big budget, big-star movies. That leaves some 30 weeks for small films, so we have to plan our releases accordingly. It has to be either two weeks prior to or two weeks after the release of big-budget films.” As revenue from the sale of satellite rights of small-budget movies is piffling, these films mainly rely on theatrical release and box office sales for cost recovery. “Satelite rights usually bring in only about only 5-10% of money spent and that too for only comedy and family dramas, which are well received on television. As most of these films are made on unusual and new concepts and themes, producers are apprehensive that money will not come from selling the satellite rights,” says Chhatwani.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017