So far, the year 2018 has belonged to the unconventional hero when it comes to box office success. Yes, there have been movies with the quintessential Bollywood hero saving the day in Race 3 or Baaghi 2, but the number of successful movies with unusual characters as leads in the first half of the year beats the conventional Bollywood fare hands down.
From Alia Bhatt’s Sehmat Khan, a female Indian spy in the 1970s, or Rani Mukherjee’s Naina Mathur, an aspiring teacher with Tourette’s Syndrome, or Akshay Kumar’s Lakshmikant Chauhan, the social activist who introduced low-cost sanitary napkins, these characters and their journeys captured the audiences’ attention and set the cash registers ringing. Other movies in the list include Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor starrer 102 Not Out and of course, the girl gang movie Veere Di Wedding. All of these movies had unconventional leads — whether in terms of the characters’ circumstance, or their stories. Suniel Wadhwa, independent distributor and box office analyst, says: “There is immense potential if the script is right. It’s up to the writer to find ways to make the characters interesting and this is evident from the films like Raazi, 102 Not Out, Padman. These films have a desire to tell the story in unconventional ways, with the objective to reach out, no matter even if it’s for a niche audience.”
With the success of these films, experts say that Bollywood may finally be seeing the realisation of a strategy that producers have been advocating for a while now — modestly budgeted content-led projects. A lot of these films have broken even at the domestic box office. Raazi, in fact, is the first movie with a female lead to breach the Rs 1 billion mark at the Indian box office.
While the Rs 1 billion mark has been the benchmark movies are usually measured against, it is the cost of the film that matters. As a thumb rule, producers get around 50 per cent of the net after tax collection, with the distributors/exhibitors claiming the other 50 per cent. Studios and production houses are increasingly focusing on the bottom line and this year, the return on investment for the unconventional releases has been impressive (see chart).
It also means that the industry talent is more open to taking risks with offbeat or unusual scripts. “You will always have the masala films and they will always have an audience. What is heartening is that actors like Alia (Bhatt) and Akshay (Kumar) are open to taking up projects that stray from the beaten path in Bollywood,” says one such expert.
While the ‘offbeat’ scripts have delivered the numbers at the box office, bigger films like Padmaavat and Sanju have also done well. While the former was inundated with controversies, it managed to attract audiences and made a profit. Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju has allowed Bollywood to end H1 2018 with a bang as the movie has raked in Rs 1.65 billion since its release and is expected to breach the Rs 2 billion mark in the first 10 days of its release.