Friday the 13th. I love them. It usually turns into a battle between Good v/s Evil. This Friday the 13th was no different. It turned into a battle between Death v/s Life Sentence (do note, death was good in this context) and Good Content v/s Grand Masti. It was an ironic day, where the people of the nation woke up in the morning, updated their statuses with "Kill the Rapist", expressed their ongoing anger against crimes against women, discussed the same at home with their families, watched the verdict on TV and then went and bought a ticket for Grand Masti. They had the option of watching 3-4 other films too.
Indra Kumar is a very intelligent, talented and instinctive filmmaker. He clearly understands the changing taste of the fickle audience. He knows that what worked in Dil, Beta and Ishq cannot work anymore. Between Mann and Masti he figured out his strategy to get back, in his own way with Dhamaal and now Grand Masti.
On a personal level, I believe in freedom of expression and action. Even though Grand Masti may not be my kind of comedy, there is no way I will judge the film or the filmmaker. I can always choose to not watch it and ignore it. India is a democracy. After USA, India is the land of opportunity and enterprise. That is why Hollywood and Bollywood have survived for decades as a self-sufficient industry, which makes all kinds of content, without any help from the government. So we should respect that spirit. Responsible/Social cinema is a personal and economic choice. Cannot be imposed by the state or the stakeholders of the society.
When it comes to films/content, we can broadly divide the world in 4 groups. People, who create content (filmmaker), consume content (audience), judge content (critics) and who are indifferent to the content (don't watch Hindi films).
In the case of Grand Masti the film connected seamlessly between the creator and the consumer, while ignoring the judgment group. This is where the pot of gold lies for commercial filmmakers, who cannot access the biggest of superstars, yet want to make a living by making films. Understand the audience and reach out to them in the best possible way one from the available resources that each filmmaker has.
1. 81% of audiences watching movie on the opening day are Men.
2. 75% moviegoers are under the age of 30.
3. 63% of Box Office Revenue comes from viewers aged between 15-29 years.
4. Film reviews don't influence the youth, but what their friends think, does.
The above data is simple and self-explanatory. The best way to lure men under 30 in India is a combination of comedy and sex involving women.
This data also explains why films like Masti, Kya Super Kool Hain Hum, Fukrey, Delhi Belly, Ragini MMS, Jism 2, Hate Story, etc have worked with these youth audiences and have given superior returns on investment despite most industry people doubting even a break-even at early stages.
The promise of thrill, sex and/or comedy in trailers and posters, gets the attention of the youth. Mixed in the right proportion, gets sampling and maybe great word of mouth. Let's not forget "quick" word of mouth because of online social media.
The only other way to get this kind of an opening is to make a very entertaining film with the top superstars and get the family audiences inside. How many have access to the best of stars? Should one sit at home and not make films because superstars are not available? One has to find other ways to pursue ones passion, economic activity and make a living. Film as an art is a tiny genre in India. Does not pay bills. It's like telling any Paint company to not supply paint for buildings, just supply for artists who will paint art on canvas.
As a friend pointed out, "there's a REASON films are certified. And there's a reason promos are run weeks before a film's release. The audience can judge whether they ARE in fact, the audience for that film- and what to expect for their money. If it is an Adults Only film- it means go watch it with an Adult perspective. And if you can tell by a promo that it might turn offensive- either don't watch it at all, or watch it, and be smugly satisfied with how correct your judgment was. But that doesn't necessarily make it offensive to everyone else. It MIGHT. But it also, might not".
If the censors can accept the fact that, gradually censorship has to be relaxed and people should have the right of choice of making and watching films, it's time the film industry accept that along with the media. I am not saying that pornography be made legal in India, but at the same time, Porn being illegal or being looked down by society, has not stopped or reduced consumption of pornographic content by Indians residing in India.
Lastly, I think the angle of responsible cinema is a highly debatable one. I think business and social responsibility has to be optional. Unfortunately in the film business, one is as good as the last release and its performance at the Box Office. This pressure gets to filmmakers who have to support families and run a business. Corporate companies have to keep a Social Responsibility fund out of their profits; it might be a good idea for film companies to finance socially responsible films, from their profits. Balance is important.
Grand Masti reflects a certain aesthetic choice of our youth. Indian audiences are hypocritical and we know that. Publicly we will oppose crimes like rape but at home, the case can be the exact opposite. The reality of our audience is staring at us. Whether we like it or not, adult films are beginning to do really well. Adult is the new high-concept and a primary genre. Within that we have Adult-comedy, Sex-Comedy, Adult-horror, Adult-thriller, Adult-drama and Adult-Love stories. Not only are the censors getting more lenient, but also I predict that soon channels for adult content could make their way selectively. The Internet is anyways a black hole to access any kind of content, anytime, anywhere.
Certain sections of our media have spoken out against Grand Masti aggressively and they have every right to. Open debate must be encouraged. But then if they feel so strongly about adult content, they should not carry advertisements of such films or news articles on such films. Why run to interview Sunny Leone and happily send bills to producers for full-page ads and trailers.
Just like water finds its own level, the audiences find their source of entertainment. India is the land of Kamasutra, Khajuraho with a history of debauch royalty. If all goes well, China could be under threat in terms of India taking them over in the population game. We love sex and all forms of extensions around it, but in private. Indians watch films for entertainment and escapism, not art. If we can blend art with content, that's the ideal scenario, which is more of an exception.
But we are a nation where we protest against treating women as objects of sex and follow it up by watching a film where women are objects of sex. Cinema for the people, by the people.
(Siddhartha M Jain is the CEO of iRock Films. iRock is a film production co-pioneering in Bollywood, High-Concept, Youthful & Commercial, theatrical features. Their first release was Ragini MMS and they have finished shooting Disco Valley with Viacom18 and Kill The Rapist? and are in pre-production with Size Zero & SAXXXkiDUKAAN.com with Vir Das. iRock is co-owned by Mr Manmohan Shetty – Founder & Ex-Chairman of Adlabs Films Ltd (now Reliance Mediaworks Ltd). Other investors in iRock are Dar Media & Shravan Shroff of Shringar Films & founder of Fame Cinemas, now acquired by Inox.)