Box office numbers and the lying game of Bollywood

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Nov 27, 2013 13:23:53 IST

By Tanmay Bhat

The other day I was flicking through a film trade magazine (or as Taran Adarsh calls it, Bible). A film trade magazine, for those who don’t know, is what producers use to slap a writer’s face whenever he makes a suggestion to make the film appealing to anyone with an IQ of 8 and above.

It is also filled with random numbers that producers and distributors would have us believe are a) true, and b) proof that a film is good or bad depending upon how much it’s earned. (Syd Field, please leave the building now.)

Expect a fan of trade magazines to say stuff like this:

Art Enthusiast: We have here the Mona Lisa, an original Da Vinci and one of the most priceless paintings in the world!

Trade Magazine Fan: Haan mast — lekin kitne ka hai?

Art Enthusiast: But it is priceless! Invaluable!

Trade Magazine Fan: Haan value-bilue samajh gaya.. lekin kitna?

Art Enthusiast: It is not for sale, young sir!

Trade Magazine Fan: Dekh, isko thoda ghagra choli type kuch pehna aur guarantee Punjab se 20 crore milega.


Art Enthusiast:
...

If you go by film trade magazines, every week, every release seems to be gunning for some record. The other day a film broke the “Highest First Week Non Holiday Non Weekend Monday Matinee Record” while simultaneously also breaking the “Dumbest Record To Hold In The History Of Mankind” milestone.

It’s fairly obvious that the digits flashed in different websites and magazines don’t add up. Some inflate the number so that they look cool; others do the opposite so that they pay less taxes. The number fudging in Bollywood makes the IPL look like a school play. And guess who's offended by all this blatant lying and the obviously-skewed numbers? Wait for it. Bombay Times.

Recently, the tabloid announced that it is discontinuing its box office trade column because it wants to uphold standards of journalism and “doesn’t want to cheat their readers” by reporting numbers that producers aren’t willing to confirm. On hearing this, even India TV was probably like, “Okay bro — relax.”

This is the same paper that makes no secret of being up for sale. (Want to be in Bombay Times? Get in touch with Medianet.) And these guys are upset because apparently producers are being deceitful to them. Irony just shot itself in the face.

 Box office numbers and the lying game of Bollywood

Cinema goers watching Bollywood movie at Maratha Mandir. Reuters

Newsflash: producers are lying to the media not only to look good themselves but also because that’s the kind of stuff the media wants to give its readers. So before getting all huffy about producers not being honest about the numbers, maybe Bombay Times and publications like it could take a moment and see what kind stories they favour. Because those aren’t particularly factual either.

This is roughly what you read in the papers every day:

“Khan 1 film beats Khan 2 films B.O. record!”

(B.O. meaning box office, not body odour.)

Two months later, when Khan 2 has a film coming out, we’ll read:

“Will Khan 2’s film beat Khan 1’s B.O. record?”

At no point in this scenario, will a producer be honest about his numbers. Why? Because he knows you’re never going to read a headline that says, “PRODUCER TRIED HARD BUT COULDN’T BEAT PREVIOUS B.O. RECORDS BUT HE DOESN’T MIND ‘COZ HE SLEEPS WELL AT NIGHT AND DOESN’T FEEL LIKE A PIMP.”

Every time someone pits a movie against another, there’s the added pressure of breaking more records, which equals making more money. The Rs 100-crore ‘club’ isn’t enough; now films have to make it to Rs 200 crore. How do we do that? By making the scripts dumb and dumber because every director and producer wants to fall back upon the tropes that have earned at the box office in the past.

At this rate, we’re going to end up with movies called ‘Chikni Chameli’, which is basically a three-hour item number called Chikni Chameli, starring Chikni Chameli, supported by Chikni Chameli and directed by Chikni Chameli Shetty.

This quest for winning the numbers game has clearly formed a pattern. The rubbish movies are making more money while the good ones are not. Rarely – and I use that term liberally – does a good movie break box office records. And if it does, it’s going to be more difficult to convince journalists that it did, thanks to prior experience.

Producer: Yep, my movie made Rs 100 crores.

Journalist: DON’T LIE! YOU ONLY HAD 2 OBVIOUS PLOTHOLES!

Producer: Err..that’s ‘coz I paid my writer..

Journalist: AHA! YOU HIRED A “WRITER”?! HOW CAN YOU MAKE 100 CRORES WHEN YOU HAVE A WRITER?! LIAR!

And the audience is paying the price for it. Today, more than ever, urban audiences are opting for other kinds of entertainment to cinema-going. If movies are making money, then it’s got a lot to do with how insanely expensive tickets are. It costs more to see Viveik Oberoi in an aluminium foil, turning into a kebab, than it does to have a whole platter of kebabs at a fancy restaurant.

At the same time, thanks to entertainment journalism going on and on about Bollywood, we’ve got a vicious cycle in play. They keep writing about it, producers keep lying about it and worst of all, we keep reading about it. The numbers touted by film trade magazines may be fudged, but there’s no fudging the fact that Indian readers lap up every little gossipy bit of fluff that is released to us. Unless we, the readers, demand better from journalism, things will nev – ooh story about Poonam Pandey’s favourite gol gappa flavours. Hang on, BRB.

Tanmay Bhat is a writer, comedian, podcaster and co founder of All India Bakchod. You can find him on Twitter as @thetanmay or on Facebook.

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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2013 13:03:33 IST