2022, one of the worst years for Bollywood
by Alessandra De Poli

The Indian film industry, which churns out up to 1,600 films a year, has not yet recovered from the pandemic. Regional, non-Hindi productions, on the other hand, are increasingly popular. Films are also dragging with them the popularity of music: new genres and artists are emerging thanks to social media.

Milan (AsiaNews) - The year coming to a close was one of the toughest for the Mumbai-based Bollywood industry: despite a string of successes, some 20 films in 2022 posted losses, double the number by pre-pandemic standards.

Seventy-seven percent of the last year's releases were flops, and only one-fifth of the films met box office targets, whereas before the pandemic the percentage was around 50 percent. The Bollywood-related music industry also seems to be waning in popularity, and critics are investigating the causes of this crisis.

In 2022 there were only three or four blockbuster films, explained Sumit Kadel, a trade expert, while the Indian film industry would need at least a dozen big hits to survive. "Bollywood is definitely going through its worst phase in the last two or three decades," he commented.

One reason appears to be related to the pandemic: because of the lockdowns, many films have been made available on online streaming platforms-which half the Indian population has access to-at reduced prices, so now many people are reluctant to go to theaters, where tickets are charged at full price.

"People are only willing to travel the distance to the theater and pay a lot if the size and content of the films excite them," Kadel continued. "Theaters this year have emptied out monthly by about 15 to 20 percent, which is why theaters are now selling popcorn at exorbitant prices."

Others point to screenwriters' difficulties in renewing stories and plots, offering tales that have become cloying in the eyes of the general public. Several critics have pointed to the need for renewal, both in terms of the themes covered and the actors cast, while others have accused Bollywood of producing niche films or for a city elite despite the fact that the vast majority of Indians live in rural areas.

In recent years, regional film industries that had been relegated to a secondary role have emerged and are now offering films that deviate from "classic" standards. Bollywood, which churns out up to 1,600 films a year, is considered a national industry because it has always produced films in Hindi, one of the most widely used (and understood) languages in the entire country. But today people also refer to Kollywood and Tollywood to refer to Tamil- and Telugu-language films, for example.

The highest grossers in 2022 were "regionally produced" films, such as "RRR," which is in the Telugu language and tells the story of two independence fighters against the British raj. Grossing 0 million worldwide, it is India's third highest grossing film of all time, with record opening day earnings.

 In the first six months of the year, films produced in the southern states grabbed 50 percent of box office profits, a first in the Indian film scene. According to Kadel, these films also receive a great deal of support from the Indian diaspora around the world.

The expert also pointed out Bollywood's inability to adapt to new methods of disseminating clips on social media, where short videos of film clips are re-shared by hundreds of thousands of users increasing the popularity of one film over another. 

An issue that also affects the music industry and is causing new genres to emerge. Some are even talking about "reelification" to refer to the increasing prevalence of reels (Instagram's short videos, created to compete with those of TikTok, the Chinese app banned in India).

Reels are changing the Indian music scene, which until not long ago was tied to Bollywood hits: now, however, "movie" songs have lost appeal-if a film is not successful, its soundtrack is unlikely to become popular-and are making way for new young artists producing indie music and other musical subgenres.

"With the decline in film productions during the pandemic," explained Rahul Balyan, head of Spotify India, "a space for non-film music has been created, and now many artists are coming to the fore."

These are mostly independent musicians who start from small performances in clubs and make it to big stadiums thanks to the popularity their songs gain on social media.

According to the exponents of these new music genres-which range from indie to rap to hard rock-musical songs still dominate the indie scene, but more and more songwriters are trying to create catchy tunes to secure the favor of the Instagram algorithm and from there a rapid climb to success among the younger generation.