We all know it takes a certain requisite level of madness to be in showbiz - you need the right mix of passion, networking, selling your soul, ego, pretension, and sweat. Oh, and talent. In a film industry so dependent on the opening weekend box office collections, this cocktail of insanity intensifies even more as the best of filmmakers and actors hold their breaths when their film hits release on any given Friday. Gone are the days when films were celebrated for their chartbuster music or for reaching the impressive silver jubilee (25 weeks) at the box office. Today, the opening weekend collections - just the first 2-3 days - can mean triumph or doom in an industry where you're only as good as your last film.
In this arena of heightened competition, a growing number of films are reaching a new milestone - the infamous 100 crore club! Collections of 100 crore (i.e. 1 billion Rupees) are by no means a new phenomenon, though it is fairly recent. According to figures posted by BoxOfficeIndia.com, there have been 37 films that have hit 100 crore (worldwide gross, adjusted for inflation) in the history of Indian cinema. Most of these have released after 2006. However, the last few years have witnessed a steadily growing coterie of the MEGA-blockbuster, films that smash through box office collections in the first couple of days and hurtle past the coveted 100 crore line. What's more interesting than the speed at which they rake in the moolah is the kind of films that do so. And what they indicate about the kinds of films that we - the insatiable masses - gravitate towards time and again.
While the exact amount of revenue for Hindi films is fuzzy territory, certain figures start doing the rounds after a film's release and media coverage usually settles on a number after some speculation. The exact criteria of being hailed as a 100 crore blockbuster is also up in the air. While in most cases, it refers to nett gross revenue in India only (which makes the group of films considerably smaller), other sources will tally up worldwide gross revenue, thereby bolstering more films into the exclusive club of mega-earners. However, the fancy tag of the '100 crore club' was essentially heralded by the 2008 Aamir Khan-starrer Ghajini. As the violent, tormented and tragic tale of one man's revenge for love pulled in audiences in droves, the film industry suddenly realized the power of a film that really could reach out across audiences.
Ghajini was soon joined by 3 Idiots, which is the highest earning Indian film in history, clocking in over 300 crore Rupees worldwide. What seemed like a feat possible only by Aamir Khan - starring in both Ghajini and 3 Idiots - quickly became a goal for other actors as well. It was a way to separate the superstars from the wannabes. As more films joined the 100 crore club in quick succession, the likes of Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Hrithik Roshan too rose to the pedestal. 2011 became the most successful year for such mega-blockbusters, with Ready, Singham, Bodyguard, Ra.One and Don 2 all striking big at the India box office.
There are a host of economic reasons for the recent spurt in these high-earning films. Producers and distributors are now opting to release their films with more prints than ever, with 2,000-3,000 prints becoming the norm. Such wide theatrical releases, especially into the smaller towns, paired with incessant marketing, is now resulting in bigger opening day collections than ever before. The prevalence of the multiplex, with increased seating capacity and higher ticket prices, has also been a contributing factor. However, beyond the economics of it all, these films also tell us quite a bit about the evolving notions of male stardom, the ongoing strength of the masala genre, and the rise of the female superstar.
The main selling point for these films is the male star in the lead. Most of these films are solo leads, except for 3 Idiots and Golmaal 3, but even these two rested on the significantly greater star power of Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgan respectively. And barring these two films, the others thrive on the hyper-macho, superhuman images of the stars, substantiated even more by their roles being carefully shaped around those images. Where Dabangg and Bodyguard tapped into the rugged, working class appeal of Salman Khan, Ra.One and Don 2 became vehicles for Shah Rukh Khan's appeal with the urban and overseas audiences. Then there were films such as Ghajini, Singham and Agneepath where the stars - Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgan, Hrithik Roshan - stepped away from their otherwise softer, intellectual or comedic images and embraced the bulked up, angry, brooding, larger-than-life roles on offer. Entry into the 100 crore club essentially turned into a "pissing contest," as the biggest stars constantly tried to outdo each other by conforming into almost the same star persona.
Whatever these stars did for their image is also supported in their films by the trusted masala formula. These films use stylized action as their forte, putting their buffed up leads to good use. Tying the increasingly innovative action sequences together are loose narratives that include a love story, some sort of familial angle, a villain or two, and the hero's pride/ego at stake. Finally, add to the mix a sexy/raunchy item number that is designed to be a chartbuster. Almost every element of the film is placed and shaped around the grandiose superstar image of its star. And this applies to most of the films on the 100 crore list within the India box office. A look at the wider, worldwide grossers list brings in big-budget romantic comedies and family dramas as well. Whatever the case may be, these films still depend heavily on the star power of the male lead, especially since it's worth noting that not a single film in the 100 crore club has smaller stars or newcomers in the lead.
The male-centric culture of the film industry inevitably focuses the discussion of superstars on the male actors. The 100 crore club tally is kept with regards to which male star had the biggest muscles and made the most money. There's little discussion over the women that are also a part of these films, even though most of them play mere arm candy in such films. Kareena Kapoor has solidified her star status by having four 100 crore grossers to her name - 3 Idiots, Bodyguard, Ra.One and Golmaal 3. Unfortunately, all four films were incredibly male-dominated and are usually discussed for the male stars that helmed them. While the roles for the three Khans were essentially designed for them in their respective films, the same can't be said for the female stars. Kapoor's role in Bodyguard and Ra.One, for example, could have been played by anyone else. Similarly, Priyanka Chopra also has two such films to her credit - Don 2 and Agneepath - which bolsters her star clout and market appeal, but those roles too were secondary to the male lead.
The tide is slowly changing, however. As 2011 witnessed five big ticket male-centric films break the 100 crore barrier, one feisty female-oriented film eventually had the last word. The Dirty Picture, starring Vidya Balan, was the last big release of the year and registered over 11o crores in worldwide gross revenue. For a film to enter the 100 crore club primarily on the merits of its female lead signaled a substantial shift in the notion of stardom and box office clout. Balan, now being dubbed "the new Khan", is considered not only one of the leading actors of our time, but is also a major challenger to the until now male-dominated 100 crore club.
As the economics of the film business changes with the times - more prints, more seats, higher ticket prices - we may begin to see even more films join the 100 crore club in years to come simply because of the maths. However, the current frenzy over the 100 crore mark has pushed the Hindi film industry into overdrive with ambitious star vehicles and evermore aggressive marketing. Unfortunately, what this could also mean is the tendency for filmmakers to bank on safer, masala genre films that perpetuate the same ultra-masculine star personas. It may become a case of taking any bankable male star and fitting him into the mold and formula, hoping to strike gold once again. Hopefully, the success of The Dirty Picture will also spur more female-oriented films into the big leagues, but that too may be a slow progression.
For now, the 100 crore club is steadily growing. What remains to be seen is what the next barometer of a film's success will be when this once-exclusive club becomes too crowded.