Hipper Bollywood now woos younger audiences

Mon Mar 14, 2011 2:25am EDT
 
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Bollywood is dyeing its hair blond, getting itself a sports car and donning a pair of worn-out jeans. In other words, it's trying to get younger and hipper. The Hindi film industry, until now ruled by stars mostly in their 40s, is looking to woo younger audiences with edgier storylines and younger talent. Two of Bollywood's biggest production houses, Yash Raj Films and Viacom18 Motion Pictures -- part of the Viacom 18 group, a 50-50 venture between Viacom Inc and Network 18 -- have set up separate branches to cater to the 18-25 age bracket, hoping that the increasing spending power of this group will make these movies financially viable. "They cannot afford to ignore this demographic, because they form more than 60 percent of theater audiences and Bollywood is realizing that now," says C. Sridhar of 4sight, a company that tracks films and their success. Bollywood is traditionally known for its song and dance routines and family melodramas, but all that has changed in recent years. The rise of what is known as the "multiplex audience," urban viewers who have a taste for edgier cinema and the spending power to watch it, has meant that Bollywood is now exploring newer storylines and bolder themes. The bulk of that audience are youngsters, either in college or fresh out of it, exposed to Western shows and movies and with more spending power than they have ever had before. "This is an audience that doesn't think like the rest of the population, they are more willing to experiment," says Vikram Malhotra of Viacom18. "This is the SMS generation, so time is short and they have a lot to do." Viacom18 has a separate branch called Tipping Point which will develop and produce films aimed at young audiences. Malhotra says the studio will bring in younger directors and young talent to act in movies that will have a distinct appeal to the 18-25 demographic, both in urban and rural India. The stories will be of every genre from crime to romance but tailored to suit the mindset of Indian youth. "What will change is the way the stories are told -- even though the themes might remain the same," says Sridhar. "There will be more technology involved, better action, bolder characters -- all things that will appeal to the younger generation."

The tilt toward youth also opens up opportunities for younger people within Bollywood itself. Most of Bollywood's leading men, including the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan are all in their mid-40s, and first-time directors usually have to wait till their 30s to get a break. But that is changing.

Viacom18 has roped in director Anurag Kashyap, who is in his 30s, as a creative consultant on one such project for Tipping Point. Kashyap is also directing another film, a racy action thriller titled "Gangs of Wasseypur."

The question most skeptics are asking is if a film aimed at a particular demographic will be financially viable in an industry where there are only a handful of successes each year. "If they price it right and don't hire the big stars, thus increasing their budgets, I see no reason why these films shouldn't work," Vajir Singh, trade analyst and editor of Box Office India magazine. "Increasingly, this will be the audience that will matter the most, and we will see other studios following suit."

(Edited by Elaine Lies)