That audiences have been preferring a good storyline and script to superstars and larger-than-life sets has been clear for some time now. Ten years after debutant Ranveer Singh and newcomer Anushka Sharma's Band Baaja Baaraat gave Salman Khan's Veer a run for its money in 2010, the trend is only getting bigger. And it's no longer about superstars , it's about budget superstars.
Veer fetched a little over Rs. 35 crore in net gross collections, about half its budget of Rs. 63 crore while BBB earned Rs. 23.16 crore on a budget of Rs. 15 crore. In 2012 when Bollywood brought alive the concept of sperm donor on the silver screen, Ayushmann Khurrana's debut movie Vicky Donor went on to win the National Award. Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani, also released in the same year, was among the best thrillers seen - steeped in suspense, set amidst the nondescript lanes of Kolkata with a cast of mostly local actors.
Kahaani made nearly three times the money spent of Rs 20 crore but Shahrukh Khan’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan barely managed to touch Rs 100 crore despite being a Diwali release.
Film critic Komal Nahta says earlier, content and stars were equally important. But today, audiences don't mind paying for "real stories", even if they do not feature superstars. "If the script is wrong, a movie will not work even if you cast Salman, Aamir and Shahrukh together. But if it is good, even a fairly newcomer like Vicky Kaushal can bring in the money," Nahta says.
January 2019 saw Vicky Kaushal’s Uri raking in a whopping Rs 244 crore at the box office. Made on a budget of just Rs 44 crore, the movie dealt with India’s 2016 surgical strike against terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Aysuhmann Khurrana, Bollywood’s budget superstar’s Dream Girl crossed the Rs 100 crore club while his latest release Bala earned over Rs 100 crore - both were made at a cost of less than Rs 40 crore.
Last year too, mid-sized movies Stree, Raazi and Badhaai Ho surpassed the Rs 100 crore mark at the box office. Shahrukh Khan’s Zero lagged behind with collections of Rs 88 crore while Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan was a super flop making only Rs 138 crore on a budget of a staggering Rs 300 crore.
Ajay Gupta, partner at A.T. Kearney, attributes the success of mid-scale movies to good content. Gupta says exposure to rich global content, on the internet, has bred a culture of consuming progressive and meaningful content. Also, the younger lot is more open in its outlook.
"There has been professionalisation on the content production side as well just like in the West. All these factors coming together has allowed this sort of wave to get created," Gupta adds.
The resultant benefit is material alteration in the economics of movie-making. The earlier prevalent "star-driven culture" where pay-cheques of big buck stars accounted for the lion’s share of expenditure is gone. "In the balance of power, the production house has become more dominant and to that extent, they can dictate terms a little better because they are now clear that they can even drive a content-driven movie with not only a league-A star but they can take competent actors who can come at different economic price points," Gupta says.
Profits from movies have increased and costs have come down because non-big stars do not charge a whopping Rs 80-90 crore, adds Nahta.
In 2014, Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor’s 2 States, based on the popular novel by Chetan Bhagat, almost equalled Salman Khan’s Jai Ho in terms of box office collections - while 2 States made Rs 101.86 crore with a budget of merely Rs 45 crore, Jai Ho garnered only Rs 109.35 crore when its budget in itself was over Rs 100 crore. In 2016, Sushant Singh Rajput starrer M.S. Dhoni trumped Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil featuring Ranbir Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai in the lead. Dhoni scored Rs 119 crore while Johar’s movie lagged with Rs106.48 crore in collections. The year also saw many mid-budget movies earning close to Rs 70 crore - Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja, Alia Bhatt’s Kapoor & Sons that explored a middle-class family’s struggle to come to terms with their child’s same-sex relationship, Dear Zindagi portraying a young millennial grappling to confront the many setbacks of life and her eventual tryst with the charming therapist Dr. Jug who eases her with his ‘chair’ theory among others.
In 2017, Varun Dhawan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania made Rs 114 crore with a budget of only Rs 44 crore while Salman Khan’s Tubelight earned the same with a budget of Rs 135 crore.