In India, the magic formula of Bollywood is no longer successful at the box office

Some have already seen it thirty times on their mobile phone, others keep coming back to admire it on the big screen. Only the youngest are about to discover it for the first time. Iconic Bollywood Film, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (by Aditya Chopra) continues to attract spectators, after one thousand three hundred and fifty-two weeks on the bill at the Maratha Mandir cinema, located in the south of Bombay, capital of the Hindiphone film industry. Every day, for more than twenty-seven years, the songs of this romantic comedy released in 1995, inevitably resonate between the walls of the splendid Maratha Mandir, architectural pearl of Art Deco.

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While waiting for the 11:30 a.m. session, reserved for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayengereferred to in India by its acronym “DLDD”, the spectators take a picture of themselves in front of a poster of the film. We see the young Shahrukh Khan, a living legend of Indian cinema, carrying on one shoulder his on-screen partner, Kajol, also a Bollywood star. “What other film will be so successful? »wonders, nostalgic, Manoj Desai, producer and owner of the Maratha Mandir cinema since 1971.

The record longevity of “DLDD” contrasts with the fate of the latest Bollywood releases, the Hindiphone industry that dominates the prolific Indian cinema, capable of releasing 1,600 films a year. With their dazzling songs and dances, Bollywood productions have long captivated Indians and fascinated the world. But today, Bollywood seems to have lost its luster. “The movies don’t work anymore”, regrets Manoj Desai. Since the beginning of the year, cinemas have been deprogramming films, sometimes the day after their theatrical release, for lack of spectators. “I lost tens of millions of rupees”regrets the old owner of the Maratha Mandir.

A Maratha Mandir security guard waits for late spectators, in Bombay, India, November 18, 2022.

“Movies Don’t Work”

Of the twenty-six big Bollywood releases this year, twenty are considered as flops, defined as having lost half or more of the money invested, according to Koimoi, a specialized site. The failure rate of films has thus doubled compared to 2019. For Bollywood, which derives three quarters of its income from the box office, the situation is worrying.

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Even the biggest names in the profession, revered by their fans like gods, are not spared. Several highly anticipated films featuring film heavyweights, whose mere screen presence usually guarantees success, have failed to attract crowds. “Films don’t work – it’s our fault, it’s my fault”, judged in August Akshay Kumar, one of the highest paid actors in the industry, as he suffered his second commercial failure of the year. An anomaly for the generation of megastars that emerged in the 1990s. “I have to make changes, I have to understand what the public wants”continued the actor, considered the darling of Hindu nationalists and whose films regularly echo themes dear to the government of Narendra Modi.

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