Bollywood Fixation of Indian Media



Bollywood “Chart”busters…Part One

Graphs, Venns and the junoon of the vaudeville that is Bollywood.¬†ūüôā¬†

ek do teen film stillek do teen


naino mein sapna film stillnaino mein sapna



kabhi mein kahoon film stillkabhi mein kahoon



aankhon mein kya ji film stillaankhon mein kya ji



seene mein jalan film stillseene mein jalan chart



aine ke tuke film stillAine ke tukde


Hum Aapke Hain Kaun: 5 Degrees of Separation

It is nearly a century since the first film was made in India (Raja Harishchandra in 1913). Last weekend, I watched the Marathi film, Raja Harishchandranchi Factory (2009) and read up a bit on the moolah trends associated with Indian filmmaking. The website boxofficeindia gives collection figures for films since 1940 and while the data is not uniform across the entire period, one can deduce the earnings trend of the top grossing film per year since 1940. I plotted net revenue collections of the number 1 film per year since 1940 and came up with the following chart (click to enlarge)

Initially, the success of a film was determined by longevity as opposed to revenue. Have you ever tuned in to those lazy Sunday radio programs where they interview some senior film artiste (director, cinematographer, musician, playback singer, actor, etc) where the favourite songs of the person being interviewed are played. The guest on the show almost invariably mentions something that sounds like “woh picture ki to golden jubilee huyi thi“… Nowadays there is total front loading of revenue around the initial days following the film’s release. Front loading of revenue also reduces the bleed which a long running film may suffer due to piracy.

A couple of points stand out from the chart: the lost decade of the 80’s and the phenomenon that was Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. HAHK, in short, transformed the whole process of making money from films in India. While it may not be as dramatically causal as a single film being responsible for moving the industry into a higher orbit but the film certainly gave enough reasons for uncles and aunties, grannies and veiled bahus to venture out into the dingy, single screen, paan stained cinema houses across the country. HAHK and Jurassic Park (both released in 1994) gave reasons for movie watching to become a family experience in India. Jurassic Park was timed very well as it got in just as the Government (in 1992) ended the National Film Development Center’s monopoly over film import into India. Jurassic Park’s¬†technical sophistry, which was¬†never before seen (or heard) in Indian movie theatres, forced theatre owners to upgrade their demonstration equipment.¬†HAHK’s pull¬†ensured that the hygiene and comfort levels of movie theatres in India improved dramatically – going to movies was no longer taboo. I was in my late school years in Ranchi during this time and I do remember¬†that no one – absolutely no one among my parents’ milieu used to visit theatres. Or even in modest Jalgaon. Imagine what a social phenomenon it must have been for a product to come along which got four generations of a family into a lice and bed-bug infested theatre to watch HAHK! We had reaffirmed our resolve not to watch any movies in theatres but just this one exception. That promise got quickly broken as the theatres (in Jalgaon) plowed back some of their profits and improved their property. Maine Pyaar Kiya,¬†Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak¬†and Titanic were testaments of those broken promises. While that is what happened with my extended family, it may very well be the case across most Indian families. Such feel good, family oriented movies expanded the market – big banner production houses started releasing a large number of prints. A 2nd tier city used to get the prints in the 3rd of 4th week but now even a remote village gets to see Bodyguard on day 1. And now that the entire family is walking in to a cineplex on weekends, ticket prices are also very high on the weekends. That is how we entered the 21st century.

Now we see films rapidly busting the Rs. 100 crore mark with regular precision – while it does sound very prosaic and formula driven, there are two external factors which may be at the root of this ‘leg up’ which the industry is enjoying at the box office. The rapid urbanization of India would certainly be the first – with the share of services income continuously rising, more and more people are coming to towns. Spending nuclear money on weekends in malls is becoming quite a habit. The other reason for the recent increase in film earnings is also the gradually increasing size of the Indian NRI diaspora. Overseas earnings are a very high (and growing) proportion of a film’s revenues these days – the INR:USD and INR:GBP exchange rate translates into high takings even if the number of viewers abroad are much lesser than that in India. While India gets trounced on most parameters when compared to China, there is one comparator where the Chinese should see red: Indians overseas remain far more loyal and patronize Indian cinema far more than the degree of adoption by overseas Chinese to flicks orginating from Hong Kong.

Finally, I have a prediction to make. Taking clue from the other mass obsession of Indians Рcricket Рand noting the declining length of popular formats of the game (test matches to one-dayers to T20), it may very well be possible that Indian films (musicals as they are sometimes categorized by foreign audiences) may shrink their run times from the current 150 Р180 minutes. Makes immense commercial sense as well since more shows can be packed into a weekend.

Personally, I feel that the product quality (as judged by the strength of the storyline) has, on an average, waned considerably during the last 70 years, but since the purpose of cinema is to entertain first and enlighten later, who cares about the content of films beyond a point? If someone talks of enlightening entertainment or entertaining enlightenment then all I can say is that the film РThe Three Idiots is a true black swan of our times.

The Glitter of Gold

Does Bappi Lahiri have a¬†golden voice?¬†Well! Thats subjective, but to me he is¬†the¬†golden stud, many times over. He had once walked past me in the Oberoi Mall (Mumbai) during the promos of the film, Chandni Chowk to China and even then the Au aura that emanated from him, piercing the reverential envelope of fans that surrounded him was striking. Bappi da (as he is known to Bollywood) has a penchant for gold. And boy, has be been spot on. I am sure he must be having kilos of the metal and what a climb his portfolio must’ve made during the past 10 years. I can’t wait for the film, Bappida Tusi Great Ho to get released. It’s said that the secret of his attraction for gold will finally get revealed through the film! I don’t care whether his golden sheen works on the silver screen but I think he has delivered a fitting reply to the numerous mocking references that people have made for his affinity for gold. And an awesome investing lesson for many of us. And I have a confession to make: I like listening to Bappi music in my car- esp. the variety from my younger days. But I wonder why did he say,

Yaar bina chain kahaan re. Yaar bina chain kahaan re. Sona nahi, chandi nahi, yaar to mila. Arre pyaar kar le.
[trans: Where’s peace of mind if you are loveless? x2. No gold, no silver, but at least I found love. Let’s love.]

Bappi da has enjoyed a¬†much steeper climb than someone who would’ve been long the NIFTY during the past 10 years. The graph¬†alongside shows the relative performance of Gold vs. the NIFTY over the past 10 years or so. The price of 10 grams of Gold was around 4,000 rupees at the start of the millennium and it is close to 19,000 rupees now. In contrast, 4,000¬†‘gold currenncy units’ invested in the representative sample of the Indian economy that is the NIFTY would have fetched you just 6,000 gcus today. I don’t mean XAU when¬†I say gcu – the latter is just a hypothetical contruct to indicate what would happen if¬†metal became our currency and not some signed bill of paper. At one point in time (7Jan’08) it looked as if¬†equities would cross over and start performing better than Gold. That was not to¬†be and¬†the NIFTY¬†turned south from that point in time with the relative performance gap widening from that point till today. I had purchased some Gold (coins)¬†some 4 years back¬†(partly by design since my equity holding had risen quite a bit) and thankfully I have not unwound that trade. Actually I have the tax laws to thank since long term capital gains set in for direct Gold investments only after a holding period of 3 years.

I also took out the index data for the Dow & the NIFTY and restated the two data sets in equivalent gold weight in local currency terms. While the chart above puts out quite a glum picture for the NIFTY if seen through a golden lens, the Dow droop is even more depressing. What the chart alonside tells us is that if one would have done a 10 year swap between the index and gold, he would receive 79% less of gold (by weight) in the US as compared to a drop of 29% in India. The inflection point for the NIFTY stated in gold occurred during the second half of 2003. Differential economic growths and currency movements took the lime green line far away only to come crashing down at the start of 2008.

Indians are known to be voracious consumers of gold. Global gold analyts make it a point to understand a bit about the Indian marriage season and track it expectedly. I did spend a fleeting moment of sympathy on parents of girls of marriageable age. These guys must be getting squeezed tight unless of course, they had the foresight of Bappi da. While the assorted gaggle of relatives and opinion makers that mill around the circuses that are Indian marriages might have knowingly shifted their discussions to the value of the gold lining our marriages (as opposed to the weight), I have a suspicion that Indian mothers-in-law still regard their daughters-in-law by the weight of the gold that the latter brings into the coop. Any suggestions, on how I can get our mothers-in-law-in-waiting to read my site?

Since it’s highly unlikely that you are a prospective mother-in-law, the question that may be on your mind would be: Wither gold?¬†Well, I dont know! But I think that it will continue to climb for some more years to come. People have started looking at gold as an investment option now. The front covers of investment magazines have¬†started displaying the¬†golden glow quite frequently these days.¬†I am sure you must have noticed an increase in the number of ads selling gold backed loans, etc. Since Indians have historically stuffed a lot of gold in bank lockers, under their mattresses, on their noses, etc, it’s a good opportunity for Indians to monetise it for income producing opportunities. I personally cannot relate to gold as an investment theme. While I have added some more gold (in ETF form now) after that past investment of mine, it is largely as a hedge. If you look at the first chart above, the metal (yellow line) has climbed almost on a linear basis. But the chart spans¬†10 years which is less than the time that¬†I’ve been around investing in the markets. So¬†my sense of patience is not adequate here. In any case,¬†gold does not produce any income – there are no dividends to be had from gold. The utility and power of equity dividends¬†itself is not understood¬†by¬†many, though¬†I do feel that¬†the attention to dividends would be more in the¬†developed economies as compared to India since the yields are¬†low. Perhaps an investigation¬†into this might be a theme of a future post but¬†here what¬†I can say is that the moment the price of gold¬†departs from¬†it’s linear trend and starts to climb at a rate depending on the¬†square of time, then it will be the best time to get out. Parabolas cannot sustain their weight. They need continuous energy to feed it and since equities cannot keep grovelling forever to droop below their book values, there will come a day when gold will sink down. I don’t have the data set, but there are quite a few charts on the internet that depict the 200 year movement of gold (see above). And that will be the day when our statistically challenged mothers-in-law will be happier welcoming more heavily laden daughters-in-law into their fold. Till such time, enjoy the ride.

Cover his Butt

In case you missed this, one of the news item last week was the massive attempt to cover John Abraham’s butt. With an insurance policy of a 100 million rupees! The Deccan Chronicle carried a note about a policy being worked out to support his back, but I think they missed the object of the policy. Or maybe that newspaper is modest.¬†John may have to pay quite a packet as premium considering that he seems to have suffered a minor muscle pull recently. Maybe the sprain was to his back muscle or maybe the largest muscle in his body itself was pulled. Why do we think of buying protection only when we have a close shave with calamity?

One buys insurance cover to protect an ‘ass’et¬†which is income producing such that in any unfortune eventually, if the asset stops productive work, its owner or it’s beneficiaries can receive some consideration. This clearly means that John intends to truly work his posterior out in the coming future.

His butt sits right on the top of the Bollywood apex. Ouch! Must hurt a bit. Some time back (in 2008?) he was placed at No. 7 amongst the World’s Top Sexiest Men. He rounded up his performance by topping the honours in a poll of Asian men that was conducted by a leading British Asian weekly and said,

“From being among the top in the world to top in Asia is superb. The air is really nice up here”.

The air is nice up where, I wonder. Bipasha Basu, in an interview during the launch of her Fondaish fitness video gave us a marketing lession. Move over 4 Ps – you’ve been Pissing around for too long. The three Bs of Bollywood that now ring up Business are: Beauty, Bosoms and Butt. And Bips, if I may add a 4th B or maybe an even bigger B to complete the quadrant? But there was something more she confided to us: that the whole world has seen John’s butt, but the butt that not many know about and is also nearly up there in the eyeball grabbing, high butt stakes (so high that the air is really nice up there) belongs to none other than Shahrukh Khan. And what about Salman Butt and Ejaz Butt? They might just become greater batting sensations if they take up John’s lead. The oppositions’ wicketkeepers field of vision might get blocked and they will just not be able to see which way things are swinging. ūüėČ

I don’t watch much Hindi movies. It’s not that¬†I get repulsed by butts but just because that’s way ‘behind’ in my list of priorities. But I am aware of the apperance of the biggest B in the movie No Smoking. I also heard it reappeared in Kabir Khan’s New York? Saw the former¬†– John played a character called K – a chain smoker trying hard to stub his butt! And of course, Dostana. Most male actors are bending backwards and seem more than eager to unbutton their low waisted trousers after John’s success. Laxmi, the goddess of wealth seems to be making a backdoor entry for these gentlemen. Salman Khan will do it in his forthcoming film, Wanted Dead or Alive. Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor literally sprung into Bollywood on their respective butts. But the pioneer himself seems to be impressed with Aamir Khan’s body instead.

“I’m never ashamed of talking about my body. Though at times I do feel like a meat shop”.

It seems a young girl once came up to John and offered to bite into his butt. John said that he took no offence since he has to respect his fans. And maybe it is to target such fans that PETA had come out with a campaign on vegetarianism when they showed a poster of John wearing a skirt made of spring onions and decked in red chillies and peas. PETA must have seen red when John went on to acquire all that beef. All this seems to be before they discovered Sherlyn Chopra!

But it’s a good thing. Such creativity on part of our general insurance companies (it would not come under health cover, would it?) is good. The risk managers at the lucky insurer will be watching John’s butt very closely indeed.

What about you? Are you adequately covered? Like our hero I hope you treat insurance as an expense ONLY and not as an investment vehicle. Maintenance of our houses and¬†cars are expense line items. Life cover should not be treated any differently. There are so many of us, highly educated and wise who get trapped by the relentless and crafty marketing messages and buy money back, guranteed returns, premium return kind of insurance policies. These help to fatten the wallet of the insurance agents and advisors. Stay away. Insurance companies sell insurance. These people are experts at macabre things like statistically analysing death and doom and gloom and selling probabilities. That’s their core competence. They are not investment managers. Best is to DIY – construct a combo¬†of a term plan (cheapest cover for your life) and a small, well reasearched portfolio of Mutual Funds (or an Exchange Traded Fund). You’ll do better.

That’s about life. Regarding health, I am not so sure. I did mention in my previous post that for me, health is not wealth, though a lack of the former can sap the latter. The trouble is that most of us feel that since we are anyways covered by our employers, we do not need additional health cover. This may work if the cover provided by your company is adequate enough. Health covers provided by companies are linked to¬†seniority and salary of the employee concerned.¬†But the probability of health issues cropping up does not depend on seniority of the employee concerned. In that case, you should take out some additional health cover to protect yourself and your family (via a family floater plan). The thing that I am not perfectly clear about is that unlike life insurance where longer term cover can be purchased, I am not sure if such long tenured health covers can be purchased. This might be due to the fact that the Indian health insurance industry is not able to construct reliable statistical tables re health and disease data. Also the fact that inflation in medical expenses is very high may be preventing insurers to offer much longer term health plans (10 – 15 years). This means that one has to keep renewing health covers.


Maybe you know all this but I can bet that you might just be undercovered. (I am not a peeping tom, but the odds are in my favour if you want to wager). You might have had John Abraham for company, but not anymore. Don’t remain naked. Cover up.


And BTW, in case you are wondering, the objective of this post was not to introduce more internet search friendly tags to trap unsuspecting eyeballs. If that were the case, I’d have used Katrina Kaif’s name in this post :). (most searched Bollywood personality apparently). You feel that I am misselling? Then what about those insurance agents that sell you investments?

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