The changing demography in theaters

Walk into a theater to watch a movie these days and observe the crowd around. You are sure to find gangs of friends, colleagues, couples and a mixture of others. What is missing from this milieu is the family. Yes, we don’t find families in theaters these days, at least not too many of them and that is hurting the business of cinema big time, even though there may not be a candid admission of the fact from the industry. Gone are the days (don’t let that phrase make you think that we are referring to the Sivaji-MGR era; this is not more than 15years back) when cinema/movies used to be regular family outings. The group of audiences that used to dominate cinema halls was the families. So, what happened in the interim that caused this rapid shift in the demography of the population within cinema halls?

Ask a social scientist and he/she is sure to point to the failing system of families, working couples and consequent alienation from children etc. But, let us not get into all that; let us look at it from a pure cinema perspective. Come to

think of it; families still do flock to theaters; on special occasions like Diwali, Pongal, and the final few days of the summer vacations etc. and also for films that no one would dream of missing like an Endhiran or Manmadhan Ambu. Yes, it is taking something really special like a festival or the presence of a legend on screen to bring families to theaters. Otherwise, a marked indifference towards watching movies on the big screen can be felt amongst family audiences.

One theory that has often been heard is that the current crop of frontline stars like Ajith, Vijay, Suriya or Vikram does not have the universal appeal or charisma like a Rajni or Kamal to pull everyone in a family to the theater. Each one of these stars has their own strong points and consequently a fan base which are thoroughly exploited in every movie that they do. And, in most cases, it is overdone, leaving little room for other elements to be inculcated. This generally results in products that are delectable only for hard core fans of the star and generate apathy amongst others which ultimately does not result in enough vibes to bring families to theaters. This is where we need to understand that the average family audience is not easily wooed to theaters by hype or publicity; it is only strong word of mouth that can draw an entire family to the theater. But, with polarization of films to suit fan bases and tastes (like the extensive almost irritating overuse of the word ‘Thala’ in Aasal), there is hardly enough widespread good opinion going around; except for the respective fans who are on cloud nine (no pun intended).

Yes, each of the current frontline stars have had a time in their careers where they looked like becoming a darling of the family audiences, but that unfortunately was not sustained too long.

And, perhaps it is not just fair to blame the stars alone. The dynamics of cinema has changed almost at an unbelievable pace over the last five years and stars have had to movie with it. No one is any longer safe with one kind of cinema or character for any length of time; like perhaps in the late 80s and 90s , periods where Rajni, Karthik, Murali, Vijaykanth etc. kept doing their respective brand of cinema with very good success. The same game plan does not work in 2010. Actors have been compelled to be unpredictable. That is why we have Suriya going for something like Rattha Charithiram (something a hero would not have thought of in the 90s) or Dhanush alternating between movies like Uthamaputhiran and Aadukalam. That is also perhaps why some of the stars who established themselves in the late 90s are a bit lost at the moment. They earned their stripes when doing a typical brand of cinema which provided something for everyone in the family was the norm and now suddenly they find that what they have been doing all their career is no longer accepted; Ajith and Vijay are the best examples.

As a result, a hero has lost out on predictability – which is a good thing. But, with predictability, he has also lost the reliability – which is bad. Reliability in the sense that a family cannot walk in for any hero’s film knowing fully well that it has been made for family viewing. With actors like Dhanush and Suriya having done A certificate films in their careers, no one can be sure as what to expect. The unpredictability of the products from the film industry can be judged by a classical example – that of Mysskin. In November he gave a mellow, soft and sweet story – Nandhalala and in February he shocked us with a turn of tables, delivering an intensely belligerent Yudham Sei. Or look at the jump Gautham Menon has made from romance to psycho thriller (VTV to Nadunisi Naaygal).

While this unpredictability is good because it keeps the general audiences interested, it also develops doubts and aspersions in the family audiences’ minds. Everyone will agree that films like Rattha Charithiram or Yudham Sei are not ideal for family viewing, even if everyone in the family is above 18. The doubts keep them away from theaters till word about the movie starts going around. But, with wide release strategies these days, films don’t stick around in theaters for much beyond 25-30 days, unless it is Endhiran. Consequently, by the time, word goes around and families decide that a film is worth watching; it is playing only in the B centers and families wouldn’t go within a mile of these theaters. And, that is where the pirated DVD wins the race.

So, how do we get families into theaters?

Concept By Murugan

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