One of the first woman-centric film the audience showered with bouquets and their money this year was Queen. A journey of a middle-class girl, Rani Mehra played superbly by Kangana Ranaut, the film garnered over Rs.50 crore in three weeks. Made on a modest budget of Rs.11 crore, the business it did was phenomenal. Two weeks later, came the horrex Ragini MMS 2. With Sunny Leone in the lead, the film opened with Rs.24 crore in the opening weekend, making it the third highest opening weekend grosser after Jai Ho and Gunday.
The most striking feature about the success of woman-centric films is that each is distinctively different from the other. While the path-breaking Mother India had a poor woman shape her own destiny, Mirch Masala talked about the strong bond amongst the women in the village. Damini was Meenakshi Sheshadri’s fight to get justice for the rape victim, Deepa Mehta’s Fire accentuated the right of a woman to choose her sexuality, while Chandini Bar was about the struggle of a bar dancer.
“You cannot resort to the same gimmicks in a woman-centric film that you would do in a male-dominated film. The moment a woman is a protagonist, the director has to think differently. It’s all about going against the grain here. And it is not about erotica. It’s easy to put that element, but it does not work on its own. If the emotional connect with the audience is not there, the film will only have a shelf life of two-three days,” says Milan Luthria who helmed the The Dirty Picture that had Vidya Balan in one of her boldest roles.
“A female protagonist does not necessarily have to be a strong-minded character but she needs to have distinct character traits,” says Tanuj Garg, CEO of Balaji Motions Pictures. Yet, despite this intriguing bouquet of films and subjects, some of which have run to packed shows, the stark reality is that from the 200-300 odd films made, only 10 to15 are decent woman-oriented films and have varying degrees of success. “For every Queen there is a Rajjo, for every Fashion there’s a Heroine and for No One Killed Jessica, there’s a Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. The biggest attraction of a film is its hero. Even if he features in a badly made film, there will be an audience, but the same cannot be said for a woman-centric one,” says Akshaye Rathi, Exhibitor and Distributor.
There are several factors that are taken into account while buying a film which has a woman protagonist. Says Girish Johar, Head, Distribution and Acquisition, Sahara Motion Pictures, which distributed the recently released Madhuri Dixit Nene and Juhi Chawla starrer, Gulaab Gang. “Generally, a big hero film is a safe bet. When it comes to other films, including woman-centric films, we look at the complete package that includes content, cast, production house and music director. When we picked up Gulaab Gang, we saw that it was a combination of Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit Nene, with Juhi in a negative role. Also it was very relevant considering the political scenario of the country. We just heard the script before picking up the film,” says Johar.
Cases where a distributor or an exhibitor would buy a woman-centric film based on the script is rare, as generally, there are several hurdles to cross before such films can make it to the theatres. Luthria recalls that when embarking on The Dirty Picture, he was told that he was taking a big risk, and everything from the subject to the title would never work. “There was not a single investor when I started the project. But I had three strong women — Shobha and Ekta Kapoor and Vidya Balan with me who felt I had something good on hand. I remember we were scheduled to release the film in December, and it was lying unsold till August. Two days after the trailer came out, Anil Thadani bought the distribution rights of the film which we sold at a marginal profit. I think during the last two-three years, the trend is changing in favour of such films. But they need to be marketed aggressively, like we did for The Dirty Picture.” says Luthria.
Madhur Bhandarkar who made Chandni Bar and several female-oriented films including Page 3, Corporate, Fashion, Heroine has become a brand in himself, when it comes to making such films.
“I am very impromptu when it comes to writing and directing, and have always gone with the flow, I found very strong women-centric stories in the areas that I explored. Also in the 11 years that I have been making films I have realised that the success mantra lies in the budget of the film. I have not incurred any losses for my films,” says Bhandarkar, who had made Chandni Bar on a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore. Kumar Mangat Pathak, producer of Bipasha Basu starrer Aatma which did not get sizeable collections, agrees with Bhandarkar, “Since my film was made on a modest budget , I not only recovered the money, but also earned a profit.”
Entertainment though, is an important factor when it comes to increasing the footfalls in the theatres. Rathi opines that, “A film cannot be categorised as woman-centric or a multiplex or a single screen film. The entertainment quotient is the essential factor in making a successful film. If a film does not have an A-league actor, then music plays a crucial factor in drawing the audience to the theatres.”
Johar too concedes, that had the music of Gulaab Gang been better, we could have done better business.
So, has the success of these woman-centric films in recent times made distributors more confident about buying them? “That will not happen. It’s a different ball game when movies are sold on minimum guarantee basis. There are so many factors at play,” says Shyam Shroff, Director, Shingar Films.
While, it is easier to sell films with male stars, it is a different story when woman-oriented films are considered. They are generally sold after the trailer is launched. It happened with The Dirty Picture and Ragini MMS 2— both were sold after their teasers were released.
All said and done, while a hero’s name can attract footfalls , there’s a lot more content that a female-oriented film needs to have to be able to attract movie-goers. More often than not, it’s the positive word-of-mouth that does the job for films like it did for Queen.
“The reason why heroes get paid more than heroines, is because they help to sell tickets by being on the poster of a film. That’s the harsh reality. Except for may be Deepika Padukone to an extent, no other actress has been able to attract audiences that way,” says Rathi.
While woman-centric films have made the industry sit up and take notice, they definitely still have a long way to go.