By Arundhuti Banerjee
MUMBAI: Star or no star, big screen or the computer screen -- it was film and digital content backed by good and compelling storylines that drew the audience's attention in 2016, when formulaic sequels and even some ambitious dramas failed to make it big.
While some small-budget films generated unexpected results, some star-driven movies didn't excite the audience and, instead, growing takers of online viewing added a new dimension to film watching.
This is the year when sequels of hit films, earlier considered as money spinners, failed at the box office. "Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive", "Tum Bin II", "Rock On 2" and "Kahaani 2" didn't do as well as their first instalments.
"Rock On 2" was the first movie to release after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the central government's decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. And that had a direct effect on the box office earnings of the movie, which had an approximate budget of Rs 45 crore, and reportedly earned Rs 15.67 crore.
Real-life inspired stories were brought to screen with films like "M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story", "Airlift", "Rustom" and "Dangal" -- all of which did well.
"The stories of 'Neerja' and 'Airlift' are truly inspirational and celebrate heroism. I think the mass audience still loves to watch a hero who wins the battle facing all odds. So there is an instant audience connect," Apurva Asrani, writer and editor of "Aligarh", told IANS.
Some highly ambitious films like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's "Mirzya" and Shah Rukh Khan-starrer "Fan" failed to impress critics and the masses alike.
At a time when success is coming to films like "Neerja" and "Pink", which send out relevant messages in a style that is as commercially viable but yet worthy of critical acclaim, there is also a film like "Aligarh", which gets lauded by critics but does not set the cash registers ringing.
Explaining this, Asrani said: "Two very important things should be taken under consideration while judging the success of a sensitive film like 'Aligarh'. First, the intention of making the film was not box office success.
"Secondly, the audience of this kind of experimental, sensitive film is also outside the theatres. They are watching them on the digital platforms like Netflix and at special screenings during film festivals. Those are some of the ways to reach out to people."
Saiwyn Quadras, co-writer of the Sonam Kapoor starrer "Neerja", feels the audience prefers to watch films on topics like homosexuality, online rather than in theatres.
"That might affect the box office, but not the reach of the film, he said, adding: "Online viewership extends the life of a film after its release in theatres. That is one of the reasons why so many avenues are opening for digital release of a film and the numbers are growing fast."
The digital route is finding many takers.
Production banner Eros International releases films on its online channel Eros Now before their TV premiere. Even Amazon is opening its platform for digital release of films and, most recently, Shah Rukh's home banner Red Chillies Entertainment has collaborated with Netflix for the exclusive viewing of the superstar's movies.
So, is the progressive audience shifting medium from theatre to online?
"Whether a movie is a hit or a flop is always decided based on box office collection as that is the faster way to recover all the invested money of the film for a producer. The online views do not count as revenue for box office or the immediate business of the film.
"Satellite and online viewers are not investing (much) money to watch a film," film trade expert Komal Nahta told IANS.
Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the audience is changing and they are receptive to good stories.
Nahta said: "The audience is evolving, and 'Pink' is an example of that. It has done good business at the box office. It is a good thing that stars like Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor are doing different roles.
"But you see, without Akshay, 'Airlift' could have been made and considered as a good film, but it would not have become such a big film... Stars make that happen," Asrani said of Bollywood's ever-prevalent 'star' system.