Bollywood is Dead, Long Live Bollywood!

How did old Bollywood lose the plot, and how can new Indic moviemakers rescue it?

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Let’s face the facts first – the ol’ Bollywood as we know it is going, going, gone. The new, improved Bollywood is still trying to settle in, despite periodically lurching in with false steps like ‘Adipurush’ and ’72 Hoorain.’ By now, the audience is convinced that they are absolutely not looking forward to the old song-and-dance in a new can. The audience is also quick to favor new Indic converts like Manoj Muntashir and equally quick to cancel them at the first sign of betrayal. The new template or the latest formula for Box-office success remains elusive to both the established Left and the emerging Indic entertainment ecosystem. It would be interesting to scratch the surface here and look at the key reasons for when, where, and why the old system went kaput and how the new Indic moviemakers can escape the same trap.

When, where, and why?

To answer this correctly, we must trace movie entertainment’s evolution in India. Bollywood began in all earnest, with the golden years of Prabhat Talkies and Bombay Talkies that dished out heady stuff, which was engaging and empowering. Subsequently, the Left stepped in, and we had social and family movies that glorified poverty and trashed the rich. Meanwhile, the country went through some rough times, paving the way for the escapist content.  The new mushy content had to titillate the immigrant villagers living in cities far away from their families, excite the multitudes of roadside Romeos with poor heroes romancing rich heroines and making them fall in love, etc. This morass almost persisted till the late nineties when mass entertainment suddenly shifted to NRI wedding albums and uber-rich central characters romancing in the Alps. This was meant to reflect the changing aspirations of the society that was looking to move wholesale to the West. Mindless capers after capers followed, but it all came to a grinding halt once the COVID pandemic set in.

For almost a hundred years, we had movies coming out on a conveyor belt without much attention to quality. But eighteen months of lockdown gave the audience ample time to review their robotic consumption, evaluate what they watched and benchmark it against the nationalistic and dharmic pride that had swelled post-2014. Combine that with the shocking death of the popular industry-outsider actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the exposé of several drug-addled superstars, and we could see the audience shying away from the cesspool that Bollywood had become. Everything offered by Bollywood was suddenly put through a severe screening sieve, and anything found to be Hindu-phobic or India-phobic was strictly rejected.

So does this mean that the new Indic filmmakers can see success with the same old formula, albeit without any anti-Hindu references? Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

Audience engagement with entertainment

As it turns out, a typical Bollywood consumer has a fixed set of expectations from various media sources catering to his entertainment needs. These expectations have apparently changed over the years, particularly during and after the pandemic. To understand this, consider your daily entertainment diet your average square meal. You typically have serious healthy stuff like rotis and dals of millets, grains, and cereals; you have stomach-filling, instant-energy carbohydrates in rice, and then you have frivolous taste-makers on the side like condiments, pickles, or papads. Likewise, for your daily entertainment, the audience typically got their serious mentally-stimulating engagement from the newspaper dailies, magazines, and periodicals; their daily instant-gratification fill from primetime TV and their frivolous weekly-biweekly fun from new Bollywood movies. Again, this engagement pattern continued for decades until the COVID lockdown turned it topsy-turvy. The print media was practically shut down, and television had nothing much to offer beyond news.

What is essential to understand here is that the audience that went into the lockdown and the audience that came out of it eighteen months later was not the same animal anymore. The reading habit had practically evaporated for many. Instead, our eyeballs were grabbed by mobile screens, buoyed by the ultra-cheap Internet broadband. TikTok videos, Shorts by YouTube, and Reels by Instagram became our steady diet as we got comfortable with small screens and poor screen resolutions. Daily soaps on TV got replaced with OTT content in urban areas and dubbed South-Indian movies across rural India.

Post-pandemic, our entertainment diet changed completely, wherein the serious reading habit of newspapers and periodicals went out for a complete toss. Television got substituted with OTT and YouTube. And we started to get our regular quota of mindless engagement, frivolous laughs, and cheap thrills from our mobile screens – stuff that was the purview of Bollywood so far. From this stage, we steadily began to refuse to pay big money for watching ’em Bollywood escapades.

Then came Vivek Agnihotri’s searing ‘The Kashmir Files’ followed by Vipul Shah’s ‘The Kerala Story,’ and the audience subconsciously allotted a new role to Bollywood – that of providing serious, truthful engagement. This was the role of the print media so far, but in the new world order, the audience looked to Bollywood to bring out stories reflecting the hitherto-hidden truth, complete with its moles and warts. Mind you, both these Kashmir and Kerala blockbusters are not feel-good entertainers, and yet the public flocked to the theaters in droves to cry their hearts out over what had befallen their fellow Sanatani brethren.

The biggest takeaway for new filmmakers is that we, the audience, won’t patronize anything less than the stark naked truth, portrayed in complete cinematic honesty, without cowering in front of the Left-liberals, seculars, and naysayers. Today is the time to tell all those stories that had to stay forever mothballed, as they did not appease a section of our society or showed them in their true bad light as religious aggressors. 

Movies as tools to address societal wounds and needs

New Indic filmmakers also need to understand that their truthful, grounded stories will go a long way to address our deep-seated scars and establish a new Indic space that shows India and Hindutva in a positive light. So, in a way, their filmmaking has the potential to transcend beyond mere pop art and into the realm of social healing. This is a global phenomenon, really. For instance, we are seeing a spate of Hollywood movies lately, like ‘The Covenant,’ ‘Kandahar,’ and ‘Warhorse One,’ showing gallant Americans trying to rescue their Afghani compatriots left behind at the mercy of the Taliban. Yes, this is simply to assuage the negative perception that the American military cowardly ran away overnight in fear from Afghanistan, abandoning all their allies.

It is in this very niche that the emerging Indic-wing Bollywood has to realize its role and responsibility as the soft power that will grease the wheels of a rising new superpower. As an aside, the reader should note that without the control of Hollywood, the American government would have absolutely lost its narrative as a superpower with the right to meddle anywhere in the world.[1]. When the image of American armed forces was heavily battered after the Vietnam War, the Pentagon and the CIA worked closely with Hollywood to create a fictitious ‘Top Gun[2]. Such was its success that the armed forces had recruitment tables set outside the theaters screening ‘Top Gun.’ Again, they worked closely with Hollywood on ‘Ironman’ to counter the public sentiment on interfering in the local issues of other countries. There’s a lot more. ‘Act of Valor’ started out as a recruitment ad for the Navy before it was pitched to Hollywood. Likewise, ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Alias’ were structured as military recruitment vehicles for young women[3]. The reader might be surprised to know that it was the CIA that pitched ‘Argo’ to Ben Affleck. The movie was purported about the CIA rescuing 6 American prisoners from the Iran crisis, a crisis that was, ironically, triggered by the CIA itself, and one in which they had actually left 52 American prisoners behind![4]

Can the new Bollywood do a similar job for the emerging Bharat? The signs are already there if the global success and acceptance of ‘RRR’ is anything to go by. Besides, the Indian state and PM Modi did outline his commitment to the new Indic ecosystem when he openly applauded ‘The Kerala Files,’ ‘The Kashmir Files,’ ‘Uri,’ ‘Rocketry,’ and ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ in his speeches. His backing and the success of these Indic films should spur many such projects that could uncover numerous historical malfeasances and bring forth a more uplifting movie ecosystem, one movie at a time.

The battle is not quite over for Indic moviemakers

Both ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘The Kerala Story’ faced tremendous backlash nationwide from the existing distribution and exhibition ecosystem. The shows were deliberately sabotaged, screenings were halted for dubious reasons, and houseful booked shows canceled in the case of ‘The Kashmir Files’. Likewise, certain Hindu-phobic state governments (e.g., the states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala) exerted immense pressure on their local theater owners to refrain from screening ‘The Kerala Story.’ These tactics were meant mainly to defang these movies and send a loud and clear message to the Indic moviemakers that their offerings are largely unwelcome here. Fortunately, none of these tactics deterred the audience, who made it their mission to make these films a mega-hit. And herein lies a key, crucial lesson for emerging filmmakers – that they might have to fight out their way to get their movies across to the people, but if their stories are honest and grounded, the people will always stand with them.

On a related note, none of these movies got a single good review from regular professional reviewers in the media. Several big-name reviewers even refused to talk about these films. And yet they could not stop these films from being super-hits. Truth be told, the entire Bollywood media review system is rigged and up for sale. When chef-turned-filmmaker Vikas Khanna was ready to release his ‘The Last Colour,’ he was asked to pay Rs 1,00,000 per star rating by Bollywood’s top reviewers for a favorable rating [5]. He refused, and naturally, his movie was panned badly in the press [6]. New filmmakers have to be ready to accept that their offering will never get featured in any of the movie press unless they pay through their noses.

The question is: is it a bad thing to be ignored by critics? Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta of the ‘Kaante’ fame begs to differ. He goes all out to blame the English film media critics for the fall of Bollywood. He names Rajeev Masand, Raja Sen, and Anupama Gupta as the key three reviewers as the ones responsible for Bollywood’s hopeless showing [7]. As these reviewers ganged up on everyone not following their bigoted standards, the entire lot of filmmakers subconsciously tried to make movies that could find favor with these reviewers and not the audience, he alleges. And that led to all the Islamist-appeasing, Hindu-phobic, boring, disconnected lineup from Bollywood that simply pushed the audiences away. The key takeaway here: critics don’t buy tickets; the audience does; make movies for them and them alone.

The old beast won’t die gracefully

While the Left-liberals and old Bollywood keep trashing these new-age films as propaganda or agenda films, their stupendous success is surely not lost on them. So it is only natural that the old ecosystem will look to strike back by making similar realistic films on actual events that can whitewash their shady doings or look to pin the blame on the Indic ecosystem unfairly. Remember how a popular Tamil language flick, ‘Jai Bhim,’ based on a real-life police brutality case, quietly changed the villain from a Christian to an upper-caste Hindu?[8] There is a lot more of that ilk coming your way. For instance, the disgraced Leftist journalist Ravish Kumar is now being rewarded with a big documentary that is sponsored by the Ford Foundation and scheduled to release in New York on the upcoming 21st of July. Mind you, this documentary is made by the same coterie that once made ‘An Insignificant Man’ to whitewash and glorify the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal [9].

However, the biggest irritant is how the Left-liberal filmmakers have swiftly moved to produce content on subjects dear to the Indic-wing audience. For instance, you have a film like ’83’ made on our World Cup win but helmed by the likes of Kabir Khan, Ranveer Singh, and Deepika Padukone, complete with a twisted narrative to include Pakistani glorification. Then there is ‘Shabash Mithu’ on our acclaimed female cricketer Mithali Raj’s achievements, except that the toxic actor Tapsee Pannu plays the lead role. Methinks herein lies the biggest danger as the Leftists-Islamists look to sneak back in circulation under the cloak of nationalistic themes while tampering with the narrative, camouflaging their ugliness and fooling the public.

Indeed, it will be a test of the audience as they will be put on the wrong foot several times over deceitful offerings like ‘Adipurush’ or the recent ’72 Hoorain’, which happens to be a film exclusively targeted towards Islamists. But then hope springs eternal, as we also see biopics being made on Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deendayal Upadhyay and a critical celluloid relook at Indira Gandhi’s Emergency excesses and Tipu Sultan’s murderous spree [10].

All said we can hope to see more hits than misses as Bollywood moves from being ‘entertainment, entertainment & entertainment’ to ‘enlightenment, enlightenment & enlightenment’!


[1] Cook, Jonathan, Ahmed D. Dardir, and CJ Werleman. 2022. “How the Pentagon dictates Hollywood storylines.” Middle East Eye.

[2] Rose, Steve, and Nana K. Adjei. 2022. “Top Gun for Hire: why Hollywood is the US Military’s best wingman.” The Guardian. Top Gun for hire: why Hollywood is the US military’s best wingman | Top Gun: Maverick | The Guardian

[3] Swanson, David. 2022. “The Pentagon and CIA Have Shaped Thousands of Hollywood Movies into Super Effective Propaganda.” Counterpunch. The Pentagon and CIA Have Shaped Thousands of Hollywood Movies into Super Effective Propaganda – 

[4] Sirota, David. 2022. “Abolish the Military-Entertainment Complex.” Jacobin. Abolish the Military-Entertainment Complex (

[5] Team Opindia. 2021. “Filmmaker Vikas Khanna says he was asked to pay for review of his movie.” OpIndia.

[6] Team ABP. 2021. “Chef Vikas Khanna Alleges Critics Asking For Money For Film Reviews, Agrees With Kangana Ranaut’s Take On Nepotism.” ABP LIVE.

[7] Pinkvilla. n.d. “Sanjay Gupta.” YouTube. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[8] Opindia. 2021. “Does Jai Bhim deserve the backlash? The controversies the movie faces.” OpIndia.

[9] Chandola, Ritika. n.d. “While we watched.” YouTube Pamphlet. Accessed July 10, 2023.

[10] Team Navbharat Times.

Nitin Sawant usually works as a Bollywood film marketer, online publicist for a few playback singers, script writer and lyrics writer. He was a full-time marketing coordinator for 'Goopi Gawaiyya Bagha Bajaiyya' and works with new film Producers to package their content for the emerging online media space. In between, he creates content for various publications including 'Karadi Tales' and also has a bestseller novella to his name.

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