Kaapaan: Cinema has become all about the ROI
I watched Surya’s Kaapaan directed by KV Anand this weekend. I was appalled by every aspect of the film from story to characterization to screenplay to songs to background score. In my point of view, it is a very bad film. But I also know that the filmmaker is NOT so stupid that he hadn’t thought about these flaws. If I can point out one flaw in a scene, these filmmakers can point 20 flaws in the same scene. Also, these are not normal people. A stalwart like Mohan lal, a national award-winning cinematographer like KV Anand and a decent actor like Surya are more intelligent and they know more about their craft than the average general public.
Are they getting blindsided by their own abilities to deliver a low-quality output like Kaappan? Or Are they smart enough to understand the pulse of the audience? I would think that it is the latter. They are not just smart about the audience but they are also smart about the market. They make a business calculation, invest a certain amount and generate significant returns for the investment(ROI).
Surya is one of the top 5 actors of Tamil cinema. His movies have wider appeal beyond Tamilnadu and are well received in AP as well as the other southern states. He is also a good actor who can carry the film and hold the audience for 2.5 hours. Mohan Lal is a superstar in Malayalam cinema. They also have Arya who appeals to a certain segment of the people. With such big names, the makers are assured of pulling the audience to the theaters during the opening weekend in Tamilnadu, Kerala and AP/Telangana.
The film’s storyline is about a military intelligence officer who goes against all odds to save the country from a corporate bigwig who is hellbent on killing agriculture in the country and make money converting farms into mines. Now for 2 and a half hours, the director has to create a screenplay that connects military intelligence to agriculture to corporate criminals to the threat to agriculture and how the hero wins at the end.
The hero is a military intelligence officer and so, he has to take care of national security. He is not a normal intelligence officer and so, he will save PM both in India and abroad. But there is an agriculture dimension. What do we do? Hero came from a village and he is passionate about agriculture. Wait. I forgot one thing. He is a hero and so there has to be a heroine. Yes. She works in the PMO and travels with the PM. They both have to fall in love. So, she will think he is a killer and after two scenes, she will come to know that he is in military intelligence. So, she will like him and they dance to a few songs.
Now, suddenly, there is a twist. The PM gets killed and the PM’s son is forced to become PM. In the process, we will come to know that there are dark horses in the PM’s circle and even in his intelligence circle. There was also another dark horse, who was expelled earlier, who works with the corporate guy. The hero has to deal with the corporate guy, the double agent who works for the corporate guy, the dark guy within his circle, romance the heroine, the insects, the callous new PM, etc and ufff….finally, he emerges successful.
It is a film that has elements that tries to appeal to every segment. Instead of making a film that appeals to a niche audience, the director crafts a story with characters that move in every possible direction to satisfy the various tastes among the audience. The formula here is very different from a film that has a tight storyline and captivating characterizations. Instead of trying to get a 9/10, the director aims for a 6/10 from all different audience types. Most, but not all, will NOT say that the film was great and most, but not all, will NOT say that the film was bad either. Every segment will have some elements that they will not like but those dislikes will be within acceptable limits. You may ask what I liked in the film. I really liked the wigs of Surya. Whoever did the hair transplant or hair patch work for Surya did a fantastic job.
By catering to as many diverse tastes of the audience, the makers have ensured that the film generated a good return on investment. Today, in cinema, that is all that matters. To make money in this medium, the director needs to know how to use the medium to attract the audience to the theater and keep them decently entertained for 2.5 hrs. Cinema is the fastest moving consumer good but it has a long tail effect. A good cinema will be watched many times in the future but need not give immediate returns. But in the world of commerce, the current money is more valuable than future money. The makers seem to have understood it, very well.