A recent social media trend urging audiences to boycott new movies is negatively affecting box office returns in India's film industry, popularly known as Bollywood.
Last month saw the release of "Laal Singh Chaddha", an expensive remake of the 1994 American classic "Forrest Gump" – but it was preceded by a concerted campaign on social media sites, especially Twitter, to boycott the movie.
Aamir Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, was forced to make a public declaration of love for India to counter a virtual campaign being waged against him and his latest film.
“I want to assure everyone: I really love my country, so please don’t boycott my films,” Khan told journalists days before the movie's release.
The calls for a boycott are linked to an interview the Muslim star gave in 2015, in which Khan and his then wife Kiran Rao suggested they might move out of India because of “growing intolerance” and the lack of a response from the Hindu-led Bharatiya Janata Party government, in power since 2014.
In August director Anurag Kashyap’s latest release "Dobaaraa" also faced flak on social media and tanked at the box office.
“I am amused because I feel these trolls want to boycott everything. There is a trend of boycott culture in this country,” Kashyap said.
“The boycott culture is a joke and I thought I also want to be a part of the joke and feel important just like others."
Another actor, Akshay Kumar, pleaded during a recent promotional event for audiences not to boycott his film "Raksha Bandhan", arguing its success would help the country’s economy.
'An organised campaign'
On top of the tough competition from streaming services, the ongoing trend of boycotting films has emerged as a significant new worry for India's filmmakers.
Many consider these campaigns to be part of a larger movement to suppress freedom of expression in the arts.
“Initially it felt like a one-off thing, but now we have been continuously seeing that people are not coming to theatres and I can't put my finger on a reason why and what this is happening," said actor Suniel Shetty in a recent interview.
One film producer told RFI: “It’s an organised campaign. The movement is led by the right-wing brigade.”
Given the increasingly hostile environment, few filmmakers are willing to take on the boycott campaign. Insiders say the industry’s tendency is to tiptoe around controversies rather than confronting them.
Bollywood's yearly box office earnings stand at a little over 30 billion Indian rupees (€380 million).
During the Covid-19 pandemic, major film productions were shelved or indefinitely postponed, while thousands of cinemas shut down, prompting job losses across the country.