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What's in a name?

What\'s in a name?

What's in a name?

Apparently a lot, judging by how one-word titles naming or describing the male protagonist ruled the Indian box office in 2023
Published on January 12, 2024   •   5 mins read
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Summary
  • Eight out of the top 10 films at the Indian box office in 2023 had something in common: one-word titles that named or described their male protagonists
  • The top 3 films of the year (Jawan, Animal, and Pathaan) all had this title structure
  • The author argues that there's more than just coincidence at play here, and that this points to a post-pandemic trend, whereby machismo, scale, and swag are driving box office value
  • The trend also highlights the growing importance of individualistic storytelling in modern commercial cinema, compared to 'collectivistic' stories in the romance and comedy genres that were popular over the last decades

Jawan. Animal. Pathaan. The top 3 box office grossers of 2023 at the Indian box office have something else in common too. The three films have the same title structure: One-word titles that name or describe the film’s lead male protagonist. In Pathaan’s case, it’s the character name itself, while in the case of Jawan and Animal, the titles are references to the protagonist’s profession and instincts, respectively.

Has this happened in the recent past? A search among the top grossers (across languages) over the last 25 years gives us only one instance: In the year 2012, Ek Tha Tiger, Dabangg 2, and Rowdy Rathore were the top 3 films at the Indian box office. Their titles are refer to the male protagonist too, though Ek Tha Tiger is not strictly ‘titular’ in its structure. Except for this one instance, one found nothing. Going back to the 1990s, and even the 1980s, drew a blank.

The story gets more fascinating if one looks at the top 10 list. As many as eight of the top 10 films of 2023 are one-word titles naming or describing their male protagonists. Apart from the three above, we have Salaar, Jailer, Leo, Adipurush, and Tiger 3 in the top 10 list. The only two films in the top 10 that do not have this title structure are Gadar 2, and The Kerala Story.

The chart below captures the count of films with such titles, every year since 2015. Titles that have two words but name or describe the hero (e.g., Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Singh, Vakeel Saab, etc.) have also been considered valid for this count. As can be seen clearly, no other year has been quite as striking as 2023 in this regard. 2021 comes close, but it was a curtailed year because of the pandemic, and had very few major releases to begin with. And since you may have come up with that question in your head already, only one of the 90 titles (top 10 for nine years) analysed for the chart below names or describes the female protagonist of a film: Padmaavat (2018).

Title1.png

Is this just coincidence at play? Is it just a geeky read on a random piece of information?

Not really. There’s something going on here, that’s hard to miss. It’s the characteristic of the box office, in the post-pandemic world. Big-screen entertainment has decisively moved to ‘superhero’ stories, where larger-than-life male protagonists are enthralling the audiences with their machismo, daredevilry, and in-the-face heroism.

If we look at the drivers we use in our content testing work, these hero-centric films are over-indexed on Adrenaline, Production Scale, and Swag. Other drivers in these films are often in the service of these three drivers, or are byproducts of their presence to begin with. The chart below captures the presence of the 15 drivers for theatrical films, averaged across the eight titular films of 2023 mentioned above:

Oneword2.png

With heroism driving the box office story, other title structures have slipped down the ranks, symptomizing the homogenization of movie genres in Indian cinema this year. Titles like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Love Aaj Kal, No Entry, Golmaal, etc. often referred to a couple or an ensemble. In those years, heroism played second fiddle to genre-led benefits like romance and comedy. Individualism played second fiddle to collectivism.

But times have changed, and so has the role of outdoor entertainment in the lives of audiences in the post-pandemic world. When it comes to big screen, there's no such thing as too big (see this related piece written by Abhinav Chandekar and me).

Theatrical worthiness is being driven today by the heady combination of scale and masculinity. And by all indications, the next few years will continue to witness this trend. And one-worded beasts will rule the box office.

Indian Cinema Box Office Society & Culture
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Author

Shailesh Kapoor

Shailesh Kapoor

After completing his engineering from IIT Delhi and his MBA from IIM Calcutta, Shailesh started a career in an industry he was, and continues to be, deeply passionate about: the Indian media & entertainment industry. After nine years in the industry in various marketing, content, business and strategy roles, he turned entrepreneur in 2008, when he co-founded Ormax Media, a company that has pioneered the usage of insights to help Indian media companies take financially-sound and consumer-centric business decisions.

Over 25 years, Shailesh has built a deep understanding of the industry, which he channelises into building compelling business solutions at Ormax Media. He is an avid writer, having written more than 500 articles and columns on the Indian media landscape over the years.

Shailesh enjoys quizzing, following sports and keeping himself updated on various topics of public interest, ranging from politics to technology.

Shailesh Kapoor

After completing his engineering from IIT Delhi and his MBA from IIM Calcutta, Shailesh started a career in an industry he was, and continues to be, deeply passionate about: the Indian media & entertainment industry. After nine years in the industry in various marketing, content, business and strategy roles, he turned entrepreneur in 2008, when he co-founded Ormax Media, a company that has pioneered the usage of insights to help Indian media companies take financially-sound and consumer-centric business decisions.

Over 25 years, Shailesh has built a deep understanding of the industry, which he channelises into building compelling business solutions at Ormax Media. He is an avid writer, having written more than 500 articles and columns on the Indian media landscape over the years.

Shailesh enjoys quizzing, following sports and keeping himself updated on various topics of public interest, ranging from politics to technology.

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