Following a dismal year at the box office, Bollywood racked up its best numbers in 2018 - and at the helm of this success were the many well grounded stories that made the daunting task of melding critical with commercial success look easy.

Movies like Raazi, Stree, Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho all charmed the audience with their simple and realistic plots. Such films have been made for quite some time now, to wide acclaim, but somehow their box office collections failed to impress. So, what is new this year?

‘Content is king. The big hits of Bollywood in 2018 proved this dictum once again,’ according to Shoma A.Chatterji, a film critic and national awardee. ‘The diversity of topics was a very refreshing experience. While Raazi is the real-life based story of a spy, Andhadhun is a fictional story with a thrilling murder mystery at its heart. And finally, one of the biggest hits of the year, Badhaai Ho was a simple middle-class family’s story dealing with an unusual situation.’

Such films seemed to break the mould of the past. ‘The portrayal of a middle-class family in Badhai Ho is not the typical narrative that has plagued Bollywood for years - it doesn’t show them always worrying about their financial status. Instead it talks about a subject hardly ever brought up in middle class households - sex - and it does so in a funny yet sensible manner,’ Chatterji told The Citizen.

Nor was Badhai Ho the only movie to try in some way to shift from the typical Hindi cinema narrative. There was Raazi, which instead of the standard jingoistic narrative of vilifying our neighbours, tries to explore the conflicting nature of a rivalry like this, and its effects on people. Likewise, Stree takes a very important and relevant topic within feminism, and gives it a quirky narrative for audiences to grasp.

Perhaps the biggest change in recent years has been Indian audiences’ viewing habits. Today with the help of the internet the audience has access to video content from all around the world, and is more aware of the contemporary scene elsewhere than in the past. People want to get their money’s worth, and they look for genuinely good stories being told in celluloid. Everything else is secondary.

Chatterji concurred. ‘Zero is perhaps the best example of how a film is rejected by the masses when the content is zero!’

On the other hand, if a movie doesn’t get people to come to theatres, there is now the option of promoting it on TV or on streaming platforms online. This has created a market for films that may not otherwise have been made at all.

Multiplexes too worked in favour of such films, big on story and short of stardom. While multiplexes used to face a lot of flak for killing single screens - and also for their highly inflated snacks menu - a good thing that has come out of them is how, with so many multiplexes, even smaller movies get to coexist with big productions.

‘Badhai Ho outshone big budget banners such as Thugs of Hindostan. The film was skilfully made. Shot on a budget of around 30 crores, it has earned more than 300 crores and counting!’ Chatterji observed.

Word of mouth, and the rapid spread of a thumbs up or down for a film, has proven to be a boon for such films. With the recent influx of quality data connectivity, Indians have become more active on the web, and as soon as the first show is over, the internet is flooded with one-line reviews from the moviegoing public.

Films without massive star power or marketing budgets benefit from this non-commercial buzz, and people get to know if the film is worth watching after the first few screenings. For instance, Badhaai Ho made around 7 crores on its first day, but went on to earn 11 and 12 crore on the following days. Stree, which brought in only 6.8 crores on day 1, went on to earn 10 and 14 crores on the following days. It made even more money the following Monday - 9 crores - than on its first day.

These films and their box office success are a breath of fresh air. They will have an impact not only on the audience but on producers as well. The differences we saw in 2018 could well be the change Bollywood has been looking for all these years.

In a country as diverse as India, you would expect the stories to be more diverse and varied, which hasn’t always been the case until now. This year in Bollywood we saw the promise of what content based cinema can do.