What is common among the recent hits, Dhruvangal Pathinaru, Naachiyar, K-13, Watchman and Kolaigaran? All these films were of less than 110 minutes duration; that is not even 2 hours duration! Surprisingly Watchman was just 95 minutes duration while Bala’s Naachiyar was 100 minutes. Yet these films satisfied the audience.
Though length of a film is based on the story, we are witnessing less patience among audience to view a film of more than 2 hours unless it features a top hero or a grand film (2.0 or Bahubali) with an engaging story. Most audience express their anguish the moment length of film in censor certificate is more than 140 minutes. Unless such a film engages them, they complain about length. Today, audience’s demand is ‘come to story fast and complete it before I lose my patience’ and prefer if story begins from the very first scene.
Alfred Hitchcock once said that ‘length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder’. Ideally a film should be 60 to 70 minutes in the first half while the second half can be little longer as the audience’s patience may be there to watch the climax.
In Hollywood, four out of every five movies run for between 80 to 120 minutes and a recent survey says that 44% of the movies last between 80 and 100 minutes long. The most common length today in Hollywood is 90 minutes. Tamil cinema is clearly following it with films of length around 120 minutes. Recent examples are: LKG (124m), Uriyadi-2 (119m), Dhillukku Dhuttu 2 (119m), Kanne Kalaimane (128m) and Vellai Pookkal (125m). The recent films Game Over (100m), Kolaiyudhir Kalam (109m) and Suttu Pidikka Utharavu (110m) too followed same trend.
Syd Field in his classic book Screenplay established three acts and given 30 minutes for Act 1 to set up the story (establishing the characters and background), 60 minutes for Act 2 to establish confrontation and 30 minutes for Act 3 for a resolution. Today, the audience have no patience for 30 minutes for Act 1. They expect the story to begin within first 10 minutes failing which they lose interest. Along with this lack of patience to begin the story comes the point of intermission, which must happen within 75 minutes and a film must end within 120 to 140 minutes for them to feel satisfied. It is due to this lack of patience among audience, many films of length over 150 minutes are losing out commercially unless they feature a top artiste and the story was narrated in an engaging manner. Recent successful examples were:
Ajith’s Viswasam (156m), Rajini’s Petta (172m), Raagava Lawrence’s Kanchana 3 (185m). If the film does not engage, prolongs and disinterest, the audience start looking at their mobile phones or go out for a smoke or rest room and some even go to sleep.
However, if the film is short and engaging, they feel no such fatigue, have no urge to distract themselves with mobile phones as they know the film will end soon and hence focus on it.
A recent poll conducted by trade analyst Kaushik LM with over 2,300 film-buffs, on the desired length of a film revealed their preference as 26% for 100 – 120 minutes, 25% for 121 to 130 minutes, 28% for 131 to 140 minutes and only 21% for above 140 minutes. Clearly, over 50% prefer length within 130 minutes. The audience are kings and their decision is final. It is time filmmakers wake up and ensure that their film’s length is around 130 minutes to win the first battle of audiences’ liking.
— Dr G DHANANJAYAN, Film Producer, Distributor and Founder-Director of BOFTA Film Institute