The first quarter of the year held a great promise for the film industry to level up with the pre-Covid-19 times and return to the good old normal days when a pandemic did not run your life or, rather, restrict it. For various reasons, though, the film industry has not been able to realise that promise.
Ever since the exhibition trade re-opened post-pandemic, initially with restrictions of limited capacity, there was a sigh of relief. The exhibitors were back in business after almost two years of uncertainties. Since then, however, the films made for the Hindi audience are not working as expected. And it is not because they are remakes of South films. Because, South films dubbed in Hindi are doing better than they ever did.
I have mentioned this on an earlier occasion, the South dubbed films used to be released in the Hindi belt as gap fillers when the times were not conducive for the box office prospects of a mainstream film. But the cinemas had to run. Things seem to have changed and, in fact, South films dubbed in Hindi have salvaged the first quarter of the year to some extent.
Somewhere during the lockdown, the viewer has come to terms with certain things, starting with content being most important. OTT platforms filled the gap and continued to provide entertainment when the cinemas were shut. On streaming platforms, there were quite a few big successes and most of them did not boast of big stars.
In fact, OTT serials that succeeded featured either newcomers, or actors who were not getting assignments in films any longer, or those who played character roles in films. Somehow, even on OTT platforms, some of the films with big stars failed to find favour with the viewer!
Then, the cinemas reopened at 50 per cent capacity to start with and are now allowed to operate at full capacity. To their relief, the cinema chains had a lineup of films due for release.
We saw no major release in January. February saw the release of ‘Badhaai Do’ and ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’. The former just about managed to touch double-digit collections (in crores) and ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ just could not justify the hype around it. The claimed collection figure for it is about Rs 118 crore, but the trade puts it at about Rs 80 crore!
Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Jhund’ again remained a non-starter, barely managing to cross the double-digit mark with about Rs 12 crore. Much was expected of ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, being a remake of the Tamil film ‘Jigarthanda’ (which, in turn, had been inspired by a South Korean film) and an Akshay Kumar-starrer at that! The film failed to get a decent opening and had to be withdrawn from many cinemas or the number of shows allotted to it curtailed.
It could not cross even the Rs 50 crore mark, thereby qualifying to be rated as a disaster. Ironically, the Tamil original had won two National Awards, one for Bobby Simha (Best Supporting Actor) and another for Vivek Harshan (Best Editing) in March 2015.
The first quarter belonged to just one film, ‘The Kashmir Files’. A small film with senior character actors playing the protagonists, it has stirred up the biggest political debate in the country and its after-effects are being felt nationwide. And, it did not let the box office down either. As the days went by since its release on limited screens, the film added not only more screens and therefore footfalls, but also touched Rs 240+ crore in Indian theatrical releases by Week 3.
Hindi filmmakers tend to remake South films, some even buy rights to movies that are many years old. Why do they fail? Take the recent example of ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, a major disaster. The reason is that you do not have decent writers in the Hindi film industry, and you also don’t seem to have rewrite people who can capture the essence of the original!
During the lockdown, OTT streaming content remained the subject of discussions on social media. Sadly, not much has changed since the resumption of new releases. The only release that has dominated social media is ‘The Kashmir Files.
Now, this is a film that does not entertain like a formula commercial production. Some even called it a documentary! Its success is something to be analysed. Fine. But what accounts for the poor performance of films such as ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, ‘Jhund’ and Badhaai Do’?
Of course, if these few films have managed to stay at the cinemas for just a few days and have figures like Rs 8 crore or Rs 12 crore to show, it is also because of the enhanced admission rates charged by the cinema managements since the reopening. A person who would love to watch a film at a cinema is put off. It seems like everybody is out to recoup the lockdown losses from the general public, be it a barber shop, or a restaurant, or a cinema theatre. They all are punishing the public for the loss of business.
So, what has happened in the first three months of 2022 is that the box office take-home so far has been just about Rs 350 crore, against Rs 850 crore to Rs 900 crore before the pandemic. A third of the normal business.
‘Content is king’ is a phrase most relevant to films and other entertainment media. Reminds me of the 1970s and 80s, when writers not only helped sell a film, but also competed with each other to deliver better content! There was a long list of film writers in business. Against this, we know of no writer in the Hindi film industry whose name matters, let alone helps sell a film.
So far, in the last few years, the magic of none of the top stars has worked. Aamir Khan comes up with a film on rare occasions. Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have been delivering duds on a regular basis. And, now, a fairly dependable Akshay Kumar is also facing rejection. To be practical, we can’t expect a film such as ‘The Kashmir Files’ every quarter to salvage the situation and let the cinemas function.
Talking of cinemas, one thought they were in a real jeopardy during the lockdown of more than 18 months. Quite contrary to the fears, the cinema exhibition trade seems to have come alive, if not at the box office, at least behind the scenes.
The latest news making the media rounds is that the PVR Group has taken over control of the INOX Group cinemas. A couple of weeks earlier, there was also talk of a PVR-Cinepolis merger. When these handshakes are formalised, will the film trade be confronted by the virtual monopoly of a single group of cinemas? Not that it is much different now, for the programmers of all these chains together decide on a film’s release strategy.
What filmmakers should worry about is how they will continue to remake South hits in Hindi if their dubbed versions are doing so well and the audience is already exposed to these films! There are about 25 South hits that are being made in Hindi as of now. Better find your own writers. Now, the latest dubbed South release, ‘RRR’ has done excellent business in the Hindi belt, collecting Rs 130 crore in the opening week.
Then there is this talk about why dubbed films do well with the Hindi audience while the originals are failing! A star was reported to be lamenting this situation. A distributor suggests, in jest of course, that our Hindi stars should do all their films in the South and release their dubbed versions in the Hindi market!