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Bollywood’s divisive Diwali


Separate audiences:Karan Johar’sAe Dil Hai Mushkil, a youth-centric film, has been popular in urban areas while Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay (right) has dominated small town India.— Photos: Special Arrangement
Separate audiences:Karan Johar’sAe Dil Hai Mushkil, a youth-centric film, has been popular in urban areas while Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay (right) has dominated small town India.— Photos: Special Arrangement

It was a close battle at the box office with a romantic drama taking a slight financial edge over an action blockbuster.

It’s been an uneventful Diwali for the Bollywood box office. Despite the fact that after a gap of four years, the industry had two blockbusters clashing on D-Day. The last time it happened was in 2012 when Yash Chopra’s SRK-starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan locked horns with Ashwni Dhir’s Son of Sardaar starring Ajay Devgn. This time Devgn’s Shivaay battled it out with Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil ( ADHM ) resulting in a close battle with the romantic drama having a slight financial edge over the action blockbuster.

As of yesterday, which marked five days for both the films, ADHM — made with Rs. 92 crore — had raked in a domestic net figure of Rs. 64.54 crore, according to Shailesh Kapoor, founder of Ormax Media, an insights firm specialising in media. Shivaay — sporting a budget of Rs. 105 crore — had netted Rs. 50.95 crore domestically.

A tale of two markets

Despite sharing the release date, the films carved out different markets for themselves. ADHM has been popular in urban areas and Shivaay , on the other hand, dominated small town India. Kapoor says, “80 per cent of ADHM ’s business has come from multiplexes and 50 per cent of Shivaay ’s business has been from the single screen.”

Disparity in numbers

The Devgn vehicle is a pure action film which has resonated well in non-urban areas where he’s got equity and a fan base thanks to the two Singham films. On the flip side the word-of-mouth reviews for it have been mixed. “So the conversion for it in the younger audience won’t be easy and they have an alternative [in ADHM ], which is more urban,” says Kapoor.

Perhaps another reason for ADHM ’s lead (however little) over Shivaay ’s earnings is the film’s continuous visibility pre-release. There was the controversy over the ban on Pakistani artistes in Bollywood films, which kept it in the limelight. “ Shivaay couldn’t get headway in terms of promotions and you can see the disparity in the numbers,” says Amul Mohan, trade expert and editor-in-chief of Super Cinema .

The drama didn’t end here though. The Cinema Owners And Exhibitors Association Of India had released a directive to halt the release of ADHM across single screen theatres. However, eventually the directive barely affected the screenings; the single screens went ahead with the release anyway. Kapoor says the issue sorted itself out and ultimately the decision came down to individual distributors. “I think to single out one film was off,” says Mohan, adding that single screens which are fighting for survival in the time of multiplexes would have lost a lot of business if they had followed the directive.

It’s not just the individual films but the combined tepid earnings which have been a matter of concern. Though hardly anybody ventures into a cinema hall during the Diwali day itself, it’s the time before the actual festival that matters a lot for the Bollywood box office. Unfortunately, this run-up to Diwali also proved too short and ineffectual. “Taking that into account, both the films have done decently. In metros, people watch more films when they want, they have access to films and plenty of choices,” says Mohan. “In single screens, in the interiors of the country, even pre-Diwali is festive. People don’t come out, they’re busy at home. At the same time, in metros people don’t care, they will watch films,” he adds.

Shorts and cuts

This Diwali also saw another interesting development for Bollywood. At the beginning of the week, in response to audience feedback about Shivaay being too long (it clocks in a whopping 158 minutes), Devgn decided to make a few alterations. It was reduced by seven minutes according to Devgn’s team, however other sources say a good 11-12 minutes have been chopped off.

Unfortunately, pundits say it will do little to add to the earnings. “It won’t affect the box office,” says Amod Mehra, film trade analyst. “It’s already too lengthy and it won’t make any difference. [Reductions] have never worked and once the damage is done, it’s done, whether you re-edit or re-release it nothing will happen.”

Back in the day, before screening of films turned digital, a director or producer would personally visit a venue to figure out the necessary changes to make in the film to render it suitable to that region. In the past, theatres are also known to have taken matters into their own hand and chopped films unilaterally to accommodate more shows. Kapoor says, “They would cut out a reel and a producer wouldn’t even come to know,” says Kapoor. “I’ve watched Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge when they removed two scenes randomly. It was all unorganised. It’s digital now and theatres don’t have control on the content.”

Mohan cites the example of Sholay ’s (1975) climax which was changed according to the audience feedback. “And in Agneepath (1990), they changed Mr. (Amitabh) Bachchan’s voice after the film released,” he says. These edits post the release of a film were frequent occurrences in the 90s, and haven’t been witnessed for the last 15 years.

It’s all about the family

For last several years, Diwali releases have been a disappointment, especially compared to those released on other national holidays like Eid and Christmas. Looking back, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), Krrish 3 (2013), Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) and several didn’t managed to reach the targeted Rs. 200-crore mark, both individually or combined with the other films released at the same time.

Defying formula

“After Om Shanti Om in 2007, we’ve not had a true family film,” says Kapoor. “We’re not getting family entertainers and normal films are grabbing whichever window they get.”

And this year, Shivaay defies the formula of a festival film. ADHM , which was supposed to be an out-and-out family film, turned out to be more a youth-centric film, not ideal for Diwali but it’s the urban youth that determines a film’s success now, so all is well that ends well.

Johar’s film is expected to make anything between Rs. 120 to Rs. 130 crore while Devgn might manage a number just short of Rs. 100 crore. Let’s see if Golmaal 4 lights things up better for Bollywood in Diwali 2017.

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