Priming for success

Do big releases around festivals still draw in audiences and the moolah or are moviegoers venturing out only when there’s compelling content? Rajiv Vijayakar finds answers to some prime questions...

Uri: The Surgical Strike

Diwali, the festival of lights, is synonymous with prosperity. In showbiz, too, it reflects on the business done by a film. On the other hand, some of the greatest blockbusters have released in the Christmas week. Eid is always special for Salman Khan’s movies. Patriotic films have always looked at a Republic Day or Independence Day (or week) release in the last few years.

Do all such dates (and more, like Holi, Dussehra and Gandhi Jayanti) really matter in the performance of a film? What then of the intrinsic merit of a movie? What about the spending capacity of the audience, especially in today’s times of high ticket rates that are further escalated on such occasions, at least for the first three days?
Does the audience actually have the time to watch films rather than observe traditions?

Producers often release films in such weeks on a Wednesday or Thursday to cash in on a long weekend. Does that work? Why have these special or prime dates become even more important within the last few years? These are intriguing questions indeed.

Housefull 4
Housefull 4

Diwali connection

This Diwali, three films have been released — the mammoth Housefull 4, the small and realistic Saand Ki Aankh and the modest Made In China — both of which are trying to be Davids if the Goliath falls short in any way. Audiences have never wanted dull, depressing or dark fare on festive occasions and Housefull 4 seems set for a clean sweep. Last Diwali, Yash Raj Films had released its behemoth Thugs Of Hindostan with inflated rates in the first few days.

However, this greater spend probably added to the downfall of this hugely disappointing movie once the vital word-of-mouth spread.

The word-of-mouth factor is so important that it can destroy a film, especially if there are two or more Diwali releases: Kyon Ki and Shaadi No 1 opposite Garam Masala in 2005, Jaan-E-Mann opposite Don in 2006, and Saawariya opposite Om Shanti Om in 2007, being classic examples.

“But if a film is going to be rejected, a festival release does mitigate the degree of failure because tickets are priced higher,” opines a film exhibitor, who would not like to be named.”

So disasters can become mere flops, and a potential flop may break even. And Yash Raj Films, which produced Thugs…, have often been Diwali specialists.

In fact, they have led the festival craze with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which happened to come in the 1995 Diwali week, making it a tradition later with follow-up releases like Dil To Pagal Hai, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

All these films also made Shah Rukh Khan a Diwali superstar, who also benefitted from outside YRF films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Don, and his home productions Om Shanti Om, RA.One (which earned good money, even if it actually did not recover the investment) and Happy New Year

Vinod Mirani, veteran trade analyst, points out that Diwali is an overrated release date.

“People are busy on the actual festival days celebrating at home or with friends, like for Laxmi Puja, New Year in Western India or even on Bhaubeej/Bhaiya Dooj when sisters and brothers celebrate their bond. And since India has a Hindu majority, money is diverted towards the festival itself.”

However, as said before, it is not just Diwali but other festivals and national holidays that are gaining importance. Mirani adds a vital footnote, “Strange though it may seem, even the monsoon plays a key role. A good monsoon, as in 2019, improves circulation of money, which reflects in spending power. Diwali to March, and then June to Ganesh Chathurthi-Navaratri phase is generally considered the best season to release a film.”

Decoding other festivals

Eid again is a time when Muslims celebrate with friends and family. The mood may be upbeat, but on the actual date, most of them stay at home and will not watch a film.

The Salman Khan-Eid connection that began with Wanted in 2009 and really took off with Dabangg in 2010, heralding the biggest phase of his superstardom, maintains to this day. 

The distributor points out, “The last three Eids have seen Salman delivering underperforming films in Tubelight, Race 3 and Bharat. But he still wants to make
and release a quickie in Radhe on Eid 2020 to please his fans. Eid 2020 is also earmarked for Akshay Kumar’s Laxxmi Bomb, which was to clash with Salman’s Inshallah that was shelved.”

Akshay Kumar’s incredible innings in multiple films over the last four years has made him overcome the tag of a mere top star or a patriotic actor who releases his films (of late) mostly on either Republic Day (Baby, Airlift) or Independence Day (Rustom, Toilet—Ek Prem Katha, Gold).

This year, he opened with a bang on Holi with Kesari, scored big with Mission Mangal on August 15, and now annexes Diwali (Housefull 4), Christmas (Good Newwz) and Eid next year.

Very frankly, his star on such an ascent that Laxmmi Bomb has a stronger buzz than even Radhe. And Christmas this year is sandwiched between Good Newwz (December 20) and Salman’s Dabangg 3 a week later.

And Christmas, with its holidays for kids, the majority of the Indian population free from other preoccupations and economic wants, is generally considered the luckiest phase now for a decade despite the Diwali hype.

It gave us Ghajini (2008), 3 Idiots (2009), Dhoom 3 (2013), PK (2014) and Dangal (2016), the highest-grossing films of those respective years.

Aamir Khan (strategically the star of all these movies) shrewdly cashed in on the perks of this season, with inflated rates maintained from three to 10 days. And Holi and Dussehra are, however, not really big-league days businesswise. For starters, it is generally examination time during both the festivals.

National holidays & more

The same is true of October 2, agree Mirani and the exhibitor. And both are more than a little amused
that some really violent or action-packed films release around or on the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s brith. Bang Bang!, Haider, Talvar and War are examples.

The stupendous success of Uri: The Surgical Strike (a January 11 release and this year’s most profitable film) probably reflected the mood of the nation more than any release date.

January 26 and August 15 releases have only scored when well-made, check the fates of Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, Brothers or Mohenjo DaroKabir Singh (released June 21, a non-specific date) is the most-watched film this year, and in 2017, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion did its incredible business not just in
Hindi but all the versions despite releasing in mid-April, which is also examination season in many centres in the country.

So is it finally all about the individual merit (read connectivity) of the film rather than an opening date?

Prime release or prime quality?

Careful observation and reflection shows that all the so-called prime release dates fall within what Mirani has declared are the best seasons of a year for movie business.

With scales of production and movie-watching being what they have become, over the last six or more years, it has been realised that holidays lead to a minimum increase of collections per day of Rs 5 to Rs 15 crore in the opening weekend.

And no one wants this opportunity to slip as, in most cases, a major film does 60 to 75 % or more of its business in the first week. 

A ‘Housefull’ board today may be a rarity, but even in the digital era, theatrical footfalls do matter.

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