Cinema halls, most of which were shut for months because of the Covid-induced lockdown that began in March, have had no new releases for a while now. Most managed with reruns and some even began private screenings, featuring wedding videos, among other things, to keep the business going.
Even after theatres were allowed to reopen from October 15, the dearth of new content has proved to be a huge challenge.
Given this background, exhibitors were hoping a turnaround would begin with the Diljit Dosanjh-starrer Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, Bollywood’s first release since the lockdown.
However, the film has had a tepid response at the box office, opening with collections of a mere Rs 50 lakh. Trade analysts feel the film is unlikely to exceed Rs 1 crore in lifetime business.
The box office numbers are low even for a small film. Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, made with a budget of around Rs 9-12 crore, would have raked in at least a crore on its opening day in the pre-Covid period, say experts.
No Diwali fireworks
The film released during the Diwali holiday and was also the first in the last 20-25 years to be released on a Sunday.
But even the festival of lights could not bring any sparkle to the film’s box office business.
Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a media-consulting firm, said “occupancy for Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari has been on the lower side, less than 10 percent and the response has been dull”.
Even Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta A2 Cinemas, noted low occupancies for the film. He said: “We have been operating about three to four shows in our operational properties. And the occupancy has been between five and ten percent.”
Puri claimed that “patrons are liking the film though”.
So, why are the numbers for Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari so dismal? Amit Sharma, MD, Miraj Cinemas, pointed at a couple of factors. “Many people are not aware that theatres have reopened. Staggered reopening of theatres has created confusion,” he said
While the Central government allowed theatres to reopen from October 15, States such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu did not give theatres permission to reopen. Maharashtra allowed reopening only from November 5 while Tamil Nadu gave the go-ahead from November 10.
Sharma added that limited marketing of the film also led to poor awareness within the movie-going audience.
South shows the way
But film and trade business analyst Girish Johar believes that stronger content could have resulted in a better response from the audiences. He pointed out how new releases down South are attracting good business at the box office.
Tamil-language small films such as Biskoth and Irandam Kuththu collected Rs 22 lakh and 13 lakh, respectively, during the Diwali weekend in Chennai alone. Both the films had released in theatres on November 14.
However, Johar said that the Southern market is very different from other markets as people in the South love to watch films in theatres.
On the other hand, even in a market like Delhi, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari could only collect around Rs 5,000 from four shows in a premium single-screen theatre, a cinema that even for a flop film recorded collections of around a lakh or more in the pre-Covid period.
And this is why Kapoor believes that “what is needed now is a bigger, more saleable film that can get audience back in bigger numbers.”
But content still remains a challenge as the release of big films such as Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh-starrer 83 has been deferred to next year.