Salman Khan in 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun!' which released on August 5, 1994. (Image: screen grab)
When Hum Aapke Hain Koun! released in 1994, I had just started my first year of college at Delhi University. I could now watch movies at will; no more taking permission from parents.
On the one hand, I was happy to watch many re-runs of Sharon Stone seducing Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, which played for a long time at the now defunct Chanakya theatre. And on the other hand, there was news of this out and out "paarivaarik kahaani" Hum Aapke Hain Koun! coming to win over family audiences.
The 14-song double cassette audio pack of Hum Aapke Hain Koun! had come out before the film, making me wonder whether there would be room for a story in-between the songs.
What unfolded was history-making.
The Barjatyas released the film at only two theaters in Delhi - Sapna in south Delhi and Delite in north Delhi. Hum Aapke Hain Koun! also had a limited release in Mumbai.
Prior to this, Rajshri Films had used this two-theatre strategy to release Sooraj Barjatya's directorial debut Maine Pyaar Kiya (also starring Salman Khan), which was originally shown only in Liberty and Golcha in Delhi.
This two-theatre release was by no means the norm then. In the pre-multiplex era, films typically released in 100-200 screens across India. Ajay Devgn and Tabu’s Vijaypath, which came out on the same day as Hum Aapke Hain Koun!, was released on 200 screens nationwide.
So, what was the reason for this limited release?
Rajshri was super-confident of the film, and needed the film to create such pent-up excitement amongst audiences that they craved for more. Also, they wanted to play it in only those theatres that had family appeal.
The film released only in big cities to begin with, namely Delhi and Mumbai, and subsequently was playing in over 100 theatres across the country after 10 weeks.
The multiplex era had not yet begun and most people made a day of watching the occasional movie in a cinema hall. Video cassette viewing was still the vogue, and a 50-day run in more than 25 theatres across the country was deemed a success.
The choice of theatres to screen Hum Aapke Hain Koun! surprised quite a few people, who expected central Delhi theaters like Odeon and Plaza to be the more obvious choices.
Even Sangam in West Delhi and Shiela near the railway station seemed more suitable to some. As for the premium audiences, there was Chanakya and Priya to choose from.
Yet, the theatre that were picked were Sapna in south Delhi and Delite in north Delhi, with a high density of Hindu and Muslim audiences, respectively.
Quest for tickets
Once the film released, the onus was on me to get tickets. Even if those tickets were for a show one week down the line.
In those days, bus travel was free for students who could show a college identity card - so my travel was sorted. The real challenge was that box office counters had clear instructions to not sell more than four tickets, lest it led to black marketing.
As a result, to get tickets for my entire family (and neighbours, and their families as well), I needed a bunch of friends to go with me, stand in queues, and get the tickets.
Even as a 17-year-old, I was quite excited about the technical aspects of the film. Sooraj Barjatya had brought something new to the Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit starrer: an Ultra Stereo Optical Sound. It sounded so beautiful, I was determined to experience the film in a theatre.
After a few trips to Delite and Sapna over a few days, I finally got lucky at Sapna. That must have been the fourth or the fifth week of the film's run. By this time, some other theatres had also been given prints by Rajshri.
Readers of the current generation may find it hard to believe, but back then, theatres playing this film had practically decorated their properties as wedding halls.
The entrance had flowers and other decorations, but the biggest surprise was the screen. It had light bulbs all along its four sides, and they flashed whenever a song or celebratory moment (of which there were many) came on screen.
This, when 4DX technology was yet to arrive! Somehow, the lights highlighted the festive mood of songs like 'Didi Tera Dewar Deewana', 'Joote Do Paise Lo', 'Dhiktana', 'Samdhi Samdhan'. For the family audiences, it was nothing short of a carnival.
Moreover, the Barjatyas were sure that to give a premium cinematic experience to the family audiences, theatres needed to not just upgrade their sound, projection and seating systems but also redo their washrooms.
Considering the film ran for over three hours, they knew that quite a few washroom breaks would be required and hence, especially for female audiences, they didn't want any sort of discomfort to set in. Of course, not all theaters were willing to invest but as the film started growing from strength to strength, more and more started to comply.
Soon, from two theatres in Delhi, the film was playing at over 20 and the situation was the same across the country. Word spread like wildfire and the film went on to celebrate golden jubilee (50 weeks) at a number of centers and even touched 100 weeks at a few. In the process, it also went on to break the long-standing record of Sholay being the highest grosser ever.
The film's super success can be gauged from the fact that even though Baahubali: The Conclusion
did over Rs 500 crore of business in Hindi, it is still behind the adjusted net collections of Hum Aapke Hain Koun!
of over Rs700 crore!