Visuals of Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Bell Bottom' which was expected to release in July 2021. Bollywood can now seriously begin to put together its release plans all over again.
Bell Bottom, a spy thriller starring Akshay Kumar and based on the hijackings of Indian aircraft in the 1980s, had been billed as the movie that would revive the fortunes of Bollywood and encourage more film makers to release their productions on the big screen.
Yet, the movie that released on August 19, the first to hit the theatres in the aftermath of the second wave of COVID-19, turned out to be only an average revenue earner, showing that little has changed.
Bell Bottom, which has so far collected around Rs 27 crore in 23 days, is expected to do a lifetime business of Rs 40 crore which film trade analysts consider to be a mild negative for near term as it may further delay new large film announcements and in turn delay film recovery.
No big new big Hindi movie has been announced in the coming months although the industry has a strong pipeline of movies including Akshay Kumar's cop movie Sooryavanshi, Ranveer Singh's 83, based on India's 1983 cricket World Cup triumph, and Aamir Khan's Laal Singh Chaddha, reported to be a remake of Tom Hanks's Forrest Gump.
Trade analyst Karan Taurani, senior vice president of Elara Capital, a lifetime business of Rs 40 crore is a small number because that shows that box office recovery is merely 20-25 percent.
And even if Maharashtra. which contributes 25-30 percent of a Hindi film's box office collection, had reopened cinemas, the recovery would have been 35-40 percent at best.
"The expectation was that with the kind of audience India has, the frequency in terms of going to cinemas we have here; India trends should have surpassed global trends. Right now, the situation is that we are at par or slightly below global trends. We have not surpassed global trends. If that would have been the case then producers would have been more comfortable giving out release dates," Taurani said.
AK vs AK: Pre and post pandemic box office
Comparing Bell Bottom's business with what Akshay Kumar films minted in pre-COVID times, Taurani, noted: "If the film has done lifetime collection of Rs 40 crore and the distributor's share is 60 percent then the film has made Rs 24 crore. Then add Rs 60-70 crore which the film has received from digital rights and Rs 30-35 crore that it will get from satellite rights.
Also, include overseas and the overall total would be around Rs 140 crore."
In pre-pandemic times he said that an Akshay Kumar film would have made around Rs 200 crore and the cost would have been be Rs 100 crore.
"So, there's was an ROI (return on investment) of 80-90 percent but in this case (Bell Bottom) the ROI is 20 odd percent."
Overseas, no game changer
Overseas markets have also not added significant numbers to Bell Bottom's overall business.
In its opening weekend, the film earned Rs 6 crore from international markets.
"The overseas numbers are down. It won't be a big positive or a gamechanger because the frequency of people going to cinemas is fairly low in international markets. One should not expect surprises from markets like the US, UK to come in for now," said Taurani.
Bell Bottom cannot be termed flop, but it isn't exactly a a hit either.
"I would term it an average venture but not a loss-making one," said Taurani.
Uncertainty for cinemas
Other recent Hindi films have not stood out either at the box office.
Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Chehre, which released on August 27, may find it tough to do a lifetime business of even Rs 5 crore; the movie has only a limited number of shows running in multiplexes.
Kangana Ranaut's Tamil-language starrer Thalaivii, a biopic of late Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa which released in theatres in three versions -- Tamil, Telugu and Hindi -- had a low opening for its Hindi version.
The performance may not be a concern for the producers, but it has made things uncertain for exhibitors especially the top multiplexes including PVR, INOX, Cinepolis and Carnival Cinemas.
"Thalaivii has increased the uncertainty more as they (producers) have made a profit without coming into cinemas. So every producer will think that way --that I should make 15-20 percent ROI without coming to cinemas and the cinemas' risk is basis how the situation pans out," said Taurani.
Producers are going to shift to a model wherein they would demand that the distributor's revenue share (currently 55 percent) be kept constant or seek to reduce it and then ask for a narrowing of the theatrical window from four weeks to two weeks.
"What (a shorter) window does is that producers get 25-30 percent premium on digital rights and that is good enough to compensate. Due to the window producers, would refrain from taking the bigger risk at the box office. While exhibitors are not going to agree to a two-week window, the entire uncertainty prevails," he added.