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.
It has been 17 agonizing months of uncertainty since theatres closed down to limit the spread of Covid-19. The last release before the lockdown in March 2020 was Baaghi 3 - featuring Tiger Shroff in the lead role, the film made Rs95 crore - and then it all came to a halt.
Angrezi Medium (starring Irrfan Khan, who incidentally died in April 2020) didn't even get a chance to recover costs, as it could spend only a weekend at the box office and had to wrap up under the Rs 10 crore mark.
Dinesh Vijan, the maker of the Irrfan-starrer, was again the first to brave a return to theatres, when he released his Roohi once lockdown was eased after the first wave. The film managed to cross Rs25 crore in theatres and was deemed a decent success.
However, post that, it has been a dead show all over again. Four months have passed, and there has been no new (theatrical) release since April 2021. That's yet another quarter of zero revenue, which was the case in Q2 2020 as well, and while the scene was depressingly bad in Q3 2020 too due to the lack of any releases, one expects things to get better in the current quarter.
Yes, July has gone by without a release. And that when it was announced with much fanfare that Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom would hit screens in the last week. However, that announcement was made many weeks ago, when the second wave had started waning. Unfortunately, the decline in cases has not been as sharp now as it was after the first wave - and nationwide, Covid cases have continued to hover around the 40,000-mark for close to three weeks.
What does this mean for Bollywood? And can it hope for better days soon?
The fact that a majority of the cases that are coming to light now are from Kerala and North East, indicates that it may be turning a corner soon.
While from the people perspective one just hopes and prays that things settle down in these states as well, from the Bollywood business perspective, these territories contribute less than 5% of the overall Bollywood business.
So if a quarter in general is expected to bring in Rs1,000 crore for Bollywood, then not more than Rs50 crore come from these states.
From a business point of view, Maharashtra contributes close to 30% of a regular Bollywood film's business. In fact, if a film has more of a Maharashtra flavour, say, for example Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior or Singham, then it can contribute even higher to the business the film does - up to 50%.
Delhi contributes a sizable chunk to the business too, and one can't expect a Hindi film to release successfully if the city is not contributing. The Capital contributes around 20%. And if one counts NCR as well, primarily Gurgaon and NOIDA which have a major multiplex-thronging audience, then one can add a further 10 percentage points to that score. All of this means that 50% of the business typically depends on Delhi, NCR and Mumbai.
Thankfully, Delhi and NCR have allowed theatres to reopen, while in rest of the country too the lockdown around theatres has started easing. This means that Bollywood can now seriously begin to put together its release plans all over again.
What remains to be seen is how soon does the pandemic situation in Maharashtra improves, because even though cases have gone down by 10% compared with last week, they are still in the 6,000-7,000 range per day. Once this comes close to the 3,000-4,000 range, the government can be expected to ease restrictions.
There are several films waiting in the wings. Bell Bottom is undoubtedly going to be the first to release. Of course, theatres won't be allowed to ply with more than 50% capacity for at least a couple of months. However, something is better than nothing and for the movies which have been waiting in the wings for way too long now, to see some sort of theatrical business coming in before their eventual OTT release is some sort of silver lining.
Yes, their business would still be at least 50% less. Even a film like Bell Bottom which has a minimum potential business of Rs150 crore, can't be expected to score more than half of its full potential on its theatrical arrival.
Having said that, a start is needed for theatres to get back their momentum. And for that to happen, all eyes are on Maharashtra for some sort of normalcy to return.