After a 16-month wait, Bollywood films are finally being released every week, like they used to before the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, a backlog of canned films is bound to occasionally lead to the simultaneous release of two big-name movies, as was the case this week, when John Abraham-starrer Satyameva Jayate 2 and Salman Khan’s Antim opened one after the other.
Before the pandemic, such film “clashes” would mean a 20 percent drop in terms of sales, a loss that could double to 40 percent in these times due COVID-19 protocols that are still in force in most states, restricting the seating capacity to 50 percent in theatres.
Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor/director, Saroj Screens, said in a recent interview to Moneycontrol that “with Antim and Satyameva Jayate 2 releasing this week and vying for the same audience, the 50 percent cap is becoming a challenge.”
Only Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Gujarat, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have allowed theatres to operate at full capacity. In other states including Maharashtra, which contributes 25-30 percent to a Hindi film’s box office collections, theatres are operating with capacity restrictions.
Film producer and trade business analyst Girish Johar said that while a film clash can whet the appetite of cinema-goers, it can also backfire.
“If the film is good, then a clash doesn’t hamper the business of films but if the content is weak, then in case of a clash, the weaker film falls faster. The disadvantage of a clash is that weak content sees a sharper drop than a regular fall in collections due to negative word of mouth,” he said.
However, experts noted that audiences are expected to watch the films in a staggered manner because of COVID-19 protocols instead of rushing to make it on the first weekend or the first week, so there will be more legroom for two big films in the same week. The film that’s stronger on content can go on to grow, but the weaker film will struggle.
According to Karan Taurani, senior vice president at Elara Capital, while Antim is expected to collect Rs 30 crore, Satyameva Jayate 2 may rake in Rs 55 crore. He said the numbers are dismal as the first edition of Satyameva Jayate in 2018 reported net box office collections of Rs 80 crore.
Early estimates suggest that Satyameva Jayate 2 collected about Rs 3 crore on November 25, its opening day.
Could the clashes have been avoided?
“Certain filmmakers, if they can avoid clashes they should, but holding a film also has a cost. So, one has to live with these market conditions,” Johar said.
According to analysts, simultaneous releases could not have been avoided because of the content backlog. Film shootings had started in August-September last year, but cinemas reopened only in November, after the second wave of the pandemic started abating.
While Bollywood has many films to offer, the recent batch of movies, apart from Sooryavanshi, have not fared well. Bunty Aur Babli 2 was dismal and much below expectations of Rs 35 crore, Taurani said.
“The film has collected around Rs 11 crore and is slated to collect only Rs 15 crore in its lifetime. This was primarily on the back of the audience shying away from small/medium budget films in cinemas and poor content,” he said.
Johar said it’s too early to comment about Satyameva Jayate 2. As for Bunty Aur Babli 2, it was not well promoted and the content was not up to the mark.
“We would be worried if good content had not worked at the box office. If average content is not performing then it is not a concern,” he added.
Taurani said the recovery will be selective.
“Expect large-scale films with good content and word of mouth to bounce back faster towards pre-COVID levels versus medium and small budget films,” Taurani said.
Traction will build up again towards the last week of December, when films such as 83 (starring Ranveer Singh) and Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey, along with Hollywood’s Spiderman: No Way Home are expected to have a positive impact on occupancy levels, he added.
Taurani expects the box office to recover in the next six to nine months.