The subdued performance of Hindi films in the last few months is raising questions on what is holding back Bollywood.
Analysts note that, in 2021 and so far this year, only 10 percent films have recovered the production cost and emerged successful at the box office, from 35-40 percent during pre-COVID times.
The reduced OTT (over-the-top) platform window is one reason, said Amit Sharma, MD and CEO, Miraj Cinemas. Now, films are streamed on OTT platforms four weeks after their release. Earlier, this window used to be eight weeks.
"One big reason Hindi films are not doing well is the four-week window. The audience is ready to go to cinemas only if a film is very good. Otherwise, they are ready to wait for four weeks for the film to come on streaming platforms. If you look at Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, the film has performed well but it has lacked somewhere because of the four-week window. As soon as the window becomes eight week, like pre-pandemic times, we will start seeing more Hindi films getting better revenue at box office," he said.
Film-watching pattern changes
The closure of theatres due to the Coronavirus outbreak and the uncertainty around their opening in the last two years have led to a reduction of the OTT window from 8 to 4 weeks. Even big films continue to stream on OTT platforms a month after their theatrical release.
“Post the pandemic (with COVID-19 cases coming down), the film-watching pattern has changed and Hindi films are hit the worst. Movie-watching is an impulsive decision. When you know that in four weeks, the film will be on OTT, the impulse gets weak. If the period is longer, cinemas will have more walk-ins,” said film producer and trade analyst Girish Johar.
So far, big-starrer films like Shahid Kapoor's Jersey (Rs 20 crore revenue), Ajay Devgn's Runway 34 (Rs 33.5 crore), Akshay Kumar's Samrat Prithviraj (Rs 64.7 crore), Tiger Shroff's Heropanti 2 (Rs 24 crore), and Ranveer Singh's Jayeshbhai Jordaar (Rs 16.5 crore) had a dismal performance at the box office. Only Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, starring Kartik Aaryan, has stood strong, with the film collecting Rs 170 crore since its release on May 20.
The subdued performance of Hindi films is impacting overall box office numbers of the film industry, said Johar. “Summer is a strong period, and, so far, only one film has performed at the box office (Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2). So, the new release, Jugjugg Jeeyo, is a critical film. If it doesn't match up to expectations, it will add to the woes. Each big film is either proving beneficial or making a dent at the box office. Samrat Prithviraj made a large dent and Dhaakad made a much larger dent," he added.
Eyes on new release
Jugjugg Jeeyo, starring Varun Dhawan and Anil Kapoor, is expected to cross Rs 100 crore in revenue. “If the film collects Rs 100-150 crore, the box office business of Hindi films in the April-May-June period will surpass the pre-COVID level. Currently, it is slightly behind the pre-pandemic level," said Johar.
Sharma said that while advance booking for the new venture is in line with their expectations, he said that this is the kind of film that picks up in evening shows because it is a family audience-driven film. “Evening numbers will tell us more about how the film will fare. I estimate it to do Rs 8 crore business today," he added.
Releasing in around 3,500 screens, Jugjugg Jeeyo is expected to open with Rs 9-11 crore and will report a lifetime collection of Rs 110-125 crore, said Karan Taurani, senior vice-president, Elara Capital. "Positive reviews and word of mouth may lead to a 20 percent higher collection number," he added.
Bollywood key for box office
While in the first quarter of FY23, the Hindi box office business is slated to grow 17 percent versus the pre-COVID levels at Rs 990 crore, it is mostly backed by the success of Hindi versions of films, KGF Chapter 2, RRR, along with Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, said Taurani.
Naval Seth of Emkay Equity Research pointed out that the contribution from the non-South markets to films from South India is generally sporadic in nature. "The importance of Bollywood for large multiplex chains like PVR and INOX is even higher as the southern market is dominated by single screens."
Johar also said that PVR and INOX are multiplex chains that are concentrated in Hindi belts. “So, if Hindi films are not doing as expected, it does impact their earnings. Yes, films from the south are doing better in the Hindi market and it does offset some impact but Hindi films not doing well still affects their business," he said.
Sharma noted that Hindi films, which contribute 60 percent to Miraj Cinemas' overall business, will see some impact in the May and June numbers. He added that the earnings of Hindi versions of KGF Chapter 2 and RRR at Rs 427 crore and Rs 275 crore, respectively, had taken care of the March and April businesses.
Seth thinks that a turnaround in Bollywood’s performance is critical for sustaining box-office collection growth. “Bollywood has always been the mainstay for sustainably driving overall box-office collections. Bollywood movies were also the highest-grossing movies in 11 of the 16 pre-COVID quarters (Q1 FY17- Q4 FY20)," he said.Now, all eyes are on Aamir Singh's Laal Singh Chaddha, Ranbir Kapoor's Shamshera and Brahmastra, and Akshay Kumar's Raksha Bandhan. “Films releasing before the festive period and during the festive period in the second half of 2022 will turn the tables for the Hindi film industry," said Sharma.