Then came Kabir Khan’s sports drama ‘83’ that boasted of names like Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Pankaj Tripathi among several others, and a promising premise of the 1983 World Cup victory of the Indian cricket team. What could go wrong with a formula like this one? The box office expectations were quite high given the film’s release on the Christmas weekend. With extremely positive reviews, trade analysts were expecting it to create records. But alas! 83 failed to live up to expectations even as positive word of mouth still continues to flow in.
On the contrary, audiences thronged the theatres to watch Tom Holland’s ‘Spider Man: No Way Home’ and Allu Arjun’s ‘Pushpa: The Rise’. Even Nani’s ‘Shyam Singha Roy’ remained unstoppable at the box office.
Why did ‘83’ not click with the masses as well as ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ and ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ did? We find out the answers in this week’s #BigStory.
Bollywood vs South
Looking at the box office figures from recent times, South film industry is evidently attracting more footfalls to the theatres than Bollywood movies. Even filmmaker Karan Johar lavished praise on South cinema and admitted that Hindi movies are not doing as much business as Telugu films in recent times. Citing an example, he spoke about ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ to explain the commercial stamina of Telugu movies. “With no promotions at all, Allu Arjun’s ‘Pushpa’ was released with just a few posters and the trailer. Even though Allu Arjun is not known in the north, the movie made a lot of money at the box-office. Can you imagine the scenario? Now, this is called the pan-India craze,” he said.
Exhibitor Sanjay Ghai believes the success of ‘Pushpa’ goes on to show that South dominance is here to stay. “The Punjab industry felt that the Hindi version would not work, but ‘Pushpa’ has gone ahead and done great business. The title of the film was absolute zero, but it got the audience into cinema halls. And the reason the South films are working, is because they make films like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, and our Hindi film industry has begun to make Sai Paranjpe type of films.”
The franchise benefit?
Marvel’s ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ had a strong opening at the Indian box office, and the film maintained a strong hold at the ticket counters even in subsequent weeks. The film’s domestic collection stood at Rs 179.31 crore on Monday and it is swiftly inching towards the Rs 200 crore mark. ‘Sooryavanshi’ had a lifetime collection of Rs 195.44 crore, so it is not long before Tom Holland’s superhero flick overtakes the biggest Bollywood release after reopening of theatres!
Director Manish Shah explains, “The reason is ‘Spider-Man’ is a franchise that people have grown watching. The content of ‘Spider-Man’ is more entertaining, larger than life. When you look at ‘83’, it is a docu-drama. More than one hour is the cricket match. People felt that what they are watching is a highlight of 1983. The movie has come 25 years after it should have come, releasing in 1989-90 would have been something big.”
What went wrong with ‘83’?
‘83’ had the star power, it had one of the most sought-after directors; the film was made on a huge scale, and was massively promoted. The critics could not stop raving about the film. But why did that not convert into footfalls?
“Reasons are many. We have started making movies only for multiplexes. We are not making movies for every set of an audience. Secondly, majority of the money is taken by the actors, so the money being spent on the making of a movie is quite less. Look at any movie of Akshay Kumar, or say ‘83’, it has become a docu-drama instead of being a big screen entertainment,” reasons Manish Shah.
Film distributor, exhibitor and analyst Raj Bansal believes the content is not upto the mark. “We are failing at making good cinema. We have talented actors, very good directors, but we are lacking stories, and ideas in content. If we look at the past few films, we are failing in content. Whereas South is taking the edge over content. North audience had not heard of Allu Arjun’s name before. Suddenly they are now fans of Allu Arjun. If you talk about ‘Master’, Vijay became popular, Ram Charan and NTR were popular since the beginning, but suddenly they have also become huge here. Because of their content and films like ‘Baahubali’… Who knew SS Rajamouli before ‘Makkhi’? ‘Makkhi’ did not even do well. Then ‘Baahubali’ worked and Rajamouli was seen as a very big director pan-India,” he says.
Trade analyst Atul Mohan emphasises that it’s the content that makes a difference and the audience will spend on what they want. “Didn’t ‘Sooryavanshi’ bring back smiles for stakeholders and industry on the whole? We did have misses recently, but it was the content that was served to the audience that was rejected. The audience will never hesitate digging their pockets for entertainment provided they know that they are going to get their value of investment. Ticket pricing is also one of the key factors here, the paying audience will not hesitate spending for ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘Sooryavanshi’, but you can’t expect them to shell out the same price for tickets of smaller films,” he says.
Is the South dominance here to stay?
With SS Rajamouli announcing that the existing COVID-19 concerns that led to theatres being shut down in Delhi will not affect the release of ‘RRR’, it remains to be seen if this South dominance continues. ‘RRR’ will soon be followed by Prabhas’ ‘Radhe Shyam’. 2022 will also have ‘Liger’, ‘Adipurush’, ‘Salaar’, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ and ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ to compete with Bollywood films at the box office.
Director Manish Shah believes the dominance of South films will continue. “As of now let’s see what happens to ‘RRR’. People are trying to buy the rights for remakes of South films. The movies are bigger and better over there.”
Distributor Raj Bansal has a different opinion and he says, “Some (of the films) will work, some may not. It’s not that all South films will work.”
Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta says, “Nobody can predict what the fate of ‘RRR’ and ‘Radhe Shyam’ is going to be, whether they will release in January or not, or for that matter ‘Liger’ and ‘Adi Purush’. To me, it’s pre-pandemic and post-pandemic that is the big question mark over here. So these are larger than life films with a pan-India planned release; they shoot for the Hindi belt, release in all 5 languages… So yes, they should bring in big numbers but now with the third wave almost upon us, one doesn’t really know where we are headed.”
“I am waiting for things to unfold. No one can predict anything. If this kind of trend continues, if theatres run in 50 percent capacity, there are restrictions… psychologically it also affects the audience’s thinking that ‘Why should we go to watch? The film will come on OTT in a few days, or it will come on satellite. Why take the risk in this pandemic?” Boney Kapoor chimes in.
Are the filmmakers taking notes?
With the audience being crystal clear about their preferences when it comes to theatrical viewing, would this lead filmmakers to reconsider their ideas of filmmaking?
Sanjay Gupta shares his opinion, “I have been pretty vocal that all films planned and shot, and written pre-pandemic will not find an audience, because during the two pandemics, the entire taste of the audience has evolved. They are not looking for heroes, they are looking for characters. All the false bravado, the herogiri suddenly seems fake, seems unconnected and that is why the OTT is working. Because those are real people, real stories, and that is the trend that is around. We are not interested in watching unnecessary bhaigiri and all that stuff. So yes, as a filmmaker, as a writer, I am constantly taking notes with what is happening and how we are evolving. For the coming year, my company is only making films which are all meant for OTT and also because these are stories that would not find backers to put on the large screen. They are fringe stories. So that is my big takeaway and till things settle and normalcy returns to theatres, depending on the kind of films that people want to watch.”
Boney Kapoor differs in his opinion as he believes the audience is still looking for a hero. He says, “The South still believes in the kind of cinema that it has known as Indian cinema (multi genre) in the mainstream section, and at the same time there are films made especially in Malayalam and Tamil which are progressive. For their mainstream films, they make sure there should be heroism, emotional content, romance, drama, action and also there should be comedy. They package their films in a manner that suits the Indian palette. Their films have a hero that is a solid hero, be it ‘Baahubali’ or any film of Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Ajith, Vijay, Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan, Allu Arjun… Whereas here, our concentration, along with some content, is more on the look which is fine. But more than look, it should be on content which has ingredients to fulfill the palette of the general audience.”
Further emphasising that Allu Arjun’s ‘Pushpa’ or even ‘Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo’ was all about a hero, Boney narrates an incident from the sets of ‘Wanted’. “I remember we were shooting for ‘Wanted’, I told Vijayan, Salman Khan is beating up so many people, even he should break a sweat on his face. He said heroes don’t sweat, they should remain heroes. This is South cinema!” he exclaims.
Bollywood’s top guns eyeing South markets?
With Bollywood biggies like Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Boney Kapoor’s Bayview Projects and others backing South films, it comes as no surprise that there is a huge market for these films.
“‘Baahubali’ 1 and 2 were distributed in India by Dharma Productions. Even an all India distributor like Anil Thadani opted for ‘Pushpa’. He has released ‘Pushpa’ in Hindi, and also ‘KGF’. The big distributors are more inclined towards South films, as they are doing much better business than Hindi films,” reflects film exhibitor Raj Bansal.
The trailer of Ajith-starrer ‘Valimai’ released last week to a thunderous response. The film is produced by Boney Kapoor who agrees it is one of the most awaited films that has more curiosity in the South than any other film. “‘Valimai’ is also releasing in North circuits, but that is a bonus. The main territory is Tamil Nadu,” he concludes.