Mumbai: Come Diwali, the sparks on screen often rival those outside.
Last year brought debutante Deepika Padukone with veteran heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan in the blockbuster Om Shanti Om, while the now legendary Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai werealso released during festivals in the past.
But the formula is changing to adapt to the new order of Bollywood cinema, where distribution runs and rules the box office.
Also See Changing Landscape (Graphic)
Starting with Eid next week, the weekend will see Drona, starring Priyanka Chopra, Abhishek Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan, and Kidnap, with Sanjay Dutt, battle for eyeballs. And several key releases are planned for Christmas, which has often been a peak period for Hollywood.
The flurry of activity over the next few months reinforces an emerging trend for multiple release periods in the Bollywood calendar, away from the traditional focal point around Diwali, as distributors look to spread the risk of big-budget releases across the year and avoid splitting the market.
Instead of the two major release “spikes” of activity in the calendar seen in 2002, the industry managed five surges of release activity in 2008, according to data from industry publication Trade Guide. It contrasts with four main peaks of activity seen in 2007.
And with big-budget releases in the first eight months of 2008 limited to success for Jannat, Singh is Kinng, Jodhaa Akbar and Race, the industry has pinned higher hopes on the last four months of the year.
Diwali releases this year include Heroes, starring Salman Khan and Preity Zinta, and the animated Roadside Romeo, from Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd, with Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor in voice-over roles. Golmaal Returns, starring Kapoor and Ajay Devgan, and EMI, with Dutt and Arjun Rampal, are among the other big-budget releases, along with Fashion, starring Chopra, Karan Johar and designer Manish Malhotra.
In 2002, Easter hosted 10 releases, as did August of that year, with the number of releases holding steady at nine every month. It compares with a spike of 11 releases in February this year, another spike at Easter with 14 releases in April, while June saw 12 releases in time for the summer holidays and August and October were tied at 13 releases.
Several factors are behind the changing release landscape, in particular, an increase in the overall number of productions a year, notes Tushar Dhingra, chief operating officer of cinema chain Adlabs Films Ltd.
“Hollywood went through this as well,” he says, explaining that the proliferation of directorial talent, and a rise in funding options had boosted the number of films produced a year. “At first they had Christmas, and then came Thanksgiving, Halloween and 4 July as major release periods. Similarly, at first we had Diwali, and then Eid, and now every public holiday is counted.”
The advent of multiple-screen movie theatres revolutionized cinema-going habits, Dhingra says, and collaborations between home-grown directors and Hollywood studios, including Warner Bros’ upcoming film Chandni Chowk to China, had changed conventional thinking on release timings.
Furthermore, the release of big blockbuster Hollywood movies such as Spiderman, which are dubbed in multiple languages and released with more than 300 prints, are a major consideration in deciding the release dates of Hindi movies as well, according to industry veterans.
And the non-resident Indian market, which used to face lags in release dates, now tends to get movies on the same day as India; in a nod to the market’s importance as a revenue-generator, Bollywood movies released during Christian holidays also offer entertainment when many other options are closed.
The growing importance of other festivals and long weekends in the release schedule is a reflection of the trend to “calendarize” the year in tune with audience viewing patterns, says Smita Jha, an analyst at audit and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Festivals continue to be the main release time for films,” says Jha. “And non-mainstream films see a release before Diwali. Although Diwali will continue to be the season when the mass-appeal films are released, the model of distribution has changed to weekends, so you see releases wherever there is the possibility of a long weekend.”
Jha adds: “The game is now all about opening weekends. Previously, opening weekends were important, but they weren’t the mainstay, and a good run would have lasted about three or four weeks. Now you cannot get past a couple of weekends for a good opening.”
Competition also is at play. P.S. Saminathan, theatre owner Pyramid Saimira Theatre Ltd’s managing director, describes Diwali weekend as potentially “suicidal”. “Diwali used to be a very high season,” he says. “But nowadays the cost of films have increased in such a way that it would be suicidal to compete.”
Meanwhile, in a nod to the importance of the Christmas holiday for heavyweight releases, the highlights of the December release calendar this year include Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, directed by Aditya Chopra and starring Shah Rukh Khan in his only acting role for 2008, and Ghajini, starring Aamir Khan.
It follows last year’s Christmas playoff between Taare Zameen Par, also starring Aamir Khan, and Welcome, with Akshay Kumar, after a last-minute postponement of Halla Bol, with Devgan, prevented a three-way tug of war.