So far, this hasn’t been a smooth year for the film industry. The producer-multiplex impasse, box office failures and the poor quality of new releases have plagued moviedom since January. But with the halfway mark behind us, it’s time to take stock even though it’s a rather bleak picture.
A total of 65 Hindi and 45 Hindi dubbed films were released in India from 1 January to 30 June 2009. A lot of smaller films tried to make use of the stand-off period to seek a release, but most of them failed. The only spark was the release of 99 during this period which held audience interest.
The top spot in 2009 so far belongs to New York, the sole genuine hit of the first half of the year. Made at a total cost of Rs28 crore (including prints and advertising or P&A), the film will end up making a profit of at least Rs8-10 crore for Yash Raj Films. The fact that the film was released in the last week of June is an indication of the lacklustre first first half movie fans had to live with.
Mixed bag: (clockwise from top) New York, Dilli 6, Chandni Chowk to China and Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire and Slumdog Crorepati, the English and Hindi versions respectively, are jointly in the No. 2 spot. With a distributor share of Rs12 crore for the two versions and an impressive sale of music, home video and satellite rights, this is another winner of the year.
At No. 3 is the much hyped and much discussed, Dev.D, directed by Anurag Kashyap. The film cost Rs12 crore inclusive of P&A. In fact, the marketing budget of Dev.D pretty much matched the cost of production of the film, making it easily the most aggressively promoted film of the year.
Unfortunately, despite doing extremely well at the box office, it was not as big a hit as it has been made out to be because of UTV’s huge marketing expenditure. It would probably just about break even. But Dev.D is an important film because it gave hope to films that do not have access to bigger stars; it did well entirely on its own steam, propelled by aggressive marketing.
Raaz 2, produced by Mukesh Bhatt, was the sequel to a monster hit, and was made without any of the actors or the original director of the 2002 film. Directed by Mohit Suri, the film which cost about Rs22 crore including P&A, shows a negligible loss of about Rs2 crore at the end of its first cycle. It’s at the No. 4 position because the film will show a profit at the end of the second cycle of revenues.
It’s not that there was any shortage of blockbusters up for release this year. Warner Bros’ Chandni Chowk to China, UTV’s Dilli 6 and Eros’ release of Billu were the big ticket films, which came with huge expectations, star power and price tags. Unfortunately, all three failed to work their magic at the box office. The huge cost of these films proved disastrous.
There were also expectations from relative newcomers and new directors with concepts that seemed extremely exciting on paper. Unfortunately, all three films that fell in this category, namely, Victory, Kal Kissne Dekha and Aa Dekhe Zara failed to impress audiences. Aa Dekhe Zaara, especially took a much bigger hit as the film did not release in multiplexes. The only lesson here: new concepts and new talent are welcome, but you must price the films right.
Another interesting trend in the first half was that we saw films that did not take the audience for granted and were mainstream and unapologetic about being entertainers. They projected newer concepts and content and stayed clear of the territory of niche “multiplex” films. These films were as realistically priced as the economies of Indian film industry would permit them to. Besides Dev.D, 13 B and 99 would qualify for this category.
13 B is easily one of the best films to have come out in India in the supernatural genre. It was not gory but atmospheric and thankfully had a well etched and sensible climax, which is where most horror films fail. 99, on the other hand, was an audience-pleaser—a sophisticated little flick that deserved all the success that it got.
Unfortunately, these films did not turn out to be hits but they made a mark by being priced sensibly and they are expected to break even in the second cycle of revenues.
Finally, let’s get to the two films that deserved better than we are being made to believe.
Luck by Chance, a decent product, which got rave reviews and was a superb debut by Zoya Akhtar floundered because it came with a cost of almost Rs21 crore (including P&A) attached to it. Its revenue expectations were far too ambitious. This is one film that deserved better but failed by its sheer unrealistic pricing. Rock On from the same producers was sensibly priced, Luck by Chance was grossly overpriced, possibly because Hrithik Roshan acted in it.
I would also rate 8X10 Tasveer in pretty much the same bracket. It was an interesting little whodunnit and offered Akshay Kumar a refreshing change of pace. The only negative for the film was its “too-smart-for-its-own-good” climax. But that is not why the film failed. It failed because like Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par, Akshay Kumar deserved less money than he got. It was killed even before the release because its budget was a whopping Rs32 crore (including P&A). Director Nagesh Kukunoor suffered because of its failure.
The two big lessons here are: Get the price right; and stars alone can’t ensure a film’s success. All the films that counted on star power—Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan—did not finally qualify as hits.
Ashish Saksena is an executive with extensive experience in India’s entertainment sector and was previously CEO of PVR Pictures.
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