New Delhi: To put four young men into the scrape of their lives sounds like a wise plot move for any comedic moviemaker. But while one film with that plot (Paying Guests) sank quietly out of view, another (The Hangover) has soared past its modest expectations—a contrast that is proving to be symbolic of a larger trend this summer.
The Hangover’s success at the Indian box office — its collections now approaching Rs7 crore, after a release of just 42 prints — follows other Hollywood films to have exceeded their ambitions by a pleasantly surprising margin.
Since the stand-off between Bollywood producers and distributors over revenue sharing ended in early June, Hollywood cinema has fared relatively better than Bollywood products such as Paying Guests, especially in multiplex chains.
This comparative performance is not about absolute numbers, analysts hasten to add. It simply means that Hollywood has had a rewarding summer by its own standards, while Bollywood has not.
Money matters: A still from The Hangover. Hollywood cinema has done relatively better business than Bollywood in the recent past.
“With absolute numbers, of course, Hollywood will never be able to compete with Hindi films,” says trade analyst Komal Nahata. “But comparatively, Hindi films have done worse. On a cost-versus-revenue basis, I’d say, only New York has fared well. And there’s no particular reason for it—it’s just that the Hindi films released have been so bad.”
Amitabh Vardhan, CEO of PVR Cinemas, cites another successful film—Kambakkht Ishq—although Nahata does not believe that it has recovered its costs. “Shortkut was a disappointment, Jashn was just okay, and Kal Kisne Dekha was, again, not bad,” Vardhan says. “But we never had huge expectations from these movies. They weren’t intended as blockbusters.”
The list of Hollywood’s robust performers is a long one: The Hangover, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian. Both The Hangover and Harry Potter are Warner Bros releases, and although Denzil Dias, Warner’s deputy managing director in India, admits that there’s no comparison to be made between a Harry Potter and a Kambakkht Ishq, he still views his movies’ success as a positive sign.
“Let’s be honest—Hollywood still occupies probably only 5% of the Indian film space,” Dias says. “But yes, within that 5% space, Hollywood really has been performing. People have started coming out to watch movies again, which is a very good sign.”
Night at the Museum, a 20th Century Fox release, grossed Rs2.3 crore in India over its opening weekend, while Paramount’s Transformers, with a 275-print release, has earned Rs18 crore thus far. “We expected Transformers 2 to do better than the first one, and it did,” says Sarabjit Singh, general manager of Paramount Films’ Indian operations.
These successes have generated some heat. Some reports have mentioned possible Indian language remakes of The Hangover, for instance, and multiplexes have pushed these films harder. “The Hangover is a great movie, and you can’t market a bad product,” Vardhan says. “We started marketing it even more, to penetrate through to people, to tell them it’s a good movie.”
Bollywood studios acknowledge this summer’s pattern as well. “It is purely a function of the films that have released in the last month or so,” says Sunil Khetrapal, chief operating officer of Reliance’s BIG Pictures. “It has so happened that after a long time we’ve had a good lot of English films released.”
BIG Pictures refused to share the revenue numbers of Kal Kisne Dekha, one of the underperforming films cited by Vardhan. “We released the film on about 450 screens,” says Kamal Gianchandani, head of distribution. “I’d say the film has done about 75% of the business that 99, a film released during the strike period, did.” BoxOfficeIndia.com, a trade website, reported that 99 had earned Rs10 crore after running in multiplexes for three weeks—which is less than what Harry Potter earned, in its English and dubbed versions, within its first week.
Two of Hollywood’s stars this Indian summer—Harry Potter and Night at the Museum—are children’s films, and thus ideally suited for summer vacations. “This is something that happens every year,” Vardhan points out. “Hollywood puts out children’s films, and they do well.”
Paramount’s Singh also emphasized the importance of big films for small people. “There was a phase where Bollywood released some animation films one after another, but that was short-lived,” he says. “But Bollywood yet has to churn out significant numbers of children’s films. They should be looking at it.”