Mumbai: Film studios are playing cautious ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket season this year by holding off on big-budget releases until the end of the annual tournament in late May, as they look to hedge their investments in the current weak economic climate.
Reluctant to pit their films against all-star cast cricket teams, major production houses have moved to avert a scheduling clash with the IPL season which is scheduled to start on 10 April.
The Yash Raj Films production New York, due out on 8 May and starring John Abraham and Katrina Kaif, is the lone big film that will be released during the series. Instead, a slew of releases are planned for late May and early June, including Eros International’s Kambhakht Ishq, produced by Sajid Nadiadwala and starring Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor, which is due out on 29 May—the first weekend after the IPL season ends.
Taking a chance: A still of the Yash Raj Films production New York, due out on 8 May, is the lone big film slated for release during T20.
“Generally, there is a tendency to postpone releases during the IPL,” said Mahesh Ramanathan, chief operating officer of Reliance BIG Pictures. “Cricket is the country’s most popular game and it means free entertainment on television and so the tendency to go to the movies is low.”
He added: “But given the attacks in Lahore, we are no longer even sure if the IPL will go ahead and everyone is watching and waiting.”
His comments come a day after gunmen in Lahore opened fire on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team, who were on their way to a match against the Pakistani team, throwing the entire IPL cricket season into doubt among concerns over inadequate security arrangements in India.
Meanwhile, cinema chains are proceeding with ongoing talks with BCCI, cricket’s governing body in India, over the rights to screen IPL matches in cinemas during the season in a bid to capitalize on the appeal of the game and fill empty seats.
“Cricket and movies can coexist,” says Gautam Dutta, chief executive of PVR’s Cinemedia, adding that the company has been in talks with the producers guilds to “urge” them not to stop the flow of movies during the season. “There are a couple of big releases that are slated to open during IPL and people will watch movies if the content is there. We are in talks over running IPL matches in cinemas but BCCI doesn’t want to talk to the individual chains. It wants someone to come in and underwrite the entire business for all the cinemas.”
In addition, added Dutta, the cinema chain was going to try to package films for audiences “in a manner that helped viewers to come back”, for instance, by screening Oscar-themed films.
Talks over screening matches in cinemas have also hit a roadblock over the high cost of screening the matches in cinemas, according to Vishal Kapur, chief operating officer of Fun Cinemas.
“We have been talking to the concerned parties about the rights for IPL in movie halls, but BCCI are not making any sense right now. The cost is extraordinary, but the negotiations are ongoing and will probably go on until the end.”
A number of high-profile films were released during the debut IPL season last year, including Tashan, starring Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar, as well as Boothnath, a ghost story starring Amitabh Bachchan, and Kunal Desmukh’s Jannat.
Also among the big-budget films set for a release this year after the close of the season, are Kaminey, a UTV Motion Pictures film starring Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor and directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, and Reliance BIG Pictures’ Do Not Disturb, directed by David Dhawan and starring Govinda and Sushmita Sen, which is due out in July. Meanwhile, Illuminati Films has plans to release Love Aaj Kal on 26 June, directed by Imtiaz Ali and starring Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone.
Cinema chains also remain optimistic about their prospects during IPL due to the appeal of the smaller and medium budget films scheduled for a release during this period, including Pankh, a story about a child artist and an exploration of sexuality, directed by Sudipto Chattopadhyay and starring Bipasha Basu.
“Cinema attendance is as good as the releases,” argues Tushar Dhingra, chief operating officer of the cinema chain Adlabs. “And there were some big hits released during this time last year. We believe there will be people seeking out movies and that small films will show.”
The inevitability of cricket as a part of the annual calendar has also prompted a re-examination of the season as an opportunity for promotion and to leverage stars and IPL off each other, says Biren Ghose, executive director at Eros.
“Cricket is going to be very much a regular feature of the calendar and we are seeing the release of movies during that time, which are not big ticket as people try to avoid a clash with the IPL calendar,” says Ghose. “We see it as an opportunity to do promotions around this. For major entertainment events in India, whether it is a movie release or a sporting event, one would look to create a ground swell. Both cricket and movies do that in India: they provide entertainment. So, why would you go head to head when you can leverage instead?”