The curious case of Bollywood’s unreleased films

Ramesh Sippy’s ‘Shimla Mirch’ and Kunal Kohli’s ‘Phir Se’ are some of the Hindi films that remain unreleased long after their announcement and production


A still from director Kunal Kohli’s ‘Phir Se’ featuring him and television star Jennifer Winget (right).
A still from director Kunal Kohli’s ‘Phir Se’ featuring him and television star Jennifer Winget (right).

New Delhi: Late in September 2014, veteran filmmaker Ramesh Sippy announced a return to the director’s chair after nearly two decades. The romantic comedy titled Shimla Mirch, starring Hema Malini and Rajkummar Rao, marked the director’s comeback 19 years after he helmed a Shah Rukh Khan and Raveena Tandon comedy called Zamaana Deewana (1995). Almost three years later though, the film hasn’t been released.

Sippy’s directorial venture is not the only Bollywood film awaiting release long after completion. Some other Hindi films that remain unreleased long after their announcement and production are director Kunal Kohli’s acting debut Phir Se, which features television star Jennifer Winget in the lead along with him, Richa Chadda-starrer Cabaret co-produced by Pooja Bhatt, Bhaiyyaji Superhitt starring Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta and Ameesha Patel, and a host of Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrers including Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa and The Music Teacher directed by Buddhdeb Dasgupta and Sarthak Dasgupta, respectively,

And that are just a few examples.

“The censor board certifies more than 3,000 feature films in all Indian languages each year,” said Utpal Acharya, founder of film production, distribution and marketing company Indian Film Studios. “For 2016, the total number of movies that managed a release was around 1,700, almost half of that. And we’re still talking of a fraction—the Indian film industry produces a minimum of 5,000 movies per year and out of those that don’t get released one only notices the bigger or prominent names.”

Trade experts said there are multiple reasons why a film may not see the light of the day and lack of novelty may just be one of them.

“Sometimes the making of a film takes so long that the plot, relevant at one point of time, loses its importance. Someone else could have made a similar story that may have already come out,” said film trade and business expert Girish Johar. “What follows is that the actors and makers find their interest dwindling and the project loses steam.”

In other cases, the film may run into censor trouble after completion. A producer looking for a “U” (unrestricted public exhibition) certificate may not want an “A” or “U/A” (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of 12) certificate since he plans to further sell the film to satellite television channels which may require separate guidelines for films other than those with “U” ratings. But the absence of an exciting subject, Johar added, is linked to financial challenges. For example, the producer may run short of P&A (prints and advertising) funds or not find any takers for distribution.

“Most big distributors in the market today are aligned with major studios and release their films on their terms whereas when it comes to individual producers, they don’t put money that easily,” said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “When it comes to small-budget films that typically cost producers Rs10-15 crore to make, distributors would have to buy them for around Rs2.5 crore for a major territory like Mumbai or Delhi and Rs75 lakh-1.5 crore for the mini-territories. Plus they would require another Rs10-15 lakh for local publicity. The general perception is why take a risk for a film that may not even recover its print and advertising cost.”

The overall studio and film exhibition market in India, experts like Mohan said, has a lot to do with the big number of movies that remain unreleased each year. Most studios come with a checklist of big stars and young, bankable directors before green-lighting a film, reducing the chances for smaller names to get studio backing and, consequently, distributor support.

“There might be situations where the producers realize they may not even recover the P&A cost and many of them are worried about their image,” Acharya said. “Ultimately it’s a business decision. If a product made in the range of Rs4-5 crore which has an additional Rs2.5 crore in P&A cost means you’re putting good money after bad money. Besides multiplexes are ruthless, if the content doesn’t work, they don’t even wait for Saturday, the film is out Friday evening itself. These are the harsh realities.”

However, it’s not just about the money. Cabaret director Kaustav Narayan Niyogi said, “It’s absolutely unfortunate that so many films (in the industry) get stuck. Remuneration is one kind of reward but the larger issue for a creative person is the effort they’ve put in and not knowing whether the film would meet expectations. Forget appreciation or criticism, just the fact that the effort hasn’t been seen is disappointing.”

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