A still from film Sooryavansham.
A still from film Sooryavansham.

Why is 1999 movie ‘Sooryavansham’ Sony Max’s favourite offering?

Nearly 20 years after its release, Sooryavansham that made less than Rs7 crore in total theatrical earnings, is topping television ratings on Sony Max that may air it as frequently as once a month

New Delhi: In the respective weeks of both their television premieres, the two biggest blockbusters of 2017, war epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, and slapstick comedy Golmaal Again notched up top ratings, show data from BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council). But interestingly, Baahubali that premiered in October last year and Golmaal that was aired in February this year, both had one common name that made it to the BARC list of top five films that week—Amitabh Bachchan’s 1999 drama Sooryavansham.

A remake of Tamil film Suryavamsam (1997), the E.V.V. Satyanarayana directed film notched up 4.4 million BARC impressions on Sony Max compared to Baahubali’s 26 million on the same channel and 4.7 million impressions compared to Golmaal Again’s 16 million on Star Gold. Impressions refer to the number of individuals (in thousands) of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes. BARC India is the country’s TV viewership monitoring agency.

Nearly 20 years after release, the box office disaster that made less than Rs7 crore in total theatrical earnings, is topping television ratings on Sony Max that may air it as frequently as once a month. But it is not the only one. Senior executives from television channels name flops like dark fantasy action film Jaani Dushman- Ek Anokhi Kahani (Rs10 crore), Tarzan The Wonder Car (Rs6 crore), romantic comedy drama Ramaiya Vastavaiya (Rs26 crore), Akshay Kumar comedy Entertainment (Rs64 crore) and romantic drama Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana (Rs15 crore) as examples of films that have emerged as blockbusters on television despite not setting the cash registers ringing on theatrical release.

The first reason for this is the distinct nature of the Indian television viewing world. Many, if not most Hindi films made today are sharp and well-shot, the content is modern, the issues contemporary and the depiction of intimacy between characters matches global standards. 93% of the country, on the other hand, exists in a one-television household reality.

“Television viewing essentially is community viewing," said Neeraj Vyas, senior vice-president and business head, Sony Max cluster, Sony Pictures Network. “So in a small town like Kanpur or Allahabad, I could go to the theatre to watch (a new-age film like) Queen with my friends, appreciate it in the darkness and privacy of a cinema hall and come out saying I’ve seen something nice, but the same film doesn’t work on TV because I’m watching it with my immediate and extended family."

Television, Vyas added, is a representation of the average Indian, the mass consumer who enjoys stereotypical scenes, situations and songs and comes back to them whenever he can. A family entertainer like Sooryavansham will always work on television because it not just allows for emotional peaks and curves every couple of minutes but can be watched in segments or its entirety with at least one other member of the family multiple times without discomfort.

While there may not always be a direct correlation between box office flops going on to do well on television, Ashish Bhasin, chairman and chief executive, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, said since the theatrical release of films is time-bound, very often there are films that don’t do well initially but are considered great later on. Clashing with a big film may have impacted collections, for instance, whereas on TV you don’t have to fight for an audience and viewing is free.

Further and more importantly, the films Bollywood is churning out today don’t make for television-friendly viewing. Commercial entertainers that appeal to the lowest common denominator are rare and the films that do get made mostly tend to be experimental and niche subjects that cater more to big-city, multiplex audiences, and consequently don’t find much success on the small screen. According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2017, the number of single screens in India has come down from 9,710 in 2009 to 6,780 in 2017, multiplexes, on the other hand, have gone up from 925 to 2,750 during the same period. The audience used to watching single screen kind of mass entertainment films, is not getting the chance to watch them anymore because movies are made to reach out to multiplex audiences who are restricted to the metros and mini-metros. Older massy films like Sooryavansham, come to their rescue, in that scenario.

“Films are not made primarily for TV audiences and producers first think in terms of recovery from theatres, so the larger ecosystem of TV audiences doesn’t get what it wants in terms of content supply," pointed out Ruchir Tiwari, business head, Zee Hindi Movies Cluster.

At this moment, Tiwari said, Bollywood is not dishing out, not more than five films out of 200 a year that work on TV. The cinema that Bollywood has stopped making may not be commercially viable from a theatrical point of view but is relevant for most of India.

“The mindset of a TV consumer is geared towards repeat consumption. He would love to watch a nice film in theatres maybe once, but genres outside of (massy ones like) action, drama and comedy will work only once or twice on TV, they are not everyday consumption," Tiwari said.

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