New Delhi: Star power just doesn’t seem to be pulling the audiences in anymore, judging from the opening weekend performance of the latest Shah Rukh Khan movie.

Jab Harry Met Sejal (JHMS), a romantic comedy starring Khan and Anushka Sharma and directed by Imtiaz Ali, earned Rs45.75 crore at the box office in its first three days. That’s worse than the performance of Khan’s own recent releases, which didn’t have a great run either.

Earlier this year, his Republic Day release Raees collected Rs93.24 crore, albeit over an extended holiday weekend. Last year, Khan’s psychological thriller Fan earned Rs52.35 crore in the first three days and Rohit Shetty’s 2015 comedy Dilwale made Rs65.09 crore, substantially more than Ali’s romantic drama, which registered 50% average occupancy over three days.

Ali’s direction let down JHMS, which takes the viewers on a tour of Europe, trade experts said on condition of anonymity. The audiences couldn’t connect with the film, which lacked soul, they added. It’s also a sign that audiences want movies that are more than a showcase of star power.

“After a breezy first half that establishes the characters, people were expecting a lot more twists and turns in the second half but nothing happens," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “The film is hardly even a visual delight, you’re just moving from one country to another, all of which look the same. The point is, you can’t fool audiences all the time."

Mohan’s point about consumer tastes evolving is reflected in the dismal performance of the other big-ticket offering this season, Salman Khan’s Eid release Tubelight, which was savaged by critics and earned a total of only Rs119.26 crore.

Independent film trade and business expert Girish Johar points out that stars such as Shah Rukh and Salman Khan will always fill theatres on Friday, as reflected in the Rs15.25 crore and Rs21.15 crore day one collections of JHMS and Tubelight, respectively. Beyond that, it is the story and direction that matter.

Sanjay Ghai, chief operating officer of film production company Mukta Arts Ltd, who also runs single-screen theatre Chandra Talkies in Muzaffarnagar, said that for a film to work it has to be an entertaining combination of a star and the story. The star should play his real-life age, he said, citing the example of actors such as Aamir Khan in Dangal.

“There are so many entertainment options now that you really have to do something different to keep people hooked for 2-3 hours," Johar said, adding “Everyone has access to these streaming and video-on-demand services," referring to the slick content available on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. “The film will be out on Tata Sky within a month. Plus we’re all exposed to Hollywood that produces technically superior work."

Exorbitant ticket prices of as much as Rs700-800 at the multiplexes haven’t helped. “Earlier, most film revenue came from single screens. Now, as their contribution comes down and ticket rates go up, people want value for money and harsh reactions come when that doesn’t happen. Times have changed, consumer tastes have changed," Mohan said.

To be sure, theatres are unlikely to reduce or discontinue JHMS shows mainly because there is no other alternative film to run, an exhibitor said on condition of anonymity. While last week’s comedy Mubarakan may benefit from the poor showing of Khan’s film, there is some hope even for the new release. For one, it was sold for a lower price to distributors compared to Tubelight—Rs80 crore as opposed to Rs130 crore.

“Today being Rakshabandhan, there could be some sort of upward trend in the collections. But the real test begins tomorrow," said Mohan predicting a Rs80-85 crore first week for the film.

All figures have been sourced from movie website Bollywood Hungama.

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