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NEW DELHI : With three big-ticket movies scheduled to release, the Indian film industry is expecting this weekend to be crucial for business recovery.

While single-screen operators in the Hindi heartland are confident that the Alia Bhatt-starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi will draw huge crowds, critics said the film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, known for hits such as Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani, appears to be a niche and experimental film and may not be meant for a mass-market audience.

Tamil action film Valimai is not only expected to dominate most of south India, with early shows in Tamil Nadu and Kerala already sold out the dubbed Hindi version of the movie is likely to set the box office ringing. Bheemla Nayak, starring Pawan Kalyan, one of the most popular faces in Telugu cinema, is also expected to have a successful run after Kalyan set the cash registers ringing with Vakeel Saab just before the second covid wave.

Trade experts said Valimai and Bheemla Nayak may witness opening day numbers of over 30 crore, while Gangubai Kathiawadi could be in the range of 6-7 crore. “We have a lot of hopes pinned on what is looking like a very strong week," Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive officer, PVR Pictures Ltd said.

While Bhansali is a favourite among audiences in northern and western India for his larger-than-life movies, the two south Indian films will set the cash registers ringing in Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, besides in Kerala and Karnataka.

Release of big-ticket films on the same day plays to the strength of exhibitors because it gives people more reason to come to back to cinemas, said Gianchandani. Counter-programming of movies also helps support titles instead of them eating into each other’s business, he added.

Trade website Box Office India said Valimai has clocked in huge advance sales in Tamil Nadu, beating the 24 crore of Rajinikanth’s Diwali release Annaatthe in major cities such as Chennai, Madurai, Salem and Puducherry. Business for Gangubai Kathiawadi, on the other hand, will be driven by Maharashtra and Gujarat that had contributed well to the collections of two big hits, Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and the dubbed version of Allu Arjun’s Pushpa. Both films are expected to notch up a screen count upwards of 2,000. However, independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said Bhansali’s film may have limited appeal and find favour only among ­the older, mature audiences, alienating the youth. Dramas, essentially, are better suited to streaming platforms now, Chauhan said. In his single screen cinema in Bihar, Valimi is in three times more demand for its fast action, slick stunts and a lavish scale of production than Gangubai, Chauhan added.

Ashish Saksena, COO, cinemas, BookMyShow, said initial feedback from consumers was favourable and promising, supported by strong content and pent-up demand. “This eagerness has translated in the way shows are being planned across screens with cinemas equally dividing their shows across Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bheemla Nayak and Valimai across key Indian cinema chains."

This weekend’s releases will continue to contribute to the upward growth trajectory for cinemas with footfalls set to steadily increase over the next few weeks, besides heralding, the start of a very busy and prolific movie season for 2022, he added.

“The three films are not in direct competition with each other. The good thing is there is something for everybody and this should be a good test for the box office in this third cycle of recovery," Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd said.

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