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The covid-19 pandemic has wiped out the theatrical business by 67% according to a recent KPMG report, leaving several titles stalled or taken directly to video streaming platforms
The covid-19 pandemic has wiped out the theatrical business by 67% according to a recent KPMG report, leaving several titles stalled or taken directly to video streaming platforms

After dismal show in 2020, Bollywood is looking to stage a comeback in theatres

  • With budgets ranging between Rs50 crore and Rs100 crore, a combination of mid-budget and big-scale films will compel audiences to step out, say industry experts
  • Stuck at home for months now, viewers will decide through their wallets whether the industry survives or perishes this year

Bollywood may have had a tough year in 2020 but top studios and stars are looking to beat the blues and stage a comeback by lining up a bunch of films for theatrical release in 2021. Apart from Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama '83, both of which have been scheduled for the first quarter right now, there is Kumar’s spy thriller Bellbottom in April, Salman Khan’s Radhe and John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate 2 for Eid in May and Tiger Shroff’s Heropanti 2, Ayushmann Khuranna’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and Ajay Devgn’s Maidaan among titles that have committed to big screen showcasing this year. With budgets ranging between Rs50 crore and Rs100 crore, a combination of mid-budget and big-scale films will compel audiences to step out, said industry experts.

Stuck at home for months now, viewers will decide through their wallets whether the industry survives or perishes this year. The release of Tamil action film Master this week for Pongal is expected to play a critical role in helping Hindi film-makers lock release dates.

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The covid-19 pandemic has wiped out the theatrical business by 67% according to a recent KPMG report, leaving several titles stalled or taken directly to video streaming platforms. Media industry experts said that Bollywood’s nepotism debate and the drugs angle in the past few months may have disillusioned Indian audiences. Besides, the trend of premiering mainstream Bollywood films on streaming services may have resulted in a behaviour reset where accustomed to watching films in the comfort of their homes at nominal prices, customers may not return to theatres.

Not everyone agrees.

“All theories (around the survival or death of the film industry) will continue or die down with what audiences get to see on a particular Friday. This is a business whose fate is decided entirely by the public and their wallets," said Gaurav Verma, chief operating officer at Red Chillies Entertainment which has a film called Bob Biswas starring Abhishek Bachchan slated for the year. Verma said it was unfair to presume only digital platforms have helped audiences taste blood with niche, meaningful content when in fact, Hindi films have been pushing the envelope for years now and the industry has seen box office successes in small-scale films such as Mumbai Meri Jaan or Queen as early as 2007.

“But consumer habits have evolved now and that will help the entire ecosystem to survive. There is space for both big stars as well as the familiarity that faces in shows such as Scam 1992 or Pataal Lok bring," Verma added.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India added that issues around Bollywood’s ethics and moralities have come up in the past, be it the casting couch or the MeToo movement but the industry has managed to bounce back thanks to the fact that the country continues to turn to it for entertainment, though none of this changes how people perceive Bollywood, in general.

The release of these Hindi films will especially help business in north Indian states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai that have so far performed below par for Hollywood offerings such as Wonder Woman 1984. According to trade website Box Office India, Mumbai is notching up nearly 8% lower figures than it would ordinarily have for a big Hollywood flick. States like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, however, are doing better, possibly due to the pent-up demand.

“It is easy to get swayed by popular notion, and if the work culture was not strong enough, we wouldn’t have been able to churn out content year on year. Now after covid norms, the industry is only set to come closer together and the opportunity is going to multiply given the digital boom. Although 2020 was a volatile year for the film industry, we are looking at a prosperous time ahead," said Shariq Patel, chief business officer, Zee Studios that has already released a Hindi film post lockdown, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari and will be distributing Salman Khan’s Radhe worldwide.

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