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Bollywood actor Salman Khan waves at his fans in Mumbai,  (PTI)
Bollywood actor Salman Khan waves at his fans in Mumbai, (PTI)

Film studios announce big budget films amid covid-19 uncertainties

  • With budgets ranging between 150-200 crore each, production houses like Reliance Entertainment, Viacom18 Studios, T-Series and others have at least a dozen films lined up some of which will be dubbed and released in multiple languages

NEW DELHI : Even as cinema halls in India battle uncertainty on reopening dates and producers witness dwindling cash flows and stuck investments, some studios have taken the call to announce big-budget spectacles that they believe will help bring audiences back to theatres next year. The announcements come as a surprise to the trade that had expected investments to be muted for at least a year and smaller scale films to be greenlit more for a while. With budgets ranging between 150-200 crore each, production houses like Reliance Entertainment, Viacom18 Studios, T-Series and others have at least a dozen films lined up some of which will be dubbed and released in multiple languages.

T-Series has two films with Baahubali star Prabhas--Radhe Shyam and Adipurush, both will be released at least in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, besides two films with John Abraham, Satyameva Jayate 2 and an untitled cross-border love story that also features Arjun Kapoor. Reliance that has a long-term partnership with director Rohit Shetty will back two upcoming projects while Ronnie Screwvala and Siddharth Roy Kapur have partnered on a 1971 war film titled Pippa Ishaan Khatter. Viacom18 Motion Pictures has Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha coming up while Vyajanthi Movies, a south India production house is bankrolling a science fiction drama starring Prabhas and Deepika Padukone. Producer Sajid Nadiadwala has two Salman Khan-starrers on offer, Kick 2 and Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali.

“It goes without saying that if we aspire to bring people back to theatres, big films will be important," said Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibasish Sarkar. “Although it is evident that our cash flows for this year have been zilch and investments of last year are stuck since the films haven’t released, if we have to keep the cycle running, we have to get into momentum."

Satyameva Jayate 2 director Milap Zhaveri who is currently on recce for his film in Lucknow, said these mainstream, commercial potboilers often draw criticism but actually this is content that most of the country wants to watch.

“The smaller films that grow by word-of-mouth take longer to translate into footfalls and are likely to be watched at home on OTT platforms now. But it is the audience in the heartland and small towns that is most deprived of entertainment and most loyal to theatres that will rush to cinemas first," Zhaveri said adding that these films which cannot be enjoyed on the small screen will mark the resurrection of theatres.

Film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar pointed to promising box office in countries that have reopened movie screens. According to UK-based film industry analytics firm Gower Street, China has achieved full box office recovery, with daily domestic earnings hitting 500 million yuan ($73 million) last week which coincided with the Chinese Valentine’s day. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has notched up $53 million across the 41 territories it debuted last Friday.

“It proves that audiences do want to come back. India may trickle back to recovery but once it does, there will be no looking back," Johar said adding that box office in the months after normalcy sets in may be 20-30% higher than it is ordinarily.

“So filmmakers also have to be smart and not dish out run-of-the-mill stuff," Johar said.

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