Political films lose steam at the box office

The only notable exception was Article 370, released in February. (Screengrab from YouTube/JioStudios)
The only notable exception was Article 370, released in February. (Screengrab from YouTube/JioStudios)

Summary

  • Trade experts said the genre is heading for an overkill as filmmakers are trying to cash in on nationalist and majoritarian sentiments without any merit in storytelling.

NEW DELHI : Movie makers who hoped to ride the sentiments that propelled The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story to success have had a rude awakening. A bunch of films heavy on political messaging released ahead of the general election have failed at the box office, including Bastar-The Naxal Story, The Vaccine War, Swatantrya Veer Savarkar, and Main Atal Hoon.

Of these, the first two were made by the same teams as the two older hits. The only notable exception was Article 370, released in February.

Trade experts said the genre is heading for an overkill as filmmakers are trying to cash in on nationalist and majoritarian sentiments without any merit in storytelling. Further, unlike the two older hits, recent films have found no endorsement from the ruling party either.

When released in 2022, The Kashmir Files had made over 240 crore at the box office, while The Kerala Story had crossed the 220 crore mark last year. In contrast, The Vaccine War, made by The Kashmir Files director Vivek Agnihotri only managed 6 crore in domestic earnings while Bastar that came less than a year since The Kerala Story, made by the same team, had earned 1.25 crore since its release mid-March. Main Atal Hoon, a biopic on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ended its theatrical run with 8.65 crore this January. Swatantrya Veer Savarkar had made 7.5 crore as of Monday.

“Once something works at the box office, it is bound to become a trend. Like love stories, comedies or action films, it was presumed that controversial subjects too would continue to find draw. This (political films) is a genre that doesn’t require major investment, at a time that star prices are skyrocketing. However, as a rule, such films don’t come with much commercial value," Pranav Garg, managing director at Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar, said. While a certain section of the audience anyway stays away given the majoritarian leanings of such films, trade experts said politically driven films don’t always make for commercially entertaining cinema with songs, action or enough drama that can entice all mass-market audiences.

Moreover, unlike The Kashmir Files or The Kerala Story, none of the recent films have found backing from the ruling party, which is prioritizing elections over everything else right now. “The makers were operating with the belief that there is a right-wing wave in the country and they could get that push from the government like the older films did. But these leaders can’t speak on every film. It doesn’t make sense, and plus, priorities are different right now," said a senior producer, declining to be named. The person added that the fact that these films are often made on shoe-string budgets and hastily put together, doesn’t help either. A couple of films could help the genre bounce back at some point of time, but there has been an overdose for now, the producer said.

To be sure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of The Kashmir Files in Parliament, adding that more such films need to be made for people to know the truth. In 2019, war drama Uri-The Surgical Strike had also found government endorsement.

Independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan emphasized that even top stars have had to raise their game over the past few years with audiences, exposed to OTT, demanding more. “There will be no fatigue if a genre is done right. But too many filmmakers try to do the same thing and that is when quality standards go down. If they can raise the bar in scale and storytelling, then the genre can sustain," Chauhan added.

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