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Story of Hollywood hits and southern supremacy

An estimate by media consulting firm Ormax showed that 37% of the total Hindi movie box office collection between January and October came from dubbed films. ht (Photo: HT)Premium
An estimate by media consulting firm Ormax showed that 37% of the total Hindi movie box office collection between January and October came from dubbed films. ht (Photo: HT)

  • Drawing audiences to theatres for medium and small films will increasingly be a challenge
  • The cinema-goer has become ruthless in deciding which film to watch in a theatre, and which one to give a miss, irrespective of cast, budget or language

NEW DELHI : Theatres were able to operate fully for the first time since the covid-19 pandemic in 2022. However, the impact of the previous two years on consumer behaviour was visible throughout the year. The cinema-goer has become ruthless in deciding which film to watch in a theatre, and which to give a miss, irrespective of cast, budget and language.

Bollywood, or Hindi cinema, the country’s biggest movie-producing industry, is under immense pressure as 60% of this year’s box office revenue is expected to come from local-language films made in southern states. Net box office collections of Hindi cinema this year, at around 3,450 crore, lags far behind the 5,300 crore made in 2019.

In fact, as per an estimate by media consulting firm Ormax, 37% of the total Hindi movie box office collection between January and October came from dubbed Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films.

“Hindi has had a mixed bag this year, even though we’ve seen green shoots with Drishyam 2 and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. But those have been few and far between. At a time that Hollywood has seen its tent-pole titles, be it Avatar, Top Gun or Jurassic World, perform well and regional cinema has continued to outperform, Hindi has been lagging behind," said Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director at PVR Ltd who feels overall, the movie business in India has clawed back 80% compared with pre-covid years.

The year saw consumerism peak, Bijli agreed, as pent-up demand among audiences locked up at home for nearly two years played out through significant spending on outdoor entertainment.

Alok Tandon, chief executive officer, INOX Leisure Ltd, said the film industry staged a comeback in 2022, attributing it to a general fondness for cinemas, making the recovery smoother than expected. “The industry would do well with support from authorities, with measures such as single-window clearances for new cinema opening, policy support for alternative content screening, and also a faster pace of retail-led real estate growth," Tandon said.

Trade analyst Shaaminder Malik estimated all-India box office takings across languages to be in the region of 10,000-10,500 crore in 2022. The figure would have been closer to 11,000 crore had the two big December releases, Avatar-The Way of Water and Cirkus, done better.

“One thing is clear, not even a big star —Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor or Hrithik Roshan—can ensure a big opening anymore. Samrat Prithviraj and Laal Singh Chaddha were two of the biggest flops this year. Now the consumers’ taste has evolved, they want a good script, and a wow experience to bring them to the theatres," Malik added.

Other big titles, including Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Heropanti 2, Shamshera, Radhe Shyam, Godfather, Liger, Aaraattu, Khiladi and Sarkaru Vaari Paata also stand out as disappointments. Given their costs, even Brahmastra and Cirkus should incur losses, he said.

There were a few success stories too. With more than 1,600 movies released, hits such as K.G.F. Chapter 2, RRR, Ponniyin Selvan-1, and Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness were among the most popular movies, said Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, BookMyShow. “K.G.F. 2 sold 34% of overall tickets for weekends alone and broke a five-year-long record by surpassing Baahubali 2 to become the top-selling film on BookMyShow with 17.7 million tickets sold overall," Saksena said.

He added that audiences are willing to pay for the big screen magic that an in-cinema experience brings, adding that BookMyShow saw a 116% increase in transactions for large-format experiences such as 3D, IMAX 2D, IMAX 3D and 4DX over regular cinema screens on its platform in 2022.

“Big films released on holidays failed to open as well as sustain at the box office. Part of the reason is that these films were supposed to release pre-pandemic and audience tastes have gone through a significant change post covid. Going forward, getting audiences to theatres for medium and small films will be a challenge," Gautam Jain, partner, Ormax Media said.

It is pretty clear that only certain kinds of content is finding favour with audiences.

“Drama is not a genre that is doing well post-covid and niche-segmented cinema that only appeals to the urban, elite consumer is no longer considered a safe bet for theatres. The big learning this year has been that the age of stars is over and franchises and IPs (intellectual properties) have taken over," said Vishek Chauhan, an independent Bihar-based exhibitor. Large-scale, branded entertainment that can assure audiences of a good time is the way forward, Chauhan added.

The few Hindi films that have worked post covid—Sooryavanshi (released in November 2021), Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and Drishyam 2, have all been pitched as event films the family can go to together and been part of long-term franchises.

The big takeaway from the year has been that there are no estimates on how big or low a film can open. 

“There is no floor or ceiling in that sense. A lot of stars that one thought would at least bring in an opening, have failed to do so. On the other hand, movies that one thought could make a certain number at best, have surprised," a senior film producer said declining to be named. 

Among top mainstream stars, it remains to be seen if a Salman Khan film can still manage an opening, without positive word-of-mouth, the person added. Khan’s next Kisi Ka Bhai..Kisi Ki Jaan is scheduled for April 2023. The person, however, blamed high multiplex rates and F&B prices for alienating a lot of audiences.

“Everywhere else in the world, F&B costs one-third of what tickets do. In India, it’s the other way around," the person said.

Film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi said a few films benefited from pent-up demand and change in audience palette by performing better than they would have before covid. On the other hand, several films that would have at least sailed through an opening weekend didn’t even run for a couple of hours.

“Something like An Action Hero would have made Rs. 40-50 crore before covid but we’re aware of the brutality the film was subjected to. We’re all emerging from two weird years so some unusual consumption patterns are coming into play and the hope is that within another four to six months, the mid-segment films also bounce back," Rathi said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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