Shadows over silver screen: Plot twist at box office hits small-town theatre owners

The lackluster box office numbers of high-profile action films, such as Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, Fighter and Ganapath, have dealt a severe blow to the once hopeful narrative of theatrical resurgence of single-screens following covid-induced closures.

Lata Jha
First Published24 Apr 2024
Bade Miyan Chote Miyan had made Rs. 47.52 crore since its Eid release,
Bade Miyan Chote Miyan had made Rs. 47.52 crore since its Eid release, (X)

In a tale of highs and lows for India's movie theatre industry, small-town cinemas find themselves at a critical crossroads with recent box office disappointments echoing through single-screen theaters.

While high-profile action films, featuring popular stars, such as Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, Fighter and Ganapath, were targeted towards mass-market audiences, their lackluster box office numbers have dealt a severe blow to the once hopeful narrative of theatrical resurgence of single-screens following the covid-induced closures.

During the challenging pandemic years, 1,500-2,000 theaters, mostly single-screens, had shuttered. However, 2023 showcased the potential for revival with the success of commercial entertainers like Pathaan ( 512.76 crore), Jawan ( 554.30 crore), Gadar 2 ( 515.13 crore) and Animal ( 556.36 crore), which resonated with audiences in small-town markets.

Recent releases with star power, slick action failed to make mark

However, the optimism has been short-lived with the recent releases, which followed a similar template of star power and slick action, failing to make a mark. 

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, featuring Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff and Sonakshi Sinha, could only muster 47.52 crore at the box office since its Eid release. Fighter, starring Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone, concluded its theatrical run with around 200 crore, way below its production costs of over 250 crore. Shroff-starrer Ganapath, in fact, did not even cross the 10-crore earningsmark since its release in October.

Also Read: Bade Miyan Chote Miyan Box Office Collection Day 13: Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff’s movie eyes 100 crore

Amid this gloomy picture, a glimmer of hope emerged from the success of a few small-budget, content-driven films like Crew,  Shaitaan, and Laapataa Ladies. However, their popularity remained confined to larger multiplexes in metropolitan areas.

According to Pranav Garg, managing director at Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar, audiences usually clamour for well-crafted entertainers that offer something new, especially during the festive periods of Eid, Diwali or Dussehra, when families tend to step out together, and prices are higher even in small towns. 

However, both Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and Fighter hinged on the well-worn theme of India-Pakistan hostilities. Beides, the flms' music failed to generate any buzz leading up to the release, resulting in little awareness among the audiences in tier-two and tier-three markets. “The feedback we received was that the films offered zero value for money, thus, featuring popular faces was not enough,” Garg said. 

Vishek Chauhan, a single-screen owner from Bihar, said audience preferences in small towns have evolved significantly post-covid, and merely investing in action sequences and visual effects is no longer sufficient for filmmakers to capture their attention.

Also Read: Why producers are getting cold feet about big budget films

 “Viewers are tired of movies with a light touch. They are looking for grittier themes, raw and rustic, in-your-face cinema, and characters that are grey. Many are connecting with anger and negative themes, which have to do with poverty and joblessness post-covid.” 

Even for action movies, there is a need for more personal and realistic stories, Chauhan said. The past quarter has been bleak for the film business in small towns, and it's becoming increasingly challenging to cover operational expenses considering that revenue is barely trickling in, he added.

Also Read: Box office popcorn for cinemas; but where are the viewers

However, a section of trade experts argued that the recent failures are not solely due to high pricing, considering the big budgets and marketing expenditures. The disparity between the paying propensity of big and small town audiences has narrowed, and viewers now willing to spend in films promising value.

“The question is how they’d like to spend three hours of their time and not whether 200 is a big deal. If the content isn’t made right, viewers will not like to watch it even for free,” said Amit Sharma, managing director, Miraj Entertainment, which operates multiplex theatres. 


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