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PVR Cinemas and INOX Leisure were eyeing the 15 August weekend as a realistic date to have audiences back in theatres. Photo: Mint
PVR Cinemas and INOX Leisure were eyeing the 15 August weekend as a realistic date to have audiences back in theatres. Photo: Mint

Bollywood preps for dullest Independence Day weekend ever

  • Most exhibitors and trade experts had been eyeing the Independence Day weekend as a possible date for reopening movie theatres after the lockdown, but that hasn’t happened with cinema owners still awaiting clarity from the government

New Delhi: Bollywood is set to miss out on yet another big holiday weekend that has traditionally been crucial for film business, thanks to the covid-19 pandemic. Most exhibitors and trade experts had been eyeing the Independence Day weekend as a possible date for reopening movie theatres after the lockdown. Evidently, that hasn’t happened with cinema owners still awaiting clarity from the government on a reopening date even as they prepare with safety and hygiene measures.

Expectations were high for this Independence Day. Two patriotic sagas, Ajay Devgn-starrer Bhuj: The Pride of India, an action film set during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 and John Abraham’s Attack, another action film based on a real-life hostage crisis were to clash with comedy drama Hungama 2 starring Paresh Rawal, Shilpa Shetty and Meezaan Jafri. Like with previous years, together they had the potential to rake in more than 100 crore over their opening weekend.

“The Independence Day weekend has always brought good news for Bollywood," Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said. “The trend is to bring in a heartwarming, patriotic film to go with the occasion and mood of the nation."

In the past few years, actor Akshay Kumar has dominated the Independence Day weekend as the poster boy of feel-good, nationalistic cinema. Last year, his drama Mission Mangal on the life of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation who contributed to the Mars Orbiter Mission, co-starring Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Nithya Menen made more than Rs. 192 crore in domestic box office collections. The year before that, his historical sports drama Gold on the journey of India's first national hockey team to the 1948 Summer Olympics had earned Rs. 102 crore. Comedy drama Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission and crime thriller Rustom in which Kumar played a naval officer, winning a National Award had managed Rs. 132 crore and Rs. 124 crore respectively.

Mohan was quick to add that Abraham too was slowly making his place in the genre of patriotic, action films released on the national holiday. Last year, his action thriller Batla House, inspired by the 2008 real-life encounter case, had earned close to Rs. 85 crore in domestic box office collections. In 2018, his vigilante action film Satyameva Jayate had made close to 80 crore. Given his successful track record on Independence Day, Abraham would have gone out of his way to spread the word for 'Attack' this year, Mohan pointed out.

While the other two films have made no official announcements on their release yet, Devgn has taken Bhuj: The Pride of India to stream directly on Disney+ Hotstar, a move that has caused much anxiety among film exhibitors who see big films starring top, massy names going to digital as signs of the theatre business crumbling. Bollywood has incurred losses of more than 1,000 crore in the first six months of 2020 that saw cinema halls shut since the middle of March. In older interviews, both Ajay Bijli and Siddharth Jain, top executives at multiplex chains PVR Cinemas and INOX Leisure Ltd had said they were eyeing the 15 August weekend as a realistic date to have audiences back in theatres given the festivities, the mood of the nation and the adequate time given for sanitization.

“The only similar (holiday) weekend to be looked at now is Gandhi Jayanti in October," trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar pointed out. If permissions to reopen theatres do come in by the end of August, cinemas may possibly be able to resume operations by late September in time for the holiday in October.

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