If we look back at the performances of Bollywood’s Diwali release over the past decade, the collections have almost always been impressive. While Ra.One (2011) grossed about Rs 221 crore worldwide, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) collected Rs 235 crore. In the same year, Son of Sardaar grossed Rs 163 crore despite a clash. The following year, Krissh 3 shattered records with a worldwide gross collection of about Rs 384 crore, which was soon broken by Happy New Year next year as the film collected Rs 385 crore. In 2015, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo collected Rs 395 crore which has been the highest for a Diwali release. In 2016, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil clashed with Shivaay. While ADHM collected Rs 229 crore, Shivaay ended up with Rs 124 crore. Golmaal Again (2017) earned Rs 311 crore while Thugs of Hindostan (2018) amassed Rs 320 crore despite poor reviews. 2019 releases Housefull 4, Made In China and Saand Ki Aankh registered collections of Rs 280 crore, Rs 12.78 crore and Rs 23.67 crore respectively. Diwali in 2020 saw films clashing on OTT due to the pandemic but the following year when theatres reopened, Sooryavanshi brought back festive cheer with a collection of about Rs 295 crore worldwide.
This year, both Thank God and Ram Setu have had their share of controversies ahead of their release, but yet the kind of buzz that Diwali releases create every year has been amiss. Besides there are some promising regional films like Gandhada Gudi, Sardar, Padavettu and Har Har Mahadev vying for the audiences’ attention. Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam has also hit the screens this week and there is massive buzz around it already. Amidst all the noise, will Bollywood be able to revive its magic? Will Ram Setu and Thank God create a Diwali dhamaka at the box office?
In today’s #BigStory, we reached out to filmmakers and trade analysts to find out. Read on.
Thank God vs Ram Setu
While the advance bookings for Thank God and Ram Setu look neck-to-neck, trade circuit predicts the collections may not be that impressive as other Diwali releases. Film distributor and analyst Raj Bansal has his doubts. “There is no excitement around both the films and the audience have not been going to the theatres like they used to. The content of the films is a big factor. It’s always the family entertainment films that work on Diwali. So out of the two, I feel Thank God will take over Ram Setu,” he says.
Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta feels both the films seem to be good family entertainers with good music, good faces, and are coming at the right time. “But it’s just that they are not coming with enough pomp and show that a Diwali release usually has,” he notes.
Film producer and distributor Girish Wankhede points out that the regional films viz Sardar, Padavettu, Gandhada Gudi, and Har Har Mahadev are crowd pullers too. “There is also Black Adam that has already released. But we are expecting both Thank God and Ram Setu to do well. Earlier Ajay Devgn’s comedy films like Golmaal, Son of Sardaar have worked out. We have a history of trade successes during Diwali. It is a time when people come out with their families to watch movies in theatres. So a film like Thank God with family values, comedy will work. Ram Setu has religious sentiment that is strong in the country. So that also has good chances,” he says.
Film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi agrees. “Inder Kumar is a filmmaker who has delivered so many hits throughout his career. He is an absolute entertainer of a director. Similarly Ram Setu is a subject that is close to the hearts of so many Indians. Har Har Mahadev has also been endorsed by the public and it is a story that needs to be celebrated. So it is an exciting time. This looks like a fairly good variety that is being offered to the audience this Diwali.”
Trade analyst Amod Mehra does not quite agree and believes the filmmakers are not choosing the subjects that will draw the audience to the theatres. “The problem is that the big stars who used to reserve festive dates for their big ticket releases are not coming this Diwali. Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha released earlier, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan’s films are not ready for release. With Akshay Kumar having a few flops recently, things look dicey. Even in Ram Setu, he is playing a middle aged person. It may not be too appealing for the youngsters. Thank God is also about God and comedy, that has all been seen and rejected earlier. There is nothing new that the audience can look forward to. It is going to be a
thandi Diwali this year,” he says.
Producer Ratan Jain too shares the same sentiment. “The films with good content will even work without any big event or festival. Take Kantara, for example. Even though the film is in Kannada language, the word of mouth is so good. There is no big star, but people still want to see that film. In Bollywood, films are now being made to make money. They have their calculations in place – how much money will come from music rights, satellite rights, OTT rights,” he shares.
Producer Deepesh Shah notes that going to cinemas was a habit in pre-covid times. “Today the habit needs to be revived to get audiences regularly to the cinemas every week. Festivals acted as a catalyst across sectors, especially retail. Similarly, movies releasing on Diwali or other festivals will act as a catalyst to revive the habit. Ram Setu and Thank God are pitched as family movies, which will surely bring the audiences back to the theatres. According to me, the combined opening day collection in the range of Rs 25-30 crore would trigger a positive sign. Comparing the box office collections to pre-Covid movie releases would be incorrect as the dynamics have changed. Audience preferences and behaviours have changed,” he shares.
Media sector analyst Karan Taurani doesn’t foresee the two Diwali releases earning as big bucks as the previous ones. “We will fall short by at least 20 percent in terms of the 200-crore mark,” he notes. “First reason would be that none of these are franchise films. Secondly, audience’s taste has changed in post-Covid era. So unless the film has an offbeat content, achieving 200 crores even if both films are put together seems difficult. Third reason is that most of the content has been conceptualised in the pre-pandemic times. And lastly there could be surprises in regional cinema. Both Ajay and Akshay have had solid track records, but as of now, early estimates indicate together the films may not do a collection of more than Rs 150-160 crore nett.”
As Deepesh Shah reflected, every entertainment medium today is competing to secure maximum share of the recreational time of the audiences. Hence, film marketing strategies need to be calibrated so as to engage the new audience in a different manner. “Just releasing assets and reminding the audience may not be good enough for them to dedicate their time for a movie,” he says.
Sanjay Gupta too feels there has been no noise around the two films. “If they are going to be the big Diwali releases, why are they shying away from promotions?” he questions. “Diwali is a big event, and there has to be a celebration. Why are we not telling the people to come and celebrate in the theatres? With due respect to both the producers, I am not seeing them come out and push the film as grand holiday releases. As it is, we are living in such terrible times, so this is a bit depressing.”
Film critic and trade analyst Komal Nahta too believes the excitement of Diwali releases that used to be there earlier is missing. “Both Thank God and Ram Setu may open well, but the thrill and pensive mood that used to be there that ‘we must watch this film’, is amiss. I don’t understand why no one is making a film that can generate so much excitement that people would just not want to miss. Sure the biggies like Pathaan, Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, Tiger 3 and others have booked the holiday slots for release, but when the public will give a thumbs up, that’s the question to ask. Hopefully it will happen next year. But Cirkus that is releasing in December is one film to watch out for because more often than not Rohit Shetty’s film delivers.”
Sanjay Gupta too lauds Rohit Shetty for not letting go of his core strength while filmmaking. “We are commercial filmmakers, but somewhere along the line, around late 2000 we became more focused on impressing the critics and getting the higher ratings. That meant nothing at the box office and in fact we were weakening our core competence. We will go back to the glory days but we need to give the audience what they enjoy. Like with Singham 3, we are assured of 100 percent commercial blockbuster full of dialogue-baazi, story, punchline, everything. Cirkus will be one film to watch out for. Rohit Shetty has never let go of his core strength. Audience is all that matters to him.
Woh tod dega,” he says.
Amod Mehra does not mince his words and says it like it is. “This is all wrong planning on the part of the producers. They did not target the festivals well, there was wrong thinking, wrong marketing strategy. Drishyam 2 could have been a Diwali release. It is a family film and has a franchise benefit. Even if Brahmastra released on Diwali, it would have created havoc at the box office. But nobody planned it like that. They need a wakeup call. The audience is watching good films. Doctor G collections are at par with Laal Singh Chaddha. It is almost thrice the collection of Anek. Vikram Vedha was also released at such a bad time. We need to give the audience what they like,” he says.
Post pandemic effect
The pandemic changed the way we lead our daily lives and the effects of the lockdown still persist. “As an exhibitor, I have observed people are not coming to theatres even after slashing ticket prices,” notes Raj Bansal and adds, “Talk about a film like Vikram Vedha – one could not have imagined a Hrithik Roshan film not doing well at the box office. So looking at the kind of business films have done after the pandemic, I doubt there will be a dhamaka this Diwali.”
Going by the observations at the box office in the past few months, Akshaye Rathi thinks more than superstars, it’s about how engaging and entertaining the content is. “We’ve seen an Akshay Kumar film like Sooryavanshi doing close to Rs 200 crore business, and we have also seen Akshay’s Bell Bottom and few other films not even coming close to one fourth of it. So while a name like Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan or Ranbir Kapoor can add to the excitement, ultimately the audience will come to watch a great tale told on the screens,” he says.
Ratan Jain too feels it is difficult to predict which film is going to be a good film. “If you talk about names, both the films have big actors Akshay and Ajay. But times have changed. People won’t go to theatres because of their names. There are two reasons – because of the pandemic, their habits have changed. They got so much entertainment at home, now they would go to cinemas only if the film is very good, reviews are good or the trailer is fantastic. That is the main reason why the recent releases after the pandemic have failed to draw the audience to the theatres. Earlier any film would post a decent opening, but that’s not the case today. Look at Parineeti Chopra’s Code Name: Tiranga for instance. Look at what happened to Amitabh Bachchan’s Goodbye. Our so-called big stars have committed to such films that they are now scared of coming to cinemas and their films have been released on OTT,” he says.
Will Bollywood bounce back?
The answer is a unanimous yes. Industry insiders concur that the films that were conceptualised pre-pandemic are the ones not drawing the audience to the theatres. There were no Khans this Diwali, as their films were delayed due to the pandemic. “2023 onwards, one can expect the business to boom,” asserts Raj Bansal.
Deepesh Shah too believes reclaiming levels of pre-covid is surely an opportunity. “I believe box office collections of festive releases next year will reclaim the Rs 100 crore, Rs 200 crore and Rs 300 crore mark,” he says.
As Sanjay Gupta sums up, “We are going through the lowest phase in filmmaking because of the mediocrity that we have chosen to accept. We will bounce back but we will have to think out of the box.”