After long COVID lull, clutch of films sets box office on fire

With a stellar line-up of films scheduled in the next few months, trade analysts believe it’s only getting bigger and bigger.

After nearly a two-year drought, multiplex, as well as single-screen owners, say that a string of strong releases over the last few months have left them feeling optimistic

After a long lull, there are fireworks at the Indian box office.

A string of high-octane releases over the last few months and a sharp dip in COVID cases have brought in huge footfalls in theatres across the country. From Valimai (Tamil) to Bheemla Nayak (Telugu) to Bheeshma Parvam (Malayalam), the numbers go way beyond (just) Bollywood.

With a stellar line-up of films scheduled in the next few months, trade analysts believe it’s only getting bigger and bigger.

The success of a low-budget flick like The Kashmir Files too has brought cheer to the industry, which largely had a horrid run ever since the pandemic began. Just for the record, the film has already entered the ₹100-crore club.

“This is the first time we have seen a film opening with around ₹3.4-4 crore on Friday, followed by ₹8 crore on Saturday and ₹15 crore on Sunday. We have never seen this kind of trend for any film, no matter how big the release is. Word-of-mouth publicity seems to be the key factor,” says Rajendra Singh Jyala, Chief Programming Officer at INOX Leisure Ltd.

Jyala says regional cinema could fill the void when Bollywood struggled to release films when the pandemic was raging.

When South showed the way

“Unfortunately, no Bollywood film was released during a particular period where producers decided to wait and watch if the audience would come to theatres. But the Southern market took the lead and it struck gold. Master (Tamil), Love Story (Telugu), and Pushpa (Telugu) went on to become massive hits, having been screened all across the country. Later, films like Gangubai and Spider-Man also did extremely well in theatres. Yes, the footfalls have not yet at the pre-pandemic levels, but we expect that with the release of upcoming films such as RRR (March 25). The figures for The Kashmir Files are almost there,” adds Jyala.  

Gurmeet Singh Seble, the owner of Seble cinema in New Delhi and Raj Theatre in West Delhi, says the number of (functioning) single screens across Delhi has come down to four from around 60. “The Kashmir Files brought back the crowd after a long time,” he says.  

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Seble says that most single screens, unlike multiplexes, refused to open despite having got permission to screen films.

“That is because of OTT platforms. For single screens, OTT is a very big competitor, primarily because the content on these platforms is free. People don’t have the confidence to go back to single screens. Nowadays, people can get data packages at cheaper rates. A rickshaw puller, who would come to a single-screen theatre, to watch a Bhojpuri film, now instead watches movies on his smartphone — and he is happy about it. The masses haven’t come back to single screens at all. The Kashmir Files has brought back the crowd somehow. All of a sudden, people just started pouring into theatres last weekend. Now we are waiting for films like Bacchan Pandey and RRR to release — these two films will determine whether the audience will come back to single screens or not. They are both out-and-out commercial, mass films just meant for the big screen,” says Seble.

Valimai and Bheemla Nayak make merry

Interestingly, all the big films in the South have done well at the box office.

In the opening weekend, Valimai, starring Ajith Kumar, crossed the 70-crore mark in Tamil Nadu while Bheemla Nayak (Pawan Kalyan) has garnered around Rs 80 crore. In Malayalam, Mammootty’s Bheeshma Parvam turned out to be a stupendous success, raking in Rs 50 crore in the first few weeks.

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“Yes, it’s heartening to know that all the big films are doing well in theatres. Big stars still draw the crowd to theatres, but for small films, it’s doomsday. Looks like, for medium-budget films, OTT is the only option. Frankly, I am struggling to have my film released. Only biggies could stay afloat. I am not sure if it’s good for the industry,” says a Malayalam director, seeking anonymity.

Jyala is quick to dispel such apprehensions.

“When the pandemic was at its peak, everyone thought OTT is the future. It has already been proved that the big screen is back. OTT and cinema halls will co-exist,” says Jyala.