As the first half of the year 2019 comes to an end, it is that time of the year; the time to take stock of the box office status in general vis a vis the Hindi films and that of each film released during the period individually. There is a superstition about not to release a film on the first Friday of a new year. And, that superstition continues as no major film was released on the first Friday this year, too. It seems, people would like to get the hang of the new year and settle down into it for, somehow, the superstition has proved right and the first Friday as well as the weekend have, as a routine, failed to draw footfalls. May be, not in the mood for a film outing, especially after the New Year revelry which happens to be the event of the year.
What the first six months indicated was that only superstars or big banners don’t matter, a cast had to be backed by content. This fact was proved more so in the second quarter of the year as a few big bill, big banner films fell with a thud.
The first quarter of the year began on a very promising note as the first film of the year, Uri: The Surgical Strike, despite a limited face value, turned out to be among the biggest grossers ever. As per the tradition, the first Friday of the year, January 4, saw no new release. Uri: The Surgical Strike released on January 11 and consolidated its standing at the box office with each passing day.
Uri: The Surgical Strike enjoyed a glorious run to put together Rs 264 crore at the domestic box office. Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi released the same month. The much revered and admired queen was brought alive on screen after a gap of 66 years, the earlier version being Sohrab Modi’s Jhansi Ki Rani in 1953. Most such historical characters have faded from public memory and to venture in to a film on the subject was a risky proposal, especially since it was an out and out woman oriented and dominated film.
Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi got into some controversies initially but held its own eventually to emerge with a respectable box office numbers of Rs 95 crore but needed the income from its other rights like Overseas, streaming (Amazon) etc to recover. Gully Boy, February 14 (Valentine’s Day), a film about a local Mumbai lad wanting to make it big in the world of rappers, came as a change though rap as music is a past fade in India. However, the film centred around the Mumbai slums of Dharavi and, as such, held limited appeal to the viewers across rest of India. It was probably the popularity of the leading pair of Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, who enjoy huge following, that saw the film through as it managed to collect Rs 124 crore.
The nationalistic fervour still prevailed and Uri: The Surgical Strike was followed by another story of the glory from the pages of oral history of a bunch of Sikh warriors from the British Era. As most parts of the India were not aware of this chapter in history, the film did its best business in the north. For the rest of the country, what mattered was that it was an Akshay Kumar film. The film collected Rs 165 crore. Luka Chuppi, a romantic comedy released on March 1. A film about friendship and one-upmanship, watching it was a pleasant experience while it lasted. A moderately priced film, the film was a success with a business of about Rs 94 crore.
Badla, a very limited budget film, that also released in March scored big compared to its cost. This Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Pannu starrer made as much as Rs 98 crore at the box office. The other film expected to do well was Total Dhamaal, a film with a reasonable face value and typical director Indrakumar Irani flavour (some double meaning dialogue and titillation). The deterrent factor at the box office was the budget of the film for the kind of content it packed as well as the audience it targeted. The Indian theatrical business remained way short at Rs 152 crore as the film trudged along to get across its recovery line.
This quarter had its share of some films with political themes. The Accidental Prime Minister on the tenure of erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same name, generated a lot of media attention but did not amount to much at the box office. Thackeray, a film made with the sole purpose of glorifying the life and times of the Maratha leader, Balasaheb Thackeray before the Lok Sabha elections followed soon after. Thackeray being a local Mumbai and Maharashtra leader, the film could not make a mark in rest of the country while doing fairly well locally in its Marathi version.
The film which created most controversy while in the making as well as for its censor certificate and the release, which was, eventually, stalled by the Election Commission, and could not be released as planned before the general elections, proved to be a lot of air and no substance. The casting was unimaginative and, its release post elections, may have been a boon for those concerned. The film, when released post general elections, proved to be a dud.
The second quarter of the year was almost disastrous as disappointments followed in some major films till, at the very end of the quarter, came Shahid Kapoor starrer, Kabir Singh, a remake of the Telugu hit, Arjun Reddy.
While the period saw some attempts at making films on politically or socially relevant subjects, almost all such films went unnoticed except for one, The Tashkent Files, released in April. The film attracted much media and some discerning audience, too.
Romeo Akbar Walter was the first release of the second quarter and furthered the fancy of John Abraham of playing a cop or a spy or some sort of a national hero and so on. Nothing much came of it. Kalank, with a most inappropriate title and a theme to match, coming from the house of Dharma Productions, released mid-April. It was not palatable to the people. The presence of Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Madhuri Dixit could not salvage the film. The production house followed the failure of Kalank with another dud, Student Of The Year 2, an attempt to cash in on the banner’s earlier success, Student Of The Year, from 2012. A veteran of almost half a dozen films, Tiger Shroff, could not pass off as a student and nor could the content, inspired from previous hit movie.
The month of May saw the release of another Ajay Devgn film, De De Pyar De, a kind of contemporary adult love triangle with a concocted script. Most grown up actors have given some flops to realise that they are past playing lovers. Devgn films have a limited box office potential not in keeping with the costs. Same happened with De De Pyar De, too. The film has collected Rs 92 crore.
With the coming of Eid and Salman Khan combination in the first week of May, hopes were high from both, the audience as well as the exhibitors. A blockbuster was awaited and expected with Bharat. As it turned out, there was nothing Bharat – like in the film. A young boy who travels to India post partition with nothing dramatic or entertaining accounts for most of the film’s running time with Salman Khan embarking on sort of his own version of Discovery Of India! At a little short of the Rs 200 crore mark at the box office to date, the film falls much short of its recovery mark.
Just when the second quarter of the year seemed to be ending on a disastrous note, came this surprise pack in the form of Shahid Kapoor starrer, Kabir Singh, a remake of Arjun Reddy (Telugu). The film had its detractors but, as they say in the film industry, ‘Figures Speak For Themselves’ and, in the case of Kabir Singh, the figures seem to speak louder than the voices of all its detractors put together. The film established itself as a hit by day three becoming one of the biggest openers of its time and the biggest one in the career of Shahid Kapoor in his 16-year career.
To sum up the January-June 2019 period, while the first quarter with no major, high budget release, the period accounted for a box office of Rs 1,150 crore against which, the second quarter, with some high cost big banner films, could account for just Rs 650 crore (figures of Kabir Singh not added) at the box office. The last full year, the turnover was Rs 3,300 crore (and these sums include the share of cinema halls).
@The Box Office
The top slots are vacant as the superstars are seen to be making exits. And, most of them seem to have stayed longer than best before dates. The slots are ready to be filled. Shahid Kapoor, who has been lurking on the sidelines for over one-and-half decade, lacked nothing: great looks, ample talent, excellent dancer and good at action; he graduated to action movies from romantic kinds he started with.
* Finally, Shahid Kapoor draws the footfalls the kind superstars do with his latest release, Kabir Singh. The film takes impressive opening day of about Rs 20 crore as the figures take huge leaps over Saturday and Sunday to give the film an opening weekend of over Rs 70 crore. Any other film would be expected to take a dip as the new working week began but not Kabir Singh as it went on to add another Rs 63 crore, almost as much as the opening weekend, to close its first week with a huge Rs 133 crore.
*Bharat has been braving speed breakers soon after its Eid day opening collections as the figures went on falling drastically in the following days. At the end of its third week, the film accounts for a box office of Rs 198 crore.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal. )