Please release me: Bollywood blockbuster pileup could cost millions

December 17, 2015
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Handout photo of “Dilwale”.Two of the year’s biggest Bollywood releases debut in cinemas this weekend, setting up a clash over ticket sales that could hurt both films’ chances of success.

Two of the year’s biggest Bollywood releases debut in cinemas this weekend, setting up a clash over ticket sales that could hurt both films’ chances of success.

Releasing two big films on the same day is not unusual, but it usually happens during Diwali or the Christmas holiday week when many more people go to the movies.

Rohit Shetty’s romantic comedy “Dilwale” and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic “Bajirao Mastani” are debuting on Dec. 18, close to but still shy of the big Christmas week. The simultaneous release could cost the films a combined 100 million rupees in first-day ticket sales, said Shailesh Kapoor, whose company Ormax tracks Bollywood releases.

“If the two movies had come out on two different weekends, they would have made a combined first-day business of around 400-450 million rupees, but now that figure is likely to be around 300-350 million rupees. That difference will percolate down to day two and three,” said Kapoor.

It would have made more sense to release the movies at different times and not divide audiences, said distributor Anil Thadani. “Businesswise, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

That cost could hit Bollywood studios after an already dry November. The only two big films that debuted last month were Salman Khan’s “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” and Ranbir Kapoor‘s “Tamasha”.

Trade experts give “Dilwale” an edge because of its star power. The cast includes Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Varun Dhawan, who has a large base of younger fans. “Bajirao Mastani” promises arresting visuals and a grand scale, but its subject, the love story of Maratha warrior Bajirao Peshwa and his second wife Mastani, might not appeal to a mass audience.

Eros International, which is producing “Bajirao Mastani”, was the first to announce the film’s release date. Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment later said it would also premiere “Dilwale” on the same day.

“I think Shah Rukh got misled by his people. He is a victim of his coterie. They told him when he comes, everyone will back off, but that didn’t happen,” trade expert Amod Mehra said. A representative for Khan was not immediately available for comment.

Both films are fighting for audience attention. Eros has agreements with most single-screen owners to play only “Bajirao Mastani” for the first two weeks, a decision that could hurt those cinemas if people don’t like the film.

Handout photo of “Bajirao Mastani”

Handout photo of “Bajirao Mastani”

Producers of “Dilwale” are pushing their stars hard in pre-release publicity, flying them to cities such as London and Dubai to market the film, and making sure they appear on reality TV shows.

“What matters is how the content holds. If word of mouth is good, both movies have a chance to recover over the next two weekends, which are both holiday weekends,” Thadani said.

The box office clash could not come at worse time for Bollywood, which experienced a lean year and needed these two films to do well theatrically. The latter half of 2015 has seen big ticket films like “Shaandar” and “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” do lukewarm business, and almost all of November and half of December have gone by without a significant release.

But that also meant that some small films which might have otherwise slipped under the radar have done unexpectedly well at the box office. Thadani distributed “Hate Story 3”, a small-budget thriller that recovered its cost in the first weekend and then went on to make a huge profit of 450 million rupees in domestic ticket sales.

“It’s about knowing when to release and it’s about knowing what content works. If you know that, then your film will do good business,” he said.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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