Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
The emerging trend in the Bollywood film industry during the first six months of 2022, resuming after the closure of production and theatre exhibition of cinema for nearly two years due to coronavirus pandemic, claimed its relevance in the entertainment industry in India. Though the third wave of Covid-19 infection covered the first two months January and February 2022, film production and theatre exhibition gradually reopened three months earlier than Dasahara-Dipawali festive season of 2021. That is how it was reasonable to believe that the Bollywood film industry regained momentum from January to June 2022.
A total number of 21 Bollywood Hindi films had theater release during the first half of 2022. It is calculated that six films achieved box office success and 15 films faced failure. While five films each were released during March, April and June, two films in February and four films reached the silver screens in May.
Among box office hits, RRR ‘Roar, Rise, Revolt’ directed S.S. Rajamouli and released in March collected 1200 crore rupees from the country and overseas market. It has been told that in the history of Indian film industry the revenue of the film was the third highest score. The Kashimr Files directed by Vivek Agnihotri was made with an expense of 25 crores and collected revenue of 250 crore rupees. Similarly Bhool Bhalaiyaa-2, a film made with mix of horror and comedy produced spending 90 crore could fetch 260 crore. While Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi claimed 200 core, Major and Jug Jug Jeeyo were also box office hits.
Among box office flops, the March release Bachchhan Paandey, led by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar made with a production budget of 180 crore could regain only 70 crore from exhibition. The June release Samrat Prithiviraj, also starred by Akshay Kumar was also a flop. Other flops include Jhund casting Amitav Bacchan, Rurway 34 casting Ajaya Devgan and Amitav Bacchan, Badhaai Do casting Rajkumar Rao, Dhaakad casting Kangana Ranaut and Jersey casting Shahid Kapoor.
The storyline of a few films released during the first half of 2022 referred to out-of-box subjects. Badhai Do dealt with same-sex, Gangubai Kathiawadi with sex workers. Jhund and Jersey related to sports, Hurdang against the backdrop of the students’ agitation in 1990 against Mandal Commission, Anek focused on culture of north-east and Jug Jug Jeeya about a big fat Panjabi weeding. It has been told that research was carried out for 18 years to gather information for developing the strory of flop Samrat Prithivraj. The biopic Major depicted the fight by Major Sandeep Unni Krishnan with terrorists who sneaked into Taj Mahal Hotel of Mumbai in 2008.
Bollywood is the major player in the Indian film industry. Audience behavior in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ is expended to change the traditional filmmaking pattern in Bollywood. It is important to note that among the 10 highest revenue earning films in India during the first half of 2022, three films belonged to south-Indian productions, Pushpa, RRR and KGF-2 claiming half of the earnings. Another estimate revealed that 10 movies released during the period which included big stars Akshy Kumar, Rnveer Singh, Ajay Devgn, Varun Dhawan, Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham and Sahid Kapoor produced with a combined budget of 110 crores “could rustle up only around a third of the money at the box office.”
It is natural to mark the tussle between theatre exhibitions and Over-the-Top ‘OTT’ streaming of Bollywood films in the post-pandemic era. Basic infrastructure for OTT platforms were gradually build-up during the pre-pandemic days extending for three years in India. The closure of theater exhibitions for two years during the pandemic offered a favorable opportunity to strengthen the business model for OTT platforms. Since the general public psyche jumped into digital transformation in different aspects of life, OTT streaming could achieve an advantageous position.
As per an estimate, Bollywood film producers earned 60 to 70 percent of revenue from theatre exhibitions and 30 to 40 percent from OTT streaming in the pre-pandemic period.
During the pandemic days income from OTT platforms raised to 50 to 60 percent. It is expected that revenue from OTT streaming may not return to the pre-pandemic days, but hover around 50 percent for a period of time. As a result, the changed ecosystem will motivate the producers to make films giving equal importance for theatre and OTT platform audience.
Audience attendance in theatres was limited to 26 to 27 percent seats during the first half of 2022 as per revelation to the media by the Chairman of Multiplex Association of India. The PVR multiplex chain claimed that they could achieve 36 to 37 percent attendance during the period. The practice of releasing frontline Bollywood films in OTT platforms after four weeks of theatre release was earmarked as one of the main reasons for poor attendance in theatres. Before the pandemic, the gap for theatre and OTT release was eight weeks and from August 2022 the pre-pandemic norm of eight weeks is set to brought back.
The changed business environment of equal revenue from theatre exhibition and OTT streaming will claim equal importance to the audience preference in both the platforms in film making. An entertainment business leader explained, “Clearly, audiences want to see larger-than-life movies like KGF2 or RRR on the big screen and the other social and romantic dramas on OTT.” Other noteworthy developments during first-half of 2022 include that the frontline Bollywood films sold at an average of 80 to 90 crore rupees per film for OTT platforms, exhibition rights of about 10 to 30 percent of films were purchased by OTT during the beginning of film-making and theatre ticket rates were enhanced up to 15 to 20 percent, etc. It was reported that income from the theatre business could reach the pre-pandemic level of 1,500 crore rupees a month.
The rapid change in audience behavior and preference is set to diminish the glamour of the Bollywood extravaganza. Case studies of films such as The Kashmir Files made with a modest budget of 25 crores earning 250 crores, somewhat an art film Gangubai Kathawadi based on a subject of sex workers of Mumbai claiming 200 crore business and a horror-comedy Bhool Blulaiyaa 2 with a production budget of 90 crore to reach box-office collection of 260 crores proved a new equation in the traditional formula film making. It was a surprise to note that a film made with a much-hyped actress in the lead role made with 86 crore could recover only four crore in the box office and ticket sale was limited to only four thousand rupees in the eight day of theatre release as per media reports. The beginning of a new chapter is evident from such developments during first half of 2022 in the Bollywood film industry.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter circulated by the author on July 22, 2022.https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-259. It is an open-source content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Roy, Priyanka, Bollywood. T2. The Telegraph (Kollkata Edition). July 13, 2022
Das Gupta, Surajeet. Bollywood battles the flop show. Business Standard (Bhubaneswar Edition). July 16, 2022