Ashish Sinha & Madhusheel Arora
The prospects of an economic slowdown loom over most sectors of the economy. The mood amongst businessmen is sombre and none has any appetite left for risks. Except filmdom where producers have put large bets on the coming festive season.
This month, which started with Id, will see Dusshera celebrations in a few days and will end with Diwali, Bollywood is ready with a slew of releases. First off the block will be the Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra starrer, Drona, Sanjay Dutt’s Kidnap and the much-awaited and critically-acclaimed Ramchand Pakistani.
Closer to Diwali, there will be five more — Roadside Romeo (animation), Fashion, Golmaal Returns, Heroes and EMI. Trade experts say Rs 150-Rs 180 crore is riding on these five releases alone.
Indian film producers plan to time their blockbusters for release around the festive season every year. Schools and colleges shut down for a break, employees get bonuses and the weather improves in the North. And there is a dash of superstition as well. “Bollywood producers believe that if the film does well during this time, it will help their business all around the year,” says a Mumbai-based film-trade analyst.
This year is no different. Analysis of past releases around festive season show that only one in three films has gone on to become a commercial hit, while others have not even managed to recover their costs.
The season of 2006 saw two high-profile releases –Akshay Kumar’s Jaan-e-Mann and Shah Rukh Khan’s Don. While Don became a hit with 60 per cent returns on investment, Jann-e-Mann lost money. The 2007 season too belonged to Shah Rukh Khan as his home production Om Shanti Om became the biggest grosser of the year and ultimately made about Rs 100 crore worldwide. But Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s melodrama in Sawariya failed to strike a chord with the audience and the producers lost money, experts say.
But never before has the list of festive season releases been as long as this year. A few months ago, some large film exhibitors had told Business Standard that they expected a drop in footfalls because of the rise in inflation – people are expected to spend less on entertainment when prices of essential commodities go up and when there is an economic slowdown.
To be sure, the early part of 2008 was not too good for the film industry. After the initial success of Jodhaa Akbar and Race earlier this year, Bollywood was struggling. “Then, towards the middle of the year, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament adversely impacted the business of multiplexes,” says a senior executive of PVR Cinemas, a leading chain of multiplexes.
Thins took a turn for the better in the second half of the year with four smashing hits – Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Singh is Kinng, Bachna Ae Hasino and Rock On. Clearly, the slowdown is still some distance away from the movie theatres.
Trade pundits are hopeful that things will look even better this month. “There are big expectations from EMI, Fashion, Roadside Romeo and Golmaal Returns — all of which will appeal to the youth. Even if people curtail their spends on other goods, they always tend to spend on watching movies and we are hoping for the same this Diwali,” says an executive from Popcorn Motion pictures, the producers of Sanjay Dutt starrer EMI that will be released a day after Diwali