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Bollywood stares at dry summer

The Covid-19 outbreak has meant that life has come to a halt. And India’s Hindi film industry is likely to face huge losses as a result

Monika Rawal Kukreja

With large parts of the world in lockdown and the global economy sinking on account of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, India’s Hindi entertainment industry — one of the biggest in the world — is staring at a likely revenue loss of upwards of `1,300 crore, based on predicted domestic net collections of 12 big-ticket films that either released in March or were slated to release in April and May.

To be sure, these figures are average estimates provided by several industry trade analysts, and offer only an indication of how much money a film could have earned, based on factors such as the number of shows and screens, the actors starring in the film, the previous work of the directors, the release period, and even consumer sentiment.

Net collection is the total sum of ticket value sold across the counter in single screen and multiplex theatres within the country after tax deduction. The money earned by a film through its overseas release as well as by selling television and music rights adds to its overall collections.

“In the last two years, the industry made around `850-900 crore in net collections in the April-June quarter. We’re definitely losing that amount,” says trade analyst Atul Mohan.

Several of the upcoming films have also been forced to hold back releases in international markets as the Covid-19 pandemic has led to theatres closing down. Markets such as the UAE, the UK, Australia, and Fiji account for approximately 30 to 40 per cent of a film’s overall box office collection.

Of course, once the pandemic runs its course, these movies could release and technically recover costs. However, whether they will be able to do so will depend on several factors, including the state of the economy, the number of Fridays left in the year, and importantly, the willingness of movie-goers to spend on tickets.

To understand the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Bollywood, let’s take a look at the weekend everyone in the film industry looks forward to on a pandemic-free year: the

Eid weekend.

May 22 (a Friday) was going to be the big clash between Salman Khan’s ‘Radhe’ and Akshay Kumar’s ‘Laxxmi Bomb’. While the former likely cost `125 crore to produce, the latter was made at an estimated production cost of  `90 crore. In 2019, the Eid weekend film release, ‘Bharat’, collected `150.1 crore (this figure is based on collections from Wednesday to Sunday). In 2018, ‘Race 3’, collected `106.47 crore (Friday to Sunday). This year, the weekend collection of both films was pegged at a conservative estimate of `175 crore. Both films had some shooting and dubbing work left. Now, there’s little hope it will be completed or, for that matter, released.

Ides of March

March’s big release was supposed to be ‘Sooryavanshi’ — an action film from Rohit Shetty’s cop franchise starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif — made with a sizeable budget of `125 crore. The makers were hoping to cash in on the Gudi Padwa holiday (New Year for Marathi and Konkani community), by releasing their film on March 25, a Wednesday. That did not happen.

Kabir Khan’s ‘ ‘83’, starring Ranveer Singh, was made in an estimated budget of `100-115 crore, and was slated for an April 10 release. It has also been delayed. So have Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan starrer ‘Coolie No 1’, and Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer ‘Gulabo Sitabo’. Industry analysts believe that both, ‘Sooryavanshi’ and ‘’83’ could have made upto `250 crore each in box office collections.

The first signs of trouble were seen on February 28, on the day Taapsee Pannu-starrer ‘Thappad’ released. By this date, more than 82,000 people around the world were infected, and over 2,800 had died.

Tiger Shroff’s high-octance action film ‘Baaghi 3’ didn’t attract much footfall in theatres after its March 6 release. ‘Angrezi Medium’, which was to be actor Irrfan’s comeback film after his cancer battle, released on March 13 — within a few hours of its release, cinema halls were formally shut down across the country.

According to Mohan, the industry expected to make at least `500 crore in net collections in March based only on ‘Baaghi’, ‘Sooryavanshi’ and ‘Angrezi Medium’. ‘Baaghi 3’, made on a budget of `70 crore, collected `92 crore; ‘Angrezi Medium’, made on an estimated budget of `35 crore, managed to collect only `8.5 crore till March 13.

On March 15, a decision to stop all shooting in all formats — television, web or film — till March 31 was taken in a joint meeting held between various industry bodies, including the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association, Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association, and Indian Film and TV Producers Council. Since then, the number of Covid-19 cases have only risen, and the country has gone into a 21-day national lockdown that will end only on April 15. This means that the moratorium to shoot stands extended.

Shibasish Sarkar, group chief executive officer — content, digital and gaming at Reliance Entertainment said it will take time for things to return to normal. “I don’t foresee any films releasing before three to six months. This is not a two or three-week issue. There’s the health and medical aspect, but the other is about the impact on people’s mind for them to go to a cinema hall. So, even if the medical crisis ends in three months, I don’t expect people to immediately walk into theatres. That’s the time period which we are preparing for,” he says. Reliance Entertainment has produced ‘Sooryavanshi’, ‘’83’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’.

Uncertain future

“We obviously have lost the summer holidays, which is an important period for movies, not just in India but also globally,” says film distributor Akshaye Rathi. “These big films have a significant revenue from the overseas markets as well, and considering how the situation is, I don’t see them coming out till the time global markets really opens up because makers won’t compromise on that front.”

Speculation is also rife about whether at all Karan Johar’s Dharma Production will make either of its two most ambitious announced projects, ‘Takht’, a high budget period film, or contemporary comedy, ‘Dostana 2’.

“When this outbreak started, we predicted losses of approximately `600 to 900 crore for the industry, but now, it’s uncertain. If you notice, the statements issued by production houses or filmmakers only say they’re postponing the release, but there’s no date. Because nobody can say for sure,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh.

Even Hollywood film releases will be affected. The new James Bond film, ‘No Time to Die’, is no longer seeing an April release, and ‘Wonder Woman’, a DC super-hero production, has been pushed to August. “Last year, Hollywood films which were released in India made approximately `1,400 crore, in 2018, the amount was about `1,000 crore and in 2017, it was some `50 crore. This year, we haven’t had any major Hollywood release in the first quarter, and now the ones coming out have been pushed,”

says Mohan.

Rathi however feels that “it’s not absolute loss but delayed profits”. That’s an optimistic way of looking at it, but it doesn’t account for consumer mood at the end of this outbreak — in what state will the economy be (Moody’s has predicted a slashed growth forecast of 2.5 per cent for the country), and would that translate to consumers spending money on film tickets in multiplexes and single theatres?

Furthermore, considering half the year is already exhausted, leaving producers with limited Fridays, analysts expect multiple clashes at the box office. Adarsh foresees a “complete chaotic scenario” when theatres reopen. Even Rathi admits that many big films releasing in a short span of time would “likely eat into each other’s business”.

With such uncertainty, it would make sense for films to directly make their way to the web rather than have a theatrical release. USA’s Universal Pictures on March 17, announced that it would bring its fresh theatrical releases to cable television and other video on demand platforms. But such business decisions are unlikely to happen any time soon here given the national lockdown, says trade analyst Atul Mohan.

(HT Media)

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