Does Bigness Really Matter?
Although time has repeatedly proved it to be otherwise it is a general belief that big-budget big-star-cast films guarantee not only return of investment but also huge profits. Looking back, there hasn’t been occasions in the last 100 years when small, innocuous looking non-star cast films have raked in huge profits mainly because the logistics were right whatever that means. Pitied against the grand multi-star spectacle, Sholay in 1975, the non-star-cast ordinary Jai Santoshi Maa had been declared the winner in the box office race. At the same time, there have been occasions when totally meaningless attempts with big stars have defied all speculations. Two recent such examples that have defied all logic and have turned out to be 100-crore club members are Salman Khan’s Dabangg 2 and Akshay Kumar’s Khiladi 786. Both have run purely on star power and luck, no direction, no story, no music, the narratives were filled only with fights and song situations.
Figuratively speaking, the 100-crore race actually began with Aamir Khan-starrer Ghajini in 2008. It reportedly grossed Rs 114.5 crore in the first run itself. Before that nobody, except perhaps the Income-Tax guys, kept a tab on a film’s box office collections. But ever since it has become a sort of status symbol, and the villain of the piece being producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who went down the streets the following year touting 202-crore earnings of 3 Idiots. That Aamir Khan again was the leading light of the breakthrough movie is purely coincidental. Had he not really gone to town with the figures, it wouldn’t probably have led to a war-like situation in the film industry. And even though the success meant more moolah for the producer, it also became a costly affair for the moviegoer with hike in ticket price especially in the multiplexes that broke the rule of four shows a day on standard prices by increasing the ticket costs also having 8 to 10 shows a day.
There was a time when the success of a film was calculated on the basis of months it lasted in the theatres, though not too many reached the 100-week run. So out went Platinum, Golden and Silver Jubilees to be replaced by 100 days, 50 days etc. Multiplexes first reduced the whole exercise to the first week, and now to the opening weekend itself. If one just looks at the nationwide first weekend collections of big hits of 2012 alone, the results would be something like Dabangg 2, Ek Tha Tiger, Rowdy Rathore Agneepath, Talaash, Houseful 2, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Bol Bachchan, Cocktail, Barfi involving most sellable stars—(Rs 60, 58, 48, 46, 45, 41, 40, 39, 35, 34 crore respectively). So if 120 new Hindi films got released only 20 raked in the profits of which at least half were small-turned-big like Raaz 3, Kahani, Kya Super Kool Hai Hum, English Vinglish, Vicky Donor, Jism 2 (Rs 68.25, 59, 46.50, 42, 41, 36.25 crore respectively).
Returning back to the 100-crore club films that picked up pace in recent years Dabangg, Golmaal 3 (142, 108 crore in 2010), Ready, Singham, Bodyguard, RaOne, Don 2 (in 2011 Rs 122, 100, 148, 118, 108 crore), and Agneepath, Houseful 2, Rowdy Rathore, Bol Bachchan, Barfi, Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Dabangg 2 (2012 122, 112, 134, 102, 106, 186, 120, 150 crore respectively). That makes young Ranbir Kapoor the new member of the exclusive club. The figures, however, do not mean earnings for the producer, only net box office collections. Amongst major releases Saif Ali Khan’s Agent Vinod was declared a flop, and why: Cost of production Rs 55 crore, prints and publicity Rs 15 crore, total investment Rs 70 crore. The film’s satellite rights were sold for Rs 16 crore, music and HV rights 5 crore, one-time India theatrical rights 22.50 crore; one-time overseas rights 5 crore, total revenue 48.5 crore. Loss Rs 22.5 crore. In comparison, only Rs 10 crore was the total cost of Vicky Donor (Rs 4 crore cost of production, Rs 6 on prints and publicity. The breakdown of recovery: Satellite rights Rs 6 crore, music 0.75 crore, India theatrical rights Rs 18 crore., overseas 2.50 crore. Total revenue Rs 34 crore, profit 24 crore. These figures do not include interest on borrowings under production that generally results in a drastic cut in the producer’s profits.
Aamir Khan’s home production, Talaash had been in the news for a variety of reasons, including shifting of release dates because ‘Mr Perfect as the hero is known to be went on demanding changes. It was once again expected to be a blockbuster. Now whether the figures were fudged (at least the production values did not indicate anything beyond the ordinary) only the hero/producer would know but the advertised cost of production was Rs 90 crore. Rs 72 crore were ostensibly spent on the making (assuming including the hero’s own fees of Rs 45 crore) while the print/publicity, low-key marketing amounted to another Rs 18 crore. The theatrical rights were sold for Rs 43 crore, satellite rights fetched another Rs 40 crore, overseas (perpetual) Rs 22 crore, and estimated home video and music was bought by T-Series for Rs 10 crore: in market terms Rs 115 crore, resulting in producer’s table profits to be Rs 25 crore. Trade pundits labeled it as ‘above average’ because even if Reliance Entertainment which acquired it can only fetch commission on total revenue because the overflow will have to be shared with the producer.
But now times seem to be changing. While one section of filmgoers still patronises expected box-office bonanza and watching the film in the first week itself, if not the first weekend, another section makes beeline for sounding good cinema. As has been evident, corporate production houses are investing their faith, simultaneously, in new directors with different kind of storylines. Vidya Balan-starrer Kahaani, made at a cost of Rs 8 crore, raked in Rs 78 crore; Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster cost the producer Rs 5 crore, and did a business of 56 crore; John Abraham had to fork over five crore for the film (Vicky Donor) and laughed all the way to the bank 46 crore richer, Gangs of Wasseypur collected Rs 30 crore at the box office against an investment of Rs 10.5 crore.
This only proves a radical change is on the cards. Well-made small budget films are no longer a bigger risk than big-budget multi-star bonanzas. The risk factor is proportionate, though chances of smaller bets winning the box office race seem less risky. As a colleague rightly observed: “While the big production will serve up films which are big in size but small in substance, those work their magic in the opposite fashion. Size is over-rated anyways (when was it not). It’s how you work it, which matters.”
By Suresh Kohli