Entertainment

Year 2021: OTT challenges and only one bonafide hit, Bollywood battles the blues

According to veteran distributor and exhibitor Raj Bansal, “83” collected approximately Rs 47 crore in three days, a huge letdown for a film released during the Christmas season.

The tepid box office numbers of the long in waiting ’83’ that opened in theatres on Christmas Eve just as Covid cases were again rising across the country painted the picture Bollywood’s fortunes are intertwined with OTT platforms and big screen success will wax and wane with the pandemic graph.

Kabir Khan’s ’83’, starring Ranveer Singh as cricketer Kapil Devi, had been awaiting release for over a year. Despite good reviews, it never really got to test the box office waters with the fear factor and then governmental restrictions limiting the numbers of people wanting the big screen experience.

According to veteran distributor and exhibitor Raj Bansal, “83” collected approximately Rs 47 crore in three days, a huge letdown for a film released during the Christmas season. ’83’ has been a disappointment. It was projected as the film with the potential to emerge as the biggest blockbuster of the year, but it didn’t live up to the hype. The numbers so far don’t match expectations at all,” Bansal told PTI.

The bright star in 2021, which saw Bollywood struggle to resurrect the big screen business in the face of a lockdown that forced cinema halls to close for more than eight months and audiences shift to digital platforms, was ‘Sooryavanshi.’ The Akshay Kumar starrer, which like ’83’ had waited for more than a year to arrive in cinema halls, carried the burden of collective expectation of an industry desperately seeking to get back on its feet. It didn’t disappoint.

The Rohit Shetty directorial was released during the Diwali weekend across more than 3,000 screens to a bumper opening. Kumar, with the help of actors Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh and Katrina Kaif who all feature in the film, clocked in Rs 195 crore across India and emerged the industry’s only bonafide blockbuster of 2021.

The release of “Sooryavanshi” established that the audience was ready to go to theatres, optimistic that Covid was on the decline and undeterred by the average multiplex ticket of Rs 300.

“After that everything took a dip. It was unbelievable but nothing worked for Bollywood. It has been a disappointing year for the industry,” trade observer Himesh Mankad told PTI.

The first two months of the year were a virtual no-show–except for Richa Chadha starrer “Madam Chief Minister” which opened in cinema halls in January. There was a flicker of hope in March when horror comedy “Roohi” and actioner “Mumbai Saga” released in cinema halls.

Their collective domestic box office number of more than Rs 40 crore lent some confidence to the industry, but things came crashing down again due to the second Covid wave in April-May. In July-August, as the wave began to subside, Akshay Kumar became the first actor to test the waters by releasing his espionage thriller “BellBottom”. The film minted close to Rs 35 crore, which trade sources said was impressive total given that the biggest market, Maharashtra, was still closed.

The films that followed after ‘Sooryanvanshi’ and before ’83’ were expected to create fireworks. They didn’t. According to trade figures, “Bunty Aur Babli 2”, backed by Yash Raj Films, and “Satyameva Jayate 2” clocked over Rs 12 crore, while Salman Khan fronted “Antim” touched Rs 38 crore. Ayushmann Khurrana’s ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’, still in theatres, is expected to wind up with around Rs 25 crore.

“There is no other way to put it but that it has been a disastrous year. ‘Sooryavanshi’ was the lone ranger which stood tall, everything else stopped under Rs 40 crore,” Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan told PTI. Will the alternative become the mainstream? That’s the question confronting industry insiders as producers found an audience in streaming platforms.

“For content creators, producers it has been an interesting time as we have had streamers to be able to take our films and bring them to life. For the exhibition sector, it has been a tough time. As content creators, we need to be mindful about what content is suited for which platform and take decisions accordingly,” producer Siddharth Roy Kapur told PTI.

Films that saw a digital release included,Varun Dhawan’s “Coolie No 1”, Salman’s “Radhe” and Karan Johar backed “Shershaah”. The streaming platforms also saw a host of mid-sized films, including Taapsee Pannu’s “Haseen Dillruba” and “Rashmi Rocket”, Farhan Akhtra’s “Toofaan” and Saif Ali Khan-Arjun Kapoor starrer “Bhoot Police”. Fighting the OTT challenge will be tough for the Hindi film industry even when there is no pandemic, said trade analyst Mankad.

“Mid-sized films signal trouble for Bollywood at this point of time. High ticket rates are a major factor deterring the audience. An average cost of a multiplex ticket would be Rs 300-400. Why would people go and watch, if they know it isn’t an event film and will anyway come on the OTT four weeks later?” he asked.

” ‘Sooryavanshi’ was a one-off film. We need frequent flow of releases to do well. If these films don’t work, I am afraid the conversations of direct-to-OTT premiere will be back again,” Mankad said.

Apart from the Hindi releases, the trade also eyed box office revival from Hollywood biggies “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, “The Matrix Resurrections” and south star Allu Arjun starrer multilingual action thriller “Pushpa”. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” opened to an impressive Rs 32.67 crore on December 16, a non-holiday mid-week release. The film was released in 3,264 screens in the country. It is also testament to the fact that the Hindi film box office has to not only fight the OTT platforms, but also films of other languages.

“Bollywood finds itself at the crossroads. It is neither here nor there. It is no longer cool. It has stopped having fun. The young generation now doesn’t find it cool. Hence the shift to Marvel films, southern stars. Hollywood is eating it up from the top, South filmmakers are eating it up from the bottom,” Chauhan added.

According to Kamal Gianchandani, CEO PVR Pictures, the box office was in “recovery mode” since October with the hit Tamil film “Doctor” and truly “took off” in November, coupled with the release of Rajinikanth starrer “Annaatthe” and the Hollywood release “Eternals”.

As the year winds to an end, the trend is clearly not continuing. The increasing number of Omicron cases has led to renewed restrictions in several parts of the country, including in Delhi where cinema halls were shut down again.
What next?

The last offering of the year was supposed to be Shahid Kapoor’s ‘Jersey’. It was initially scheduled for a theatre release on December 31, but this has been postponed due to the rise in cases and renewed theatre restrictions.
Fingers are crossed but the prognosis is grim.

” ‘Jersey’ looks a bit lukewarm. A month ago, it carried the potential of a ‘Kabir Singh’ blockbuster but doesn’t look like that so far,” said Jaipur-based exhibitor Bansal.

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