With last week’s release Rangoon unfortunately not living up to the promise held out by its grand trailer and stellar cast and crew, the length of the film is being pointed at by some as a key factor behind the film’s disappointing performance.
With a runtime of around 2 hours and 34 minutes, the film went counter to the commonly held thumb rule within the trade, that filmmakers should ideally try and keep their films’ durations as close as possible to the 2-hour mark and certainly not go beyond the 2-hour and 15-20 minute mark.
This 2-hour theory is a relatively recent development that has emerged in the last few years and, not surprisingly, its rise has mirrored the growth of multiplexes in our country. Earlier, a 3-hour slot was pretty much the standard in the single-screen era and theatres followed an almost universal pattern of shows at 12 noon, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm – with a morning, ‘matinee’, screening sometimes thrown in. However, with multiplexes affording programmers far more flexibility, the focus shifted from appointment viewing to offering audiences a greater degree of choice in picking show times that suited them.
But to what extent does the duration of a film really matter and do the box-office prospects of a film necessarily get compromised the further it strays from the 2-hour mark? To try and answer that question, we thought it would be interesting to tabulate the runtimes of what is now considered the gold standard of box-office success – the so-called Rs 100-crore club of films that have attained that number at the domestic box office. Check out the table below:
When one calculates the average duration of all these films put together, the figure that emerges is 153.33 minutes i.e. a shade above 2 hours and 33 minutes. This, ironically, is an almost spot-on match of Rangoon’s runtime!
In fact, with just 7 out of the 48 films listed above adhering to the ‘below 2 hours 20 minutes’ norm, one might justifiably question whether a longer duration is really as negative as it is made out to be.
Indeed, we are a country that has traditionally been accustomed to long-form entertainment, the annual enactment of Ram Lila over ten days, for example. And when it comes to the movies, we need only glance at a list of blockbusters over the years – Mughal-E-Azam (3 hours 17 minutes), Sangam (3 hours 58 minutes), Sholay (3 hours 24 minutes), Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! (3 hours 26 minutes), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (3 hours 1 minute) and Lagaan (3 hours 44 minutes) – for proof that box-office returns are not inversely proportionate to screen time.
Undoubtedly, there are great merits to a shorter runtime, not the least of them being that it aids in programming a higher number of shows per day and therefore in generating potentially higher revenues. But ultimately, as always, it boils down to how compelling the audience finds the content – you can’t get enough of a good thing, and conversely, can’t wait for an insipid experience to end.
Perhaps the best insight into the relevance of duration can be found in the words of that genius, Albert Einstein. He reportedly explained his famous though very complex Theory Of Relativity to his secretary thus: “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”