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A Better Tomorrow?

After a year marked by many setbacks, will 2018 bring in the big bucks? Exhibitors weigh in

 

Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas, Sanghamitra Gogoi

The year 2017 was a disappointing one in many ways. Apart from the expected hits that turned out to be misses – not least of which were Salman Khan’s Tubelight and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal – there were issues peculiar to 2017 that hurt the trade.

Just as we were finally getting over the impact demonetisation had on the Hindi film industry, there was another shocker in the form of GST. The new tax pushed up the prices of movie tickets while also putting the squeeze on family budgets.

The only two massive hits were Telugu mega-movie Baahubali: The Conclusion and Salman Khan’s Tiger Zinda Hai, bringing in the really big bucks for exhibitors and distributors, who were otherwise reeling from what could be considered a ‘drought year’.

There was one good trend that brought some cheer – small-budget, game-changers that continued to wow the audience with their hatke content. While movies like these don’t bring in much revenue, they underscore the only truth in an industry otherwise beset by much uncertainty – that there is absolutely no substitute for great content.

At the end of this roller-coaster year, we spoke to executives from top cinema chains in the country and asked them to name the films they thought pulled people to the theatres. We also asked them how 2017 fared financially, and their forecast for 2018.

Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure

At INOX, Baahubali: The Conclusion enjoyed the longest run at the box office, and admits of over 56 lakh across all languages. This was followed by other hits like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Golmaal Again!!! and Secret Superstar.

Tiger Zinda Hai has ended 2017 on a good note and we’re optimistic about it continuing the trend. The line-up of movies for 2018 looks very promising, with PadMan in January, followed by other biggies like Padmavati, Sanjay Dutt’s biopic, 2.0, Race 3 during Eid, Thugs of Hindostan in Diwali, Shah Rukh Khan’s release during Christmas and Hollywood releases like X-Men, Avengers, Jurassic World and the next in the Mission Impossible series, which will keep making it better and better. 2018 promises to be another great year of entertainment!

Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts

Baahubali: The Conclusion did record-breaking business at our properties and we recorded most of our cinemas’ best months in their history when the film released. Sadly, the year didn’t sustain anywhere near those levels after this film, though there were a few other big hits. 2018 has some very good films lined up – a strong January may bring positivity after a good December. However, I am cautious in my expectations.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures

The year 2017 was clearly the year of Baahubali: The Conclusion. The film was profitable for all by a big margin. This was followed by the recently released Tiger Zinda Hai. If we talk about the financial year, which is April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, we might have to include Padmavati in the current financial year, assuming the film releases in January or February, 2018.

Our business is based on hits and misses and this time, we had more misses than hits. It makes a big difference when a big film doesn’t do well at the box office. These movies generate a lot of footfalls, which we count on. The top three movies can make or break your year. From that point of view, some of the big films did not work in cinemas.

Having said that, we’ve also had a lot of positives this year. There was Baahubali: The Conclusion, which was completely content-driven, a Telugu film dubbed in Hindi, and one that did not have any big stars originally. Still, it became an all-time blockbuster. That’s a huge positive. It also shows that India as a market is ready for event films which are already present in the developed markets. Most event films come without stars and have a story so epic that it reaches several people without having a known face. The content is what drives the film.

And then there are smaller films like Tumhari Sulu and Newton, which continue to perform. Each time there is a good film, people throng to cinemas because it is one of the best options for an out-of-home experience. And that is exactly what the audience is telling us. They are more receptive to cinema than, say, a sporting event because of what cinema can offer in terms of entertainment, luxury, service, and food and beverages.

Cinemas have done a good job of creating the kind of ambience that viewers want. We don’t have control over the content of films but we can provide facilities that help build footfalls. So whether a big film like Baahubali: The Conclusion or a smaller one like Newton, the audience comes to enjoy this experience.

Especially in the big cities, the movie-watching experience is at an all-time high. This is evident every time there is a good film in cinemas. When people get to know that a film is good, through word-of-mouth, they start coming out. Movies like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Hindi Medium, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Newton, etc are proof that people are appreciating content in big numbers.

So, yes, there have been many positives this year. However, it is critical for us that the big films work at the box office. Big, star-studded films by nature are made to appeal to a lot of people and are accepted by the audience. And I think next year is going to be a big improvement as far as numbers are concerned.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, AVP, Operations, Miraj Cinemas

The year 2017 started on a very positive note as we had two big films in January itself. Both Raeesand Kaabil did well at the box office. If you look at the first quarter of this year, we had four 100-crore movies releasing, including the two mentioned above as well as Jolly LLB 2 in February and Badrinath Ki Dulhania in March.

The second quarter was again strong because Baahubali: The Conclusion came out in April. But the introduction of GST affected the business of cinemas big time, just as it did all other businesses. In addition, the content in films during that time was not good either. There was no other big film releasing and the ones that did, flopped miserably.

We were relying solely on content. If you look at the graphs of three years ago, you will notice how the second and third quarters of the year collected the most revenue. But, now, the first quarter and the last brought in the biggest collections. 2017 has been good but we as exhibitors have been majorly affected by the postponement of Padmavati. When we prepared our budget for 2017, a big chunk of that was based on what Padmavati would bring in. Apart from that, GST was also an issue. It put movie tickets in the 18 per cent and 28 per cent brackets and pushed up prices. This, and content, is why footfalls drastically dropped in July and August.

Then, in October, people came to the cinemas again when Golmaal Again!!! and Secret Superstar released. But after that, there was no other significant film till Tiger Zinda Hai came out last week. So the postponment of Padmavati and 2.0, which was originally to release during Diwali this year, made a huge negative impact on our books in 2017.

We lost more footfalls this year than we did after demonetisation hit us. 2018 seems to be a good year right from the first month itself. There are a lot of family-oriented movies releasing in January along with many regional films. We have a good line-up in February and March, with films like Padmavati and 2.0 releasing. Also, Hollywood movie content is very powerful next year. I believe we have good scope and expectations from 2018 and I believe we will do well next year.

Rudra Prosad Daw, GM, SVF Cinemas

2017 started off on a great note with Kaabil and Raees picking up from the pace set by Dangal. Then came BaahubaliThe Conclusion, which saw cinemas witnessing phenomenal footfalls. The mid-year saw a serious dip in figures, barring the unexpected success of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Bengali cinema experienced this too, barring Posto, which went on to become a superhit. This period saw some big-ticket movies failing at the box office, but towards the end of the year films like Golmaal Again!!!Fukrey Returns and Judwaa 2 proved beyond a doubt that comedy is one of India’s favourite genres, while Hollywood superhero movies like Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Spiderman: Homecoming and Wonder Woman also did really well. 

Bengali cinema saw two of its biggest hits towards the end of the year, Yeti Obhijaan during Durga Puja followed by Amazon Obhijaan around Christmas. Amazon Obhijaan recorded the highest-ever opening for a Bengali movie in five years. It crossed the magic figure for West Bengal’s box office — Rs 1 crore a day. It also ensured numerous house-full shows in multiplexes and single-screens alike. It is now readying for release in five languages around the world.

After a mixed-bag this year, 2018 looks quite promising, with a slew of big-and-medium-budget Bollywood flicks on the cards. Add to that some big Hollywood releases and a slick line-up of Bengali films and, on the exhibition front, 2018 could be the year of consolidation for large players and rapid expansion for small and medium ones.

Gandharv Sharma, Owner, Red Rocks

Baahubali: The Conclusion has made a remarkable impact this year and apart from that movie, the maximum number of footfalls also came from Tiger Zinda Hai and Golmaal Again!!! Till recently, it was only the Khans whose movies did spectacular business. Now, there are other stars like Varun Dhawan, Ranveer Singh and Rajkummar Rao, whose movies the audience looks forward to as well. But they need to get the right kind of content to really light up the screen.

I think 2018 will be a better year than 2017 was. This year, many cinemas suffered losses during the last four to five months. I think Baahubali: The Conclusion has created a lot of change in the industry and in the way many producers and directors now think. 

Aneesh Jain, Manager, Raj Mandir

Baahubali: The Conclusion drew the maximum number of footfalls, after which it was Golmaal Again!!! that stormed the box office. Footfalls at the box office have fallen mainly because filmmakers are unable to offer quality content. I believe that producers believe more in the number of crores a movie will make, whereas earlier it was how long the movie would run in cinemas.

Still, we believe that 2018 will be a much better year compared to 2017. We have movies like Padmavati and many others, so let’s see what happens.

Jagdeep Mehta, Owner, Gold Cinemas

This year, Baahubali: The Conclusion made the most decisive mark. The year ahead holds out much hope as there are many promising movies and newcomers coming up. Everything depends on the content of the movies. So, we hope 2018 will be a better year than 2017 was.

Akash Jalan, Exhibitor, Eylex Cinemas  

has undoubtedly seen the highest footfalls. Even Golmaal Again!!! did decently well but I would rate it at 50 per cent compared to Baahubali… Nowadays, we don’t see crowds turning up at cinemas like they used to. First, cheap Internet data plans allow everyone to watch content as they wish through online platforms like Netflix and Amazon. Until last year, 1GB of data on a cellphone network cost Rs 250; now for Rs 200 you can get 30 GB of data on your phone.

Second, people wait for reviews and the word-of-mouth verdict before they decide to watch a movie. Big-budget movies with huge stars in them obviously have a huge fan following, so we don’t feel it that much when it’s a Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan movie, but you see it with films like Tumhari Sulu, which started doing well from the second day onwards because people had read the reviews.

Now, some movies do have a lot of loopholes and no movie is perfect. If you want to pinpoint mistakes in a movie, you can always find them. But people seem to be forgetting that the main purpose of watching a movie in a cinema hall is entertainment, a family outing or a fun time with friends. Trying to find logic in every movie and believing every negative thing a critic says… well, even movies that deserve to get five stars only get four from most critics.

Take Baahubali: The Conclusion. I thought it was a fabulous movie, though there were a lot of flaws. And it was a blockbuster. I think people need to understand that it is the critic’s job to focus on flaws; it’s not all meant to be taken seriously.

I would also like to add that customers’ tastes are gradually changing, partly because of the content they are engaging with online. That is obviously a big factor too. They are looking for more in terms of storyline and content.

For the year 2018, we have Padmavati, but this movie is also kind of a multiplex movie. It’s more of a Tier 1 and Tier 2 city kind of movie. It’s not an out-and-out commercial movie. Still, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was not a commercial movie though Akshay Kumar was in it and it did well at the box office.

Overall, I am still hoping that 2018 will make much better movie history than 2017 has. 

Satadeep Saha, Director, SSR Cinemas

In 2017, we faced a lot of ups and downs. It was Baahubali: The Conclusion followed by Tiger Zinda Hai that were saviours for cinema owners. A whole bunch of movies were flops. If this trend continues, single-screen cinemas will die a natural death. Hopefully, we will get enough saleable content in 2018 to survive. Our hopes are pinned on PadMan, Padmavati, October, 2.0, Race 3 and Thugs of Hindostan.

Gaurav Ruparel, Director, Suraj Cinema

Without a doubt, Baahubali: The Conclusion has drawn the biggest numbers in terms of footfalls. The movie earned Rs 500 crore in the Hindi version alone. All versions together make it the highest-grossing film of the decade. Golmaal Again!!! takes second position, to my mind, and not Tiger Zinda Hai 

Nowadays, not many people come to cinemas to watch movies, thanks to the diverse social media platforms that we have, whether Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. Entertainment therefore is becoming a very difficult business, as we also have online portals such as Amazon and Netflix where people can subscribe for monthly packages at cheap rates and enjoy movies while sitting at home.

In cinemas today, animation and CGI-heavy films seem to draw large audiences. People realise that there aren’t that many films with impactful content and they are more selective about content. 

Even film promotion has started to shift from television to social networking sites like YouTube. For PadMan, we’re seeing more promotion on YouTube than on television. The growing role of social media has positive and negative effects. You get to say positive things about your movie, but the opposition can say negative things too. In television, this is not the case.

Social media also means that it’s all about first-weekend business these days, because reviews are instant and all over online. I also believe cities are playing a bigger role in profit-generation.

On the other hand, you can really hook your audience online. We saw with the top-notch social media promotions and PR campaigns for Baahubali: The Conclusion. They promoted the movie by asking ‘Kattappa ne Baahubali ko kyon maara?’and this punchline grabbed a lot of eyeballs and became a sensation on Facebook, YouTube etc.

Overall, my hopes for the coming year are pinned on Race 3, 2.0, Sui Dhaaga – Made In India and two other movies, and I hope they are a huge success.

Yogesh Raizada, Programmer, Wave Cinemas

 

In 2017, star power alone didn’t work; content ruled the box office. Baahubali: The ConclusionToilet: Ek Prem Katha, Hindi Medium, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Judwaa 2, Fukrey Returns, Golmaal Again!!! and Mubarakan were the few crowd-pullers. 2018 looks better, with movies like PadMan, Aiyaary, 2.0, Thugs of Hindostan, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, Saaho, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Total Dhamaal, Gold, Raid, etc. There are a few releases with big star power and directors, but if the content is weak, the box office numbers will not move. 

 

Prabhdeep Singh, Programmer, Q Cinemas

In Punjab, people largely watch Punjabi movies and the numbers for Hindi movies are much lower than in Delhi, Mumbai or any other metro. This is why, sometimes, a movie that is a big success elsewhere may not find takers in Punjab.

Even content-driven Hindi movies, which are very successful elsewhere in India, do not necessarily have an audience in Punjab.

People here love watching movies that are hyped, which is why a movie like Padmavati is something everyone looks forward to here. But one development that is reining in movie-goers is GST. There were so many industrial areas that were affected here, and whereas people used to spend money easily, now they are cautious thanks to the steep tax on movie tickets.

 

Debashish Sengupta, Programmer, Priya Cinemas

There is no doubt that Baahubali: The Conclusion was the best movie of 2017 in terms of profits, footfalls as well as the long run it enjoyed at the box office. In second position is Tiger Zinda Hai,which has only just released and we will have to wait to see how long it will stay in cinemas and crunch the numbers.

Some Hindi movies, like Lipstick Under My Burkha earned a lot of money even though the trade didn’t expect much from them. It ran for four to five weeks and we had to increase the number of shows from the second week. Also, films like Newton were billed to be good movies but we had no idea they would be that good.

Nowadays, it is very difficult to predict the outcome of movies, but we can expect a lot from films like Padmavati, 2.0, PadMan, Thugs Of Hindostan, Race 3, Parmanu, Sui Dhaaga – Made In India and Super 30 in the coming year. I am looking forward to Shah Rukh Khan’s film next Christmas; I hope it does well. I think Thugs Of Hindostan will be the best movie of 2018.

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