As many as five Hindi films hit the screens last Friday (August 25) – A Gentleman, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, Qaidi Band, Sniff and Muskurahatein. Add to this mix, a couple of Hollywood releases, The Hitman’s Bodyguard and The Dark Tower, as also the feature-length documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power. If that wasn’t enough of a crowd, many screens were still occupied by previous releases like Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Annabelle: Creation, which were still performing well. And we aren’t even getting into the regional cinema space which too had its own share of debutants like the high-profile Tamil film, Vivegam.
It would be fair to say that none of last week’s Hindi releases have set the box office on fire and, in part at least, some blame for this can perhaps be attributed to the glut of films vying for screen space and the resultant issues with showcasing, messaging clutter and too many claimants for the audience’s wallet.
Not surprisingly, the logjam at the ticket counter led to much hand-wringing and lamentations on traditional and social media by many from the industry. And the vast majority of this commentary was hardly flattering towards the producers/distributors of the films that hit the screens simultaneously in such numbers – ‘lack of common sense’, ‘suicidal decision’ ‘self-inflicted wound’ and words to that effect being a common refrain.
To be honest, the criticism seems quite unfair. In an ideal world, every producer/distributor would love to not only have a solo release weekend but also one without any major releases in the preceding or succeeding weeks.
But the fact is that we don’t live in an ideal world and, like it or not, there are a finite number of weeks in a year to accommodate an ever-increasing quantum of releases.
For proof, check out the table below which tracks the number of releases each year during the last few years for both Hindi as well as Hollywood films, given that there is an increasing overlap in both the audiences as well as the screens that both industries cater to.
|Year||Hindi Releases||Hollywood Releases (In India)||Total||Average Releases Per Week*|
As is apparent from the table above, in the last 8 years alone, the number of releases each year has doubled, with almost 300 Hindi and Hollywood films debuting last year (2016). That translates to an average 6 releases each week – not all that far from last week’s release count.
Interestingly, the data also reveals that while Hollywood films may have grown substantially during this period in terms of their growing collections and ability to provide stiff competition to Hindi fare, the number of such releases in India has remained largely stable. Ergo, it is the surge in Hindi film production that is responsible for the problem of plenty.
The woes of producers struggling to find uncrowded release dates are compounded by the fact that Holiday/festive weekends are invariably monopolised by the biggies in terms of star power and pedigree, making them no-fly zones for smaller films that cannot hope to match up to their fire power. Worse, the number of such marquee weekends has only grown in recent years – while Diwali traditionally saw the biggest release/s in the past, that list has now expanded to include the Eid, Christmas, Independence Day and Republic Day weekends, as also the first weekend of June following the conclusion of the IPL tournament.
So effectively, more than 10 per cent of the annual calendar is already off limits for the vast majority of our producers/distributors when they start planning their release strategy. And when they do find a weekend that seems relatively less crowded and put a marker on it, invariably there are many others too who reach the same conclusion. As a result, seemingly empty weekends tend to fill up quite substantially by the time D-day looms closer.
In short, while it is easy to criticise a bunch of films for choosing the same release date, it is not exactly a rare phenomenon nor one that can really be averted by the parties involved. Indeed, as borne out by the data, six or more new releases each week is the new normal for the times we live in. Moreover, if the current trend in growth of output – particularly for Hindi films – continues to be on the trajectory that it is on, the challenge in finding a decent release window is one that will only get more daunting in the future.
At a theoretical level, the only two possible solutions to this obvious and major problem is either a reduction in supply i.e. fewer releases, or else an expansion in supply outlets i.e. exhibition screens. That, in the current scenario, seems about as realistic as every filmmaker’s dream of seeing their title as the only one featured on the ‘Now Showing’ ticker at cinema halls.