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Unidentical Twins

It is one of the most striking ironies of our times – the last remaining bastion of communist philosophy and politics in the world, China, has risen to the status of global superpower by essentially playing out of the capitalistic playbook. And this ideological flip-flop is often justified by quoting those famous words of the very powerful and influential Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping: It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice
A similar sentiment is often expressed during cricket match commentaries, especially when a batsman scores some fortuitous runs through an edged shot or from overthrows: It doesn’t matter how they come, as long as they come!t is one of the most striking ironies of our times – the last remaining bastion of communist philosophy and politics in the world, China, has risen to the status of global superpower by essentially playing out of the capitalistic playbook. And this ideological flip-flop is often justified by quoting those famous words of the very powerful and influential Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping: It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

However, while the owner of a rodent-free house or the captain of a victorious cricket team may no longer be interested in the means that made their happy ending possible, learning from the path to past successes can be interesting and rewarding for those hoping to replicate the same. That is especially true of a risk-fraught domain like filmmaking, where even the smallest advantage one can derive from studying past precedent is most welcome.

In that spirit, this week, we are examining two recent releases that succeeded at the box office but that sit at opposite ends of Hindi cinema’s narrative spectrum.

Judwaa 2 is the quintessential commercial ‘masala’ film – a veteran director who has almost written the rule book on the genre, an A-league male lead and two glamorous leading ladies, glossy overseas locales, crowd-pleasing music and a storyline that promises you accessible comic entertainment. Newton, on the other hand, is the archetypical ‘low-budget-high-concept’ film – an accomplished actor rather than a commercial star as main lead, a second-time director who debuted with an even ‘smaller’ film, a narrative that is designed to provoke thought rather than cater to the lowest common denominator and an emphasis on realism in production values.    

Of course, with Judwaa 2’s numbers being in multiples of Netwon’s score, you cannot really compare the collections of the two films in absolute terms and the objective of this note is not to get into the relative merits of the two films. Rather, our goal in analysing the collections data of both films is to see how similar – or not – is the box office trajectory of a ‘big, commercial’ film vis-à-vis a ‘small, content-oriented’ movie.

Take a look at the table below:

 

Comparator Judwaa 2 Newton
Property Type    
Contribution Of Multiplexes 80 99.5
Contribution Of Single Screens 20 0.5
Territorial Contribution    
Mumbai 28.9 32.69
Delhi-UP 22.39 23.84
East Punjab 9.1 13.36
CP 5.49 4.69
CI 4.25 3.95
Rajasthan 6.13 4.46
Nizam 5.26 3.71
Mysore 5.08 6.13
West Bengal 6.14 4.9
Bihar-Jharkhand 3.76 0.72
Assam 1.05 0.34
Orissa 1.17 0.29
TNK 1.23 0.91
Contribution of Different Time Spans    
First Day 11.91 4.09
First Weekend 43.27 18.32
First Week 71.78 56.44
Second Week 19.69 29.87
Third Week 7.87 7.65
Post Week 3 0.75 6.02

All figures – Percentage of lifetime domestic collections of respective films

The compilation above compares the collections break-up of each film from three different viewpoints – the nature of the exhibition platform (multiplex or single screen), the geographical territory and key time milestones.

To summarise the key insights: 

Virtually all of Netwon’s collections came from multiplex properties. While multiplexes were the dominant contributor for Judwaa 2 too, the role of single-screen properties cannot be overlooked. To put things in perspective: in absolute terms, Judwaa 2’s single-screen revenues were more than Netwon’s entire box-office tally. So while single screens may have ceded considerable ground to multiplexes, they are by no means irrelevant, especially for commercial cinema.

Surprisingly, the variation in the contribution of different distribution territories to each film’s kitty isn’t as wide as one would expect it to be. The top three territories for both films are identical and, by and large, there is a fair degree of correlation in the two sets of numbers. That would imply that there is a high degree of stability in the relative importance of each territory to the national box office, irrespective of the nature of the film.

Perhaps the most significant divergence between the two trajectories is seen in the time milestones comparison. Judwaa 2 made more than 10 per cent of its lifetime collections on its very first day in theatres, while Newton made just about 4 per cent. Conversely, less than 1 per cent of Judwaa 2’s tally accrued after 3 weeks at the box office, while Newtoncollected a decent 6 per cent in the same time span. Each film, therefore, conforms to the typical pattern that successful films in both categories display – a big opening and front-ending of collections for the commercial blockbusters, compared to a modest opening that grows with positive word-of-mouth and steady accumulation of collections over a long theatrical run for content-led films.

Above all, this study emphasises how important it is to truly understand the nature of one’s film when planning its release strategy. While the wishlist may be to open wide and quickly mop up as much moolah as you can, it is rarely possible – even advisable – for every film to attempt do so. The race to the finishing line, especially for the smaller films, may be more a steady marathon than a frantic sprint… and it is critical that one understands that before setting off from the starting block.

In other words – and it is only fair that a note that began with a feline reference should conclude with one – there are more ways to skin the box office cat than one!

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