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Unity In Diversity

In a vocation as risk-fraught as ours, and one marked by the absence of reliable tools for forecasting the likely business of films with any degree of surety, there is a widespread tendency to lean on conventional wisdom.

And so it is that our trade abounds with preconceived notions about the box office potential of genres/themes/talents and the multiple permutations and combinations thereof. Ergo, the prophesies we keep hearing like ‘This film will work only in multiplexes’ or ‘It might find takers in Delhi-UP and East Punjab circuits but will struggle in other territories’.

To be fair, many of these assumptions are based on historical events/trends and, much like stereotypes often do, carry a kernel of truth to begin with. The problem is that time is a very fluid and dynamic concept, even more so in our line of work. Therefore, what may have been accurate at a certain point in time may no longer hold true now, and we are likely to arrive at the wrong conclusions by continuing to base our decisions on those suppositions.

In that spirit, this week, we are revisiting one of our most widely-held notions: that of a divergence in the way various geographies across India relate to ‘commercial’ hits vis-à-vis the so-called ‘content-led’ films. To do so, we have picked a cross-section of hits from last year – spanning both massy blockbusters as well as unconventional successes – and compared the contribution of the different territories to the lifetime collections of each film. As below:

Even at a casual first glance, what comes through is a remarkable degree of similarity in the relative importance of different territories to each film’s fortunes, though the films themselves may be very dissimilar. In fact, all the 10 films reviewed share the same Top 3 territories – Mumbai, Delhi-UP and East Punjab – and in the same order.

The data seems to be at odds with the conventional wisdom of territorial biases for (or against) different kinds of films. To probe this further, we divided the films reviewed into two groups – commercial films and concept films – to examine how similar (or not) their respective patterns are. As below:

With the typical divergence in the two sets of films being just about 1 per cent or less, the second table further underlines how remarkably consistent the territorial contributions are for successful films, irrespective of whether they are mainstream or niche, feature a superstar-led cast or not.

What also needs to be borne in mind is that in many cases, the underperformance of films in certain territories is a self-fulfilling prophecy, most likely as a consequence of distributors/exhibitors acting on erroneous assumptions. For example, if you refer to the first table, it would seem that Lipstick Under My Burkha generated below-par collections in Assam and Orissa. True, but it was virtually impossible for the film to do better given that it was screened in only three properties in the whole of the Assam territory and just two in Orissa. 

To conclude, everybody loves a winner and the paying audience across this diverse land of ours doesn’t categorise films as ‘massy’ or ‘niche’. We, the film trade, do. So instead of overthinking whether our film will deliver in CI or CP, let’s keep it simple and focus our energies solely on creating content that will deliver VFM – Value For Money!

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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