As we bring you this, the first Box Office India edition of 2018, it is with a sense of astonishment – and dollops of horror – that one looks back at the bizarrely topsy-turvy year we have just been through.
Like the fantastical adventures of Alice in Wonderland, 2017 was the year when we went through the looking glass to witness the unimaginable and experience the unthinkable. From unprecedented highs to depressing lows, from the conquest of new frontiers to the demolition of fondly held certainties – we saw it all in the course of the last 52 weeks.
To recap some of our most significant high (and low!) lights of last year:
The highest-grossing ‘Hindi’ film in 2017 – or of any time, for that matter – wasn’t even shot in the language but dubbed over the original Telugu! While Baahubali: The Beginning gave us a glimpse of the potential of regional cinema by becoming the first Hindi dubbed film to earn over `100 crore domestically, Baahubali: The Conclusion changed the entire paradigm. Though no bona fide Hindi film has managed to cross `400 crore at the domestic box office yet, this Deccan Charger smashed past the `500-crore mark with its Hindi dubbed version alone, making advocates for the primacy of Hindi cinema literally hold their tongues. Enta vicitringa undi? (Subtitle for non-Telugu speakers: How strange is that?!)
‘Peking’ Big Time!
We hadn’t even managed to wrap our heads around the ‘Telugu-dubbed-is-bigger-than-Hindi-original’ conundrum when we had another googly to grapple with: the biggest Hindi film ever generated most of its revenue when dubbed in Mandarin! Dangal lit up Christmas 2016 with spectacular domestic collections of around `375 crore. But that was less than one-third of what it would earn in China on its release there in May, 2017: a whopping `1,200 crore-plus to make it the 7th highest grosser in China in 2017. Even more remarkably, the film made it to the Top 20 grossers of all time in that critical market. China may not be our most friendly neighbour, but surely this is a Yuan-sambandh that we wholeheartedly approve of!
Size Doesn’t Matter
Let’s admit it. Around this time last year, when we were looking ahead at the releases scheduled for 2017 and trying to second-guess their likely fate, not many of us would have placed films like Hindi Medium, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, Newton, Mom, Tumhari Sulu and Lipstick Under My Burkha in the ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ column. Conversely, films like Tubelight, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Jagga Jasoos would have been on pretty much everyone’s ‘Sure-Shot Hit’ lists. But then, this was no normal year, was it? Scoffing at our predictions, the box office had a lesson for us: small can often be big; just as sometimes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The Sequel Is Dead. Long Live The Sequel
If the underwhelming performance of Kahaani 2, Rock On 2 and Force 2 at the fag-end of 2016 told us that the law of diminishing marginal utility may have kicked in for sequels/remakes/franchise properties, disappointments like Sarkar 3, Aksar 2 and Julie 2 gave further evidence of the same in 2017. But hang on! If that is so, how does one explain the substantial success of Tiger Zinda Hai, Golmaal Again!!!, Jolly LLB 2, Judwaa 2, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Fukrey Returns? Not to mention that the humungous Baahubali: The Conclusion was a sequel too. So, is it a case of sequels equaling more or the franchise losing its fizz? Go figure!
Acche Din Ache-bhare Din
Well, not receiving much (make that anything) by way of government support doesn’t really count as an anomaly. That’s par for the course in any given year. But from the horrific treatment that Padmavati received throughout its production, culminating in its release being scuttled thanks to multiple state governments baying for its blood without having seen the film, to film tickets being placed in the highest GST rates slab to constant run-ins with the censor – 2017 saw the ‘special’ treatment for the film industry attain new heights (or is that lows?). Make In India, sure. But please allow us to mai-baap!
While 2017 may not have had a monster hit like The Jungle Book of 2016, Hollywood continued to strengthen its inroads in our market. The extent of its clout at the Indian box office comes through quite emphatically with these statistics: for 13 of the 52 weeks in 2017, the highest-grossing film in India was a Hollywood import; and in 42 out of 52 weeks, at least one Hollywood film featured in the Top 5 grossers for the week. This, despite the number of Hollywood releases being just one-fourth of Hindi films. So, for the Hindi film trade, at least, the most potent existential threat emanating out of the US may not be President Trump!
In sum, 2017 was the kind of year that makes one realise why the Chinese consider a curse, that seemingly benign sounding phrase: May you live in interesting times.
Having had more than our fair quota of ‘interesting’ times in 2017, here’s praying for some tranquil prosperity in 2018. Amen!