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Belling The Bat

And so it is upon us again: the twelfth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The annual celebration (some would call it a circus!) of made-for-mass-entertainment, instantly gratifying cricket that, not unlike a celestial black hole that swallows up everything in its path, shall dominate media and public attention for the better part of the next two months.

However, mirroring the theme of the marque release in the IPL’s opening weekend, Kesari, the Hindi film industry has bravely decided to stand its ground in the face of this formidable rival, as is evident from the relatively high profile line-up of films scheduled for release during the tournament – Notebook, Junglee, RAW – Romeo Akbar Walter, Kalank, Arjun Patiala and Student Of The Year 2, among others.

Things were quite different when the first edition of the IPL kicked off in 2008. At that time, the film industry had virtually resigned itself to the fact that with high-octane cricketing action featuring the biggest names in the sport holding sway on the national airwaves for four to eight hours daily, a substantial chunk had virtually vanished from what was an already over-crowded annual release calendar.

Consequently, during the first few years of the IPL, the films that did release during this period were typically unheralded products that would struggle to get screens in the normal course of events. Not surprisingly, these largely uninspiring films didn’t really set the box office on fire and in a case of effect being mistaken for cause, we mistook the consequent collections drought as a symptom of the invincibility of the IPL juggernaut when it could well have been – as it almost always is – a verdict on the quality of fare being offered to the consumer.

Things changed in 2012 when Housefull 2 not only dared to take the IPL bull by its horns but also emerged victorious by collecting in excess of Rs 100 crore at the domestic box office – a feat that was considerably rarer and more noteworthy then than it is now.

Since then, while the IPL’s national popularity may not have flagged, the paralysing terror it held for the film industry has eased over the years and the duration of the event has ceased to be a no-fly zone for ‘big’ releases like it once was. That confidence is bolstered in no small measure by the fact that the biggest Indian film of all time, the Hindi version of Baahubali: The Conclusion, released bang in the midst of IPL 2017. 

To get a sense of the trajectory and trends in the collections of releases during the IPL, check out the table below. Please note that in the absence of credible data for the period preceding the launch of this publication, the first two editions of the tournament were not considered for this study.  

The way to read this table is: the IPL season of 2014, for example, coincided with the release of 59 Hindi films that collectively netted over Rs 779 crore at the domestic box office. On average, these films earned Rs 13.21 crore each, which is 94 per cent of what films earned on average (Rs 14.04 crore) in that calendar year. IPL 2014 saw one film (2 States) enter the Rs 100-crore club and another (Heropanti) go past the Rs 50-crore mark.

The overall pattern visible in the data above is quite like that of a classical opening batsman who plays cautiously at the start of his innings and then scores more freely on becoming comfortable with the conditions.  While releases during IPL 2010 earned just around one-third of the average collections per film for that year, Hindi films have risen steadily over the years to gain near parity during IPL 2014-2016 and then substantially outperform the non-IPL releases during 2017.

Somewhat against the run of play, the numbers went south again in 2018 despite strong performances by films like Raazi, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran and 102 Not Out. However, that fall can be attributed not as much to the IPL as it can be to another mighty competitor for Hindi films, Hollywood, thanks to Avengers: Infinity War mopping up over Rs 223 crore from the Indian box office during IPL 2018.

Even though history is set to repeat itself this year with the wildly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame releasing in mid-April, one is optimistic that IPL 2019 will be a happy hunting ground for the Hindi film trade too, with at least three of the films scheduled for release during this period looking like potential centurions and a few others also seeming capable of clocking more-than-decent numbers.  

Make no mistake, none of the foregoing is intended to imply that the IPL is no longer a potent threat for the Hindi film trade. It is a no-brainer that for a large segment of potential filmgoers, the lure of virtually free entertainment in the comfort of their homes is hard (if not impossible) to resist. Especially when an IPL broadcast can often have many of the same elements that one seeks in a cinema hall: action, suspense, intrigue and drama; heroes and villains; underdogs battling against formidable odds and unheralded minor players coming of age – not to mention the gyrations of the cheerleaders that can pass off as item numbers!

It is, therefore, nobody’s case that the Hindi film industry has triumphed over the IPL. All we are saying is that, like it is with so many of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that we constantly grapple with – piracy, screen scarcity, lack of institutional finance, a distorted cost structure et al – in this case too we have found a way to somehow, in that quintessentially Indian context of the term: ‘manage’!


- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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