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Dating Game

As prominent filmmakers jostle with each other to book their film’s release date earlier than ever before, Bollywood’s motto of ‘Try and try till you succeed’ has changed to ‘Plan and plan till you release’.

Soumita Sengupta, Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas, Sanghamitra Gogoi

There was a time when a film’s release date was announced three to four months prior to the movie actually hitting the screen. Now, producers are staking their claim to holidays and long weekends years in advance, often even before the shooting schedule, cast or even the final script is locked.

This plan may have been a foolproof one for everyone concerned if only filmmakers managed to release their films on the scheduled dates. But, every week, we see movies being shifted and shuffled for various reasons. Delays in shoots, promotional issues and VFX problems are the usual culprits.

When these big films do release on a date different than the one they had announced, the smaller movies have to run for cover or be overshadowed. This shuffling, as we have seen in the last couple of months, causes a major shake-up for the audience as well as the trade.

We spoke to a cross-section of people from the film trade including producers, exhibitors as well as distributors on whether it is right on the part of filmmakers to announce the release dates of their big banner projects so prematurely and how shuffling dates eventually impacts everyone concerned.

Jayantilal Gada, Producer 

There is a saying ‘the big fish eats the small fish’ and that applies to our industry too. Every Friday decides the merit of a director and an actor. It’s Friday that decides your destiny. Today, it has become very challenging for newcomers to prove themselves. They face challenges from seasoned actors. Big studios gobble up smaller producers. They corner all the good dates and eat up screens. One has to find a date where one won’t clash with a big movie. Releasing on the same date is unavoidable as we have only 52 weeks a year and hundreds of films releasing. The industry should come together and work on the release structure. We should come up with a solution where no one suffers and let good films work.

Bhushan Kumar, Producer

Perhaps this question is being asked because of the delay in the release date of Padmaavat, which you will agree was unfortunate. Most producers announce release dates with a good amount of planning. When a producer announces his film’s release date, it is done keeping in mind the best interest of his/her film. I do not think any producer wants to cause inconvenience to another film. Filmmaking is team work and there are so many people who come together for a common goal. It involves human beings and sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances which are beyond anyone’s control.  We know that there are fair amount of films that release as per their scheduled release dates. For instance, for the last several years, Salman Khan’s films have been releasing on Eid. Unfortunately, there are only 52 Fridays in a year and the number of films being produced has grown manifold. So some amount of tussle is always going to be there.

Ratan Jain, Producer

Release dates are very important when it comes to filmmaking. The Indian film market is huge. We only have 52 weeks in a year and one cannot help but have two films releasing in the same week. Then, what works is the good film. Due to what happened with PadmaavatPad Man will now release along with Aiyaary, and both films look like they have good content. It’s always the storyline that works. As a filmmaker, one has to plan their release dates well in advance. It’s the first step of marketing – you block the date so that other filmmakers avoid the same date.

Mukesh Bhatt, Producer

With the advent of corporate structure, the filmmaking business has fallen into the wrong hands. Now, no one thinks about others, whereas in the good old days, when someone was ready with their film, they would ask their friends and seniors when they were releasing their films, and make sure they didn’t clash with them. Yes, back then there weren’t many films releasing but, even today, if the industry can work together, things can be managed.

Sadly, nobody cares about anybody else. Republic Day and Independence Day are Akshay Kumar’s; Eid is Salman Khan’s; Christmas, Aamir Khan’s; and Diwali belongs to Karan Johar or Shah Rukh Khan. So where do the other films go? There are five big holidays and all five are pre-booked almost two years in advance.

I believe we need some rules here and we can take inspiration from the South Indian industry, where they announce their release dates only after the Censor clears their film or on the last day of the shoot. We too need to take such steps but this industry is ruled by stars. There is no point in having producers come together as it is an actor’s industry. Producers do not have the ‘right’ to take decisions, whether its budgets, scripts or marketing. We need to come together and work on release dates.

Dinesh Vijan, Producer-Director

I don’t think anyone wants clashes. There are only 52 weeks a year, so clashes are inevitable, and smaller-budget films depend on word-of-mouth and don’t open to crazy numbers. But if the content clicks, the movie can pull in superb numbers, irrespective of a clash, just like Hindi Medium did.

Anees Bazmee, Producer-Director


It is a good thing to announce one’s film so early because it means they are planning well in advance when their shoot will begin, how much time post-production will take, etc. Earlier, no one really knew how long a film’s schedule would last. Pata hi nahi chalta tha ki kab release hogi. The shoot would happen and the film would release in its own time. Like for Mubarakan, we had announced four months before the first schedule started, that we would release the film on July 28, 2017. Only my team and I know how much hard work went into making that possible. Also, all the actors and technicians are motivated as they know that these are the dates and we have to make sure we complete our work within the deadline.

For films that do not release on the date announced, I want to say that it is a creative process, after all. There is a lot of coordination between a lot of people and departments that goes into making a release possible. And since they do not want to give the audience something that is not completely ready, it is better to shift the release date. It is not set in stone. There is no reason a filmmaker should compromise on the quality of their film.

Moreover, smaller-budget films can reap the benefit as they can release on dates where big films could not make it. It is a disadvantage only when the movie that is postponed releases on a date that will hamper the business of other films. It is a game where there is no real solution. Yes, when a big film announces its release date in advance, it gives other banners time to plan their course of action. There is a balance that should be maintained on both sides but everything doesn’t always go according to plan.

Tanuj Garg, Producer


You can’t stop someone from blocking or announcing a date in advance just like you can’t stop someone from releasing his film to clash with a film that has already been announced, if he so chooses to. This isn’t about ethics; it’s a democratic industry and it is up to producers to manage this game of chess.

Atul Kasbekar, Producer


A release date is an extremely crucial part of the filmmaking process. We’ve seen too many good films not getting their due, thanks to less-than-perfect releases. When a filmmaker announces a date, I’m sure they have every intention of trying to keep that date. If extenuating circumstances delay a motion picture, it cannot be helped. 

Anjum Rizvi, Producer


Very rarely do big films shift their release dates and they do that only when unforeseen circumstances like the Padmaavat imbroglio happens. Nonetheless, other filmmakers should not be bullied into shifting their dates. The bottom line is it has to be a mutual understanding that should benefit all. Take Padmaavat, for instance. Moving its release was unavoidable but it does set off a chain reaction, where many films down the line are impacted. Then getting a free week or avoiding clashes becomes difficult and everyone tends to lose out. Fortunately, Aiyaary and Pad Man, are diverse films which hopefully should not affect the business of each other. I believe at least three films can be accommodated. As observed, other than Hindi films, English language films release and tend to do better business than some Hindi movies. In the end, all that matters is your product. If your film is not good, even a solo release will not help shore up its numbers.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, AVP Operations, Miraj Cinemas


Yes, nowadays, big movies announce their release dates years in advance. It helps us plan our budgets for the year. If we know that a certain big banner film is releasing in a certain month, we can estimate the income that we can earn during that month. When the release of these big films is postponed, it affects us big time.

Sometimes, as happened with Padmavaat, it cannot be helped. It can also turn out to be premature to announce one’s release date too much in advance and it might be better if the filmmaker announces it after he or she starts shooting their film. Then, they can realistically gauge how long it will take.

Rajesh Thadani, Distributor, Multi Media Combines


I think filmmakers should book their release dates only when they are ready with their scripts. The reason they choose a certain date well in advance is to leverage the best days, especially during the holiday period. Sometimes, it may not be ethical to fix a date so early but they do this because there are many things involved such as advertising and marketing costs. Everyone is basically looking to safeguard their own interests.

I really think they should sit together and discuss their releases when there is a potential clash, just like Padmaavat and Pad Man did. This would lead to healthy negotiations. There are times when these negotiations don’t work out too.

Ravi Machchar, Distributor


I would say that, today, producers are very insecure. Scrambling to announce a release date well in advance is a sign of insecurity because producers are afraid their films will not perform if they fail to secure a good release date.

According to me, a good film should perform on any day of the year. Movies like Baahubali 2: The Conclusion did not wait for anybody or a particular date. They announced their date and they made sure they stuck to it.

The reason producers are insecure is they are not sure of themselves and their worth. They are desperate for a certain release date so that they can rely on initial collections. Not surprisingly, they are not prepared to shift their dates. Nowadays, all the big filmmakers are slaves to the release calendar. I believe this is why most of them do not want to make good movies.

Ashutosh Agrawal, Programmer, Starworld Cinemas


It all depends on how you plan your release according to the pre-production and production process. Earlier, it used to take an entire year to shoot a movie but, now, it takes just two months. I believe everybody has a release plan and, in the end, everybody wants to make money. The issue that needs to be fixed is not the release date because there is no method to control dates but big movies releasing together creates a lot of confusion and their business is divided.

In the South, distributors and exhibitors are united, which is not the case in Mumbai. In the South, they make movies to suit the tastes of the general public and that’s why you get good music, good storytelling, a good script and very good visual effects.

Arijit Dutta, Piyali Films, Distributor, Exhibitor and Producer


I think it is a good idea for a filmmaker to pre-book a slot. If he or she has an efficient production team who can deliver the film as per the plan, one need not worry about the rest. If a filmmaker decides to slot their picture on a festive date that has already been taken by a smaller film, it is unfair on the latter films.

At the same time, one should be efficient enough to have a back-up plan. Then the word ‘clash’ doesn’t even come into the picture here. Say, for example, if two big pictures plan to release on the same day, we should give the small films releasing on the same day, scope to shift their date.

Ajay Bagdai, Rajvi Entertainment, Distributor

Big movies announce their dates beforehand to avoid any kind of clash with other big movies. They choose dates which fall on festivals in order to get the maximum benefit, collections-wise. For smaller films, their biggest fear is the budget and the fear of failure, and therefore the dates cannot be decided until they decide on a budget.  

Sanjay Marudhar, Distributor


I think planning is essential and it is important for filmmakers to decide on a date well in advance. After all, it is all about business. The big movies choose dates that fall during festivals or holidays because this is when everybody comes out for some entertainment. On the other hand, these smaller movies are constrained with the big movies stealing a large part of the pie. I think it is all about planning and if things are not planned properly, everyone suffers. We, as distributors, face losses when films clash or dates are moved around.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR


Release dates play an integral role in the part of a movie release and sometimes certain dates and a certain week in the year are more important than others. It is therefore natural for any filmmaker to covet a particular date especially during festivals such as Diwali, Christmas, Eid or Holi, when the initial couple of days see humungous business. I see absolutely nothing unethical about that. It is a free market and producers are entitled to do this.

Producers are smart enough to realise that when there are too many films clashing on the same date, business will be cannibalised and they take care of these unrealistic clashes. At the same time, as long as you don’t have too many movies clashing on the same date, last-minute changes are acceptable. There is always a good reason people change their release dates but from the exhibition point of view, there are no pitfalls

Devang Sampat, Exhibitor, Cinepolis

I believe that release dates and the movie calendar needs much more attention than it’s getting. Hollywood plans their dates well in advance; also these big movies get an opportunity to gauge their collection for the year. From an exhibitor’s point of view, knowing a film’s release date well in advance helps us market and create awareness of a film. We have suffered a lot for want of planning by filmmakers or producers, with both small and big films. I believe there should be a body that blocks dates for movies like the producers’ guild. Releasing a film is a joint responsibility; it is not only about the marketing or production team. It is an industry issue and we are currently not working as an industry.

Tinku Singh, Group President & Chief Strategy officer (CSO), SRS Group


Right now, content-driven films are giving tough competition to movies backed by star power. Under these circumstances, directors resort to hype and other such tactics to increase interest in their films. Booking release dates very early may seem like an inconvenience but it isn’t an unethical practice. Since a movie demands blood, sweat and investment from filmmakers, the latter have the right to indulge in these common practices.

Yogesh Raizada, Programmer, Wave Cinemas


Postponing the release of a big-ticket film does not always affect only smaller movies. Sometimes, big-budget movies clash with each other too, for example, Shivaay and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil; Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani; and of course, we will see Pad Man clash with Aiyaary now. Smaller movies can’t compete with the big ones but they can survive with word-of-mouth if their content is strong. Dates are fixed so that a film can bring in additional revenue due to holidays, festivals and long weekends. If they shift their release, it is unfortunate, but there is always a reason.

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