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The unexpected failure of Thugs Of Hindostan has hit exhibitors hard. What lessons can the industry learn when a big-budget film like this tanks?

The Diwali holiday has always seen fireworks at movie theatres as the biggest stars in the industry release their films on this coveted long weekend. Filmmakers book the date months and, sometimes years, in advance to go in all guns blazing with their magnum opuses.

This year too, the audience and the industry waited with bated breath for what promised to be the cinematic experience of 2018 – Thugs Of Hindostan. The film not only had a unique, period storyline but also featured two of the biggest actors in the industry, Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, coming together for the first time on the big screen, with Katrina Kaif and Fatima Sana Shaikh adding to the excitement.

The film had a solo release on November 8, and other films hitting the screens around the same time positioned their releases at a safe distance from this film so that they weren’t eclipsed by it. But we all know how that story ended. Thugs of Hindostan did not live up to expectations. The opening day collections were fantastic but the numbers plummeted on day two, followed by a rapid slide on the following days.

Several movie theatres, especially multiplexes, saw a big cutback in footfalls during one of the busiest times of the year, thanks to the negative reviews that the film attracted and a huge ticket rate hike.

So this time, we spoke to exhibitors and asked them what they learnt from this huge disappointment. Here’s what they had to say.

Devang Sampat, Director of India’s Strategic Initiative, Cinepolis

Clearly, Thugs Of Hindostan was a very well-marketed and well-established film and its record-breaking day one says it all. However, with the growth of digital platforms, audiences are very choosy about the content they want to watch. Also, expectations from the duo of Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan were not fulfilled. If this film was delivered by anybody else, it may not have witnessed such a huge drop.

We don’t expect too much from small-budget movies and when their collections cross the `100-crore mark, they become super hits. Here, the same number of movie-goers watched TOH and, within four days, it equaled the lifetimes collections of movies like Badhaai Ho and Stree.

Tickets prices have no role to play during the festive season and this is proved by the day one collections of TOH. If you look at multiplexes in the public domain, year after year, the percentage increase in ticket prices is lesser than the rate of inflation. Inflation in the country is 7 per cent and, with that, expenses increase by 10 per cent. But the income at the box office is just 4 per cent. I don’t think ticket prices are responsible for this film flopping. What we need to do as exhibitors is to make sure that our quality of presenting a product does not go down. We keep upgrading our quality and our customer service. The product sometimes will be accepted by the audience and sometimes it won’t. That is not in our control. We don’t look at the business only on a one-week cycle. There are 52 weeks, where we release around 700 movies. On average, there are 13-14 movies we release every week. I don’t think we should react to the business of one particular week.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, Vice-President Operation, Miraj

Diwali sure sprang a surprise this year. We had a low-budget film like Badhaai Ho that earned more than `100 crore at the box office and a film like Thugs Of Hindostan, with a budget of `300 crore that barely survived. I believe that the problem with TOH is that the expectations were just too high. This stemmed from its cast, which included two superstars, Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. The movie was hyped for at least a year before its release by a big banner like Yash Raj Films but it failed to deliver on its promise.

Speaking of ticket prices, I don’t think they affected the film at all. It is standard practice to raise rates when you have a multi-starrer which also releases on festivals like Diwali or New Year. Everybody expects such a film to achieve a landmark number. In a situation like this, exhibitors have to pay a hefty sum to distributors as well as taxes. So I don’t think the ticket rates had much to do with how the results of TOH panned out.

However, due to the number of screens that were allotted to TOH, the business of smaller films as well as regional films was hampered, specifically Badhaai Ho. Everybody expected so much from TOH and that’s why so many screens were allotted to the film. This industry is driven by content, perceptions and expectations from films. Some films work and some don’t. The only thing we should keep in mind is that we should do justice to all films by giving adequate screen allocation, whether regional films or small-budget films.

Ashutosh Agarwal, Director, Star World

Thugs Of Hindostan was a good film, so I really don’t understand what went wrong with the film. I believe the film flopped because of negative reviews. I personally like the film and I feel it should not have done such bad business. The reason for its dismal performance is the bad word-of-mouth the film has received. Allocation of screens is all about demand and supply. Big movies deserve better shows. Since TOH went down, the other films were given more shows. When something like this happens, we reduce our ticket prices or the number of shows. That’s all we can do and that is what we did this time too. Nothing else is in our control.

Manoj Desai, Executive Director, G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir Cinema

Thugs Of Hindostan was very disjointed and there were too many things that were skipped in the sequences. It leaves you to figure out the progression of events all by yourself and most people failed to do so. Our audiences want entertainment; they don’t want to put so much thought into a film. As a result, the film failed to sustain despite its big star cast.

I did not raise ticket prices at our cinemas but the increased admission rates at other cinemas compromised the business of the film. Also, since Thugs Of Hindostan had been assigned so many shows, smaller films suffered although they will be brought back from this Friday. We will be removing TOH from Galaxy (cinema) and it will be screened only at Gaiety. It will be replaced with Sunny Deol’s Mohalla Assi at Galaxy.

Arijit Dutta, Managing Director, Priya Entertainment

If a film is bad, it collapses within the first few days. Thugs Of Hindostan was positioned as a big film but its opening was terrible. If a film is good, ticket prices don’t matter much; people will come to watch the film anyway. But if a film is bad, ticket prices begin to matter. I would not attribute the numbers that this film earned to its ticket prices, but the ticket price hike added to the reluctance of the audience in the first few days.

Thugs Of Hindostan definitely compromised the businesses of smaller films but that is a part of the game. Big players always position themselves such that they take over all the shows, to eliminate any competition. Exhibitors remove smaller films even if they are making money, due to pressure from the biggies.

In Bengal, regional films did not do too well during the Puja holidays or during Diwali. Only Byomkesh Gowtro is worth mentioning. Thugs Of Hindostan needed more showcasing. When a big film releases in single screens, the producers want all the shows or they want nothing. We cannot do much about it. Single screens are becoming weaker by the day, and many have been handed over to multiplex chains. Consolidation is taking place. Producers and distributors should always act with foresight.

Pushkaraj Chaphalkar, Partner, Citypride

Apart from the content of TOH being weak, the film was not very popular even before its release. That is one reason there was no hype created before the movie’s release. The makers barely released any song before the movie released as the film had no popular songs and the story was not captivating. Though the film is set in 1795 and the presentation was new, the revenge theme is not new for the audience. After seeing Baahubali and Pirates Of The Caribbean, people realised that the action sequences in Thugs Of Hindostan were a mix of sequences from movies they had already watched. In fact, the action in those films was much better.

Things like this contributed to the lack of impact of TOH. The ticket rates also impacted the film. In fact, ticket prices were even higher than they were for Sanju. With hundreds of shows in each city, the ticket rates should have been lower to attract more people during the festive season. With lower ticket prices, even films with average reviews can go a little further in terms of generating revenue.

In the first two days, Thugs Of Hindostan affected the smaller films like Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun. But later, the number of shows for these smaller films, which had better collections, was increased. Expectations surrounding Thugs Of Hindostan were huge and everyone assumed it would do better than the other films that were already being screened. But, then, it was a business decision.

This is an unpredictable business. You cannot gauge the fate of a movie until it releases. We can only plan shows based on the budget of a movie, the hype around it and the star cast. Looking at the star cast, it appeared that Thugs Of Hindostan would be the biggest hit of the year.  The shows were also allotted accordingly but it did not turn out that way.

Satadeep Saha, Distributor/Exhibitor, SSR Cinemas Pvt Ltd

I think the audience is more intelligent than we are in the trade! They know which movie to watch and which movie to avoid. I believe that the critics and social media hampered the business of Thugs Of Hindostan by overhyping the movie and creating unrealistic expectations. Still, theatres had to maintain the number of shows they had allotted to it. Unfortunately, that far outstripped the number of shows of movies that were already running, such as Badhaai Ho, AndhaDhun and Baazaar and even Tumbbad, which were doing good business.

On its first day, TOH collected almost `50 crore and, on its first Monday, just `5 crore. The difference is massive. Nowadays, only content with quality works.

Aneesh Jain, Head, Finance And Accounts, Rajmandir

Due to the pre-release publicity of the film, expectations from TOH were very high, and most of the screens in India were allotted to this film. But it did not live up to expectations. Also, the hike in ticket prices negatively affected the film. When a film releases during the festive season, ticket prices should, in fact, be lowered as the number of movie-goers tends to increase. On the contrary, ticket rates for this film were very high on the first four days.

Badhaai Ho boasted a new concept and, had it not been for Thugs Of Hindostan, the film would have done better business. The screens allotted to smaller and regional films automatically went to TOH. Multiplexes with only three screens gave two of them to TOH. That’s why the business of these smaller films was compromised.

People expected a lot from a multi-starrer like TOH but, besides the good star cast, the content of the film was not good enough. Therefore, before distributing a film in so many screens, distributors need to pay a lot more attention to its content. Often, trailers are eye-catching but the film turns out to be very different. Earlier, distributors did pay attention to the kind of films they were handling but, with so many more movies releasing, they no longer follow this practice. Also, ticket prices should not be raised beyond a certain level or it negatively impacts the business of a film.

Yogesh Raizada, Vice-President, Wave Cinemas

I watched this film and I don’t think it was all that bad. I think its box office performance, or lack of it, had a lot to do with expectations being raised more than they should have. The first half of TOH is like any typical masala movie. It was the film’s star cast, banner, hype and ticket prices due to the Diwali weekend that contributed to the unrealistic expectations surrounding this film.

With all the factors mentioned above, the makers of this film had assumed that the odds were in their favour. But, sometimes, all these things go against you as was proved with Thugs Of Hindostan. Had it been a regular movie with an average star cast, it might have done much better.

Smaller films, like Badhaai Ho, whose shows had been snatched and allotted to TOH, have benefitted from the movie bombing as the number of their shows has increased. If TOH had done well, these smaller films would have done barely any business during this time. The problem is, theatres have no choice. When there is a solo Diwali release, what else can you expect them to do? There is no back-up plan. Everybody wanted to exploit the festival fever.

Bharati Daga, Director, K Sera Sera

According to me, the storyline of the film was weak even though the acting was fabulous. Also, expectations were high because it was a multi-starrer with Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan in the same frame. That’s why TOH has failed. I don’t think the content was so bad that people needed to leave the film halfway through. It was a blessing that so many shows were given to this film during the four days of Diwali. No other film was allowed to be screened except one Marathi film Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar.

Regional content did face problems but this Marathi film outshone everything else, despite the few screens it was given. When TOH performed badly, the only way out was to have alternative content.

Theatres should not have only a single option. They should have alternative content to save them from a situation where blockbusters and mega-blockbusters cannot sustain even four days. Somewhere down the line, I feel that all the negative reviews played a role in the failure of TOH since the film is not bad enough to justify being trolled on social media. The actors did full justice to their characters. It’s just that there was nothing new in the story and when an Aamir Khan film releases, people expect surprises.

Hiren Patel, Assistant Manager, Wide Angle

The problem is distributors asked for higher rates from the very beginning, 20-25 per cent more than that of Sanju. The distributors dictated rates to all the multiplexes. Also, there was a good chance of higher advanced booking and online booking if ticket prices had been lower. Since the ticket prices ranged between `270 to `300, people decided to watch the film after reading the reviews. When negative reviews started appearing on social media, even those who had already booked tickets online didn’t show up.

We gave all the shows to TOH but since people didn’t come to watch that film, we gave a few shows to a Gujarati film. The occupancy of this Gujarati film was higher than that of TOH. Theatres have suffered a huge loss during this Diwali. The ticket rates and the allocation of shows should not be dictated by anyone other than exhibitors. Only they know what price will work in their respective territories.

Prem Lakhani, Programmer, Rajhans

The first thing is, in the light of the subject they chose, patriotism was needed the most to hit that environment, which was completely missing. Second, films that work during Diwali are usually either comedy films or family films. A film like Thugs Of Hindostan would never have clicked on Diwali. This is a time when people want to rejoice and so no one wants to watch a serious film.

Also, the biggest issue was the raised ticket rates. As soon as negative reports started showing up, they had a strong, adverse impact as no one wants to spend so much on a film that is trolled so badly. It’s also about word-of-mouth, which can work both ways.

After just four days, when TOH had dropped so much, every theatre started allotting more shows to Badhaai Ho and regional films. We released a Gujarati film titled Sharato Lagu, and both films received good reviews. They will perform well this week as well as next week. This happened because TOH didn’t work. Otherwise, if a big film releases on Diwali and if it clicks with the audience, all other films are forgotten.

There was a time in the industry when, just like this, films with a huge star cast released but the content didn’t click with the audience. That was a terrible phase for the industry. Recently, some small films have worked so well that everyone is targetting big-budget movies. They don’t realise that if you make such a big-budget film, it should be entertaining and unique. Today’s audience needs something different; a big budget film alone does not make for a hit.

PV Sunil, MD, Carnival Cinemas

Diwali release, Thugs Of Hindostan, has not lived up to expectations. As soon as the film released, word-of-mouth spread that it wasn’t a good watch but no one expected it to misfire so badly. I believe the actors were not used to their full potential. Formulaic films do not work when there are no noteworthy songs, the characters lack emotional intensity, and in this case the chemistry between Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan was missing. Most importantly, the basic ingredient of a successful film – a coherent plot – was also missing.

From Friday onwards, the occupancy of Thugs Of Hindostan dropped drastically and audience wanted more choices in content, and we provided them with options like Badhaai Ho, AndhaDhun, Tumbbad etc. On public demand and to minimise losses, we had to increase the number of shows of Badhaai Ho, up to 60 per cent, and these shows ran house full over the festival weekend.

KP Singh, Chairman, Opera Cinemas

This was a typical Diwali, larger-than-life, masala movie with a huge star cast but the story line was not up to the mark. There was no doubt about the performances of Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. They did full justice to their characters. But, on the first day of the film, the social media was flooded with negative reviews, which strongly affected the cinema-going public.

Also, the problem was the film’s ticket price. Why would anyone pay so much to watch a film whose reviews were so bad? However, if we look at the regional content, Tamil film Sarkar and Marathi film Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar did amazing business. But because TOH was given most of the screens during Diwali, the regional films were not allotted sufficient shows. Theaters should allocate a sufficient number of shows to all the deserving films, so that this does not happen again.

Hem Shah, Chief Executive Operation, Fortune Cineplex

Aamir Khan delivers films with a strong message. This film was an exception as it lacked message. Usually, his movies do not earn Rs 40-50 crore on day one; they earn around Rs 30 crore on their first day and keep earning consistently for 12-15 days. This happens only when the film has good word-of-mouth publicity. And his films always follow this pattern.

With Thugs Of Hindostan, theatres across the board hiked their ticket prices, raising them by 10-15 per cent of what they were for Sanju and other blockbuster films. It doesn’t make any sense to go out with the family, spend `1,000 and watch a film which has so many negative reviews. If the tickets had cost half as much as they did, I am sure people would have dismissed the reviews and gone to watch the movie. Cinemas should have reduced their rates after the first two days, at least.

We had simultaneously released a Marathi film titled Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar along with TOH. On the first day, we had only one show of Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar and on the second and third days, its shows were increased to three and five respectively. Finally, the film was shifted to the biggest screen due to its demand.

Yash Raj Films wanted us to allot a certain number of shows to TOH, which is why we were unable to screen a single show of Baazaar and Badhaai Ho. So, on the first day, when reviews of TOH were out, people were asking for Badhaai Ho, Baazaar, and Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar. We failed to meet that demand because we did not have sufficient screens allotted to these films. This was a big loss for producers as well as cinema owners.

- Bhakti Mehta, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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