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The Glass Is A Quarter Full

Given the fantastic performance of the first quarter of 2019 and the line-up for the rest of the year, filmmakers appear to be convinced that content is the ‘secret’ to success 

Last year was an eye-opener for the industry as it threw up some exciting films that did surprisingly well at the box office. Some of these small- to medium-budget films even racked up phenomenal numbers.

It appears that Hindi filmmakers are finally convinced that content is a winner, something that is reflected in the numbers clocked in the first quarter. In the first three months of 2019, collections have has exceeded `1,000 crore.

January is usually perceived as a month when films don’t do well, except during the Republic Day weekend. This January turned tables on that trend, as it delivered a `230-crore-plus film like URI: The Surgical Strike, which is still running in theatres. Then there was the success of Manikarnika - The Queen Of Jhansi. Two `100-crore hits, Gully Boy and Total Dhamaal, from polar opposite genres, entertained the audience in February. And then March started with a rom-com, Luka Chuppi, followed by edge-of-the-seat thriller Badla, and ended with the period war film Kesari. The audience accepted all these varied films and seem to be hungry for more.

April has a magnum opus, multi-starrer Kalank and the much awaited Hollywood film, Avengers: Endgame, both of which are expected to work wonders at the box office. The rest of the year, with releases like De De Pyaar De, Student Of The Year 2, Bharat, Mission Mangal, Chhichhore, Saaho, Housefull 4 and Brahmastra along with smaller gems like The Zoya Factor, Jabariya Jodi, Made In China, Good News, Kabir Singh, Pati Patni Aur Woh, Street Dancer and Pagalpanti, is expected to mark 2019 as an even more successful year than 2018.

So, at the end of a very successful first quarter of 2019, we asked producers, directors and exhibitors from the industry what they thought of this year’s beginning and what they expect from the upcoming year.

John Abraham, Actor-Producer

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I want to say that it has been a great year for the industry so far. There are some films that didn’t do too well but that’s fine because you have the one-offs that fail. On the whole, it has been a fantastic year. And I hope every actor and every director does well because it will help us.

I also see a hunger in the audience to watch better work and I feel that we are lacking in the number of screens in the country. Another thing we have to take into account is that Hollywood franchises are here to stay. You can release your film with the IPL running but you do not mess with an Avengers: Endgame. You have to be cognizant of that and you have to up your game.

I think it has been a great first quarter but my fear is that the big ones may fail. I am going by what we saw last year. I feel that this habit of holding on to Christmas or Diwali or Eid may backfire. If you spend as much as `200 crore to make those films, there is a chance they may bomb. And the reason is that miraculously and fantastically, the others are working. So unless you have a damn good film that you have spent `200 crore making, don’t pick a good date because you will probably have a JA Entertainment film that will end up releasing along with you on that date!

Bhushan Kumar, Chairman, T-Series & Super Cassettes

The first quarter of 2019 has been a great start for the industry. I believe collectively we did a business of over `1000 crore. That’s a tremendously encouraging figure. Within the first quarter, it is pertinent to note that the audience has welcomed films of various genres and all kinds of content. Just look at it -- viewers have given a thumbs up to films as diverse as Simmba, URI: The Surgical Strike, Manikarnika, Gully Boy, Total Dhamaal, Luka Chuppi and Kesari. This is a great sign for things to come. The audience is clearly telling us that if you can tell a good story engagingly, convincingly and with the right dosage of entertainment, they will watch the film -- be it of any genre. They say well-begun is half the battle won. I am optimistic that 2019 is going to be one of the best years for the film industry in the days to come. T-Series itself has got some amazing films such as De De Pyaar De, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Street Dancer, Batla House, Bharat among several others. I am feeling buoyant for all of us as a fraternity after this stupendous reception in the first quarter.

Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios

2019 has started on a brilliant note and reinforces that audiences are hungry for good cinema - great stories, great entertainment and surprising content. The first quarter has seen a terrific variety of content from real life stories to biopics to commercial entertainers, and almost all emerged winners at the box office. At Fox Star Studios too, we released Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, a critically acclaimed progressive story, tackling a taboo subject with mainstream sensibilities. Our next release Total Dhamaal, a family entertainer was loved by the audiences making the film hugely successful at the box office. There were other movies like Kesari, URI: The Surgical Strike, Luka Chuppi, Manikarnika, which emerged successful and brought optimism to the industry and trade. We are very excited about our releases as we have our biggest ever slate - starting with Kalank, a magnum opus with a stellar cast, followed by our home production – India’s Most Wanted, an untold story of the capture of a dreaded terrorist, a collaboration with ace director Raj Kumar Gupta. Other big ticket movies in our slate include an adaptation of the novel, The Zoya Factor, Student Of The Year 2, Akshay Kumar’s Misson Mangal, Sajid Nadiadwala’s Chhichhore, Housefull 4, Dil Bechara and Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra with Dharma Productions.  

Indra Kumar, Director-Producer

The first quarter of 2019 has been kind to us as many films have done really well at the box office. By God’s grace, I hope the rest of the year is as good as the first quarter was. This year started on a great note and I hope everyone who is releasing films this year tastes success. I am really looking forward to Kalank, Student Of The Year 2, Super 30 and Brahmastra. I am sure these films will do well. I hope every film works and a good atmosphere prevails in the industry. We need to survive and thrive together.

Anees Bazmee, Director

Surprisingly the first quarter of this year has been great, films of different genres have taken over the box office. From URI: The Surgical Strike to Gully Boy to Total Dhamaal all have been a great success in the first half of the year. This definitely proves that the audiences are accepting different cinema and are open to creativity. The remaining year also has promising releases and I hope the audiences enjoy every film irrespective of the genre.

Sujoy Ghosh, Writer-Director

Honestly, I do not know why a film does well and why it doesn’t. But it feels extremely good when a film does well and it feels extremely bad when a film doesn’t perform well. Having that said, we know that that is what we have signed up for. We have signed up for the movies knowing that there is no formula to success. Every time you put yourself out there, the audience decides your film’s fate. And our audience is very, very sharp. It is very encouraging when you see different types of content being accepted. This helps us understand what subjects are being accepted. The audience is more than willing to give us many more chances with different content, topics and subjects.

Choosing to do Badla was a huge challenge. It was a known story, plus we were setting it in just one apartment. But the audience has been very kind. Like with Kahaani… they encouraged others to go and watch it. That is very encouraging and makes you very happy.

I am looking forward to seeing even better films because every film should be better than the last one and that is how we will progress. If I get stuck with one film then zindagi jhand ho gaya na. We have to keep making different content and, as filmmakers, we have to stick our necks out there and take risks.

Aditya Dhar, Writer-Director

I didn’t have the time to watch any of the films in the first quarter but from what I know, the first quarter of 2019 is one of the biggest starts ever. I think collections crossed `1,000 crore in these first three months of the year. I don’t think this has happened before. The kinds of films we have had, content-based films, passionate films from filmmakers, have all done well, which is fabulous.

Also, films of different genres worked, like Badla, a thriller, Kesari, a patriotic film, and others that are bringing the audience back to cinemas. And this is phenomenal because we were all thinking that due to ticket prices and the rise in the digital medium, cinema tickets have been difficult to afford. The first quarter of 2019 has completely changed that perspective for everyone. It is an amazing start.

There was a time when people thought that January was not a great month to release films and if you had to release during that month, it would have to be on January 26. Then there was the issue of exams the following month etc. But we have had back-to-back hits in the first three months with URI: The Surgical Strike on January 11 or Manikarnika - The Queen Of Jhansi on January 25, followed by Gully Boy and Kesari etc. These films have helped break some myths.

I am looking forward to many films like Gunjan Saxena’s biopic, which has Janhvi Kapoor and Pankaj Tripathi, and then there is Kalank, which looks like a massive film. There is also Brahmastra, which might be the game-changer of Indian cinema because the scale it is promising to showcase is extraordinary. I am really looking forward to it as it could take our cinema to another level.

I have a very strong feeling that this is going to be a good year. This year will also be the beginning of good cinema for the next few years. The most beautiful thing is that producers and filmmakers have understood that content is king. It is a process that took a few years, when awards and accolades were consistently going to content-based films.

Now I hope 80-90 per cent of films will be content-based because the audience wants that. They have understood that packaging and marketing doesn’t matter as much as content does. The films that have been doing well are content-oriented and those that are packaged well with good songs but without content even with the biggest stars are not working. All that effort has amalgamated and resulted in the films we are seeing in 2019.

Sunir Kheterpal, Producer

Continuing the trend of 2018, I think we will have a super-successful 2019. The first quarter of this year has been exceptionally good and we have collectively crossed `1,000 crore in Q1, which to the best of my knowledge has not happened in a very long time. We have a slew of films coming up from the top actors too. And audience acceptance of films is now of the high-content kind, where the stories are good and they are bringing people to theatres. This is a trend that is likely to continue and will be fantastic for content creators.

Also, I think this year will be big for Hollywood releases, starting with Avengers: Endgame, which is coming up this month. Then there are films like The Lion King and Aladdin which have a wide acceptance across India. I think this year will surpass 2018; the only question is, by how much!

Shariq Patel, CEO, Zee Studios

We at Zee Studios recorded a bumper quarter collecting `300 crore worldwide with multiple releases across languages including Manikarnika - The Queen of JhansiKala Shah Kala (Punjabi), Anandi Gopal (Marathi) and most recently Akshay Kumar’s Kesari. Audiences have applauded powerful stories and brilliant performances, which reflected at the box office. It has been a fantastic start to the year and a great quarter for the entire industry with Uri: The Surgical Strike breaking all-time box office records, followed by other films such as Total Dhamal, Gully Boy, Badla, Luka Chuppi and most recently our very own Kesari doing fantastic numbers at the box office.

Thomas D’Souza, Senior Vice-President, Programming, PVR Limited

This has been one of the best Q1 in the last few years. While all films have performed according to expectations, the biggest surprise of the year so far is URI: The Surgical Strike. The contributions from Gully Boy, Total Dhamaal, Luka Chuppi, Kesari, Badla and Captain Marvel are also very valuable. We are confident that the buoyant mood of last year will continue this year as well. The line-up this year across languages is very encouraging and signals another good year at the movies.

Rajendra Jyala, Chief Programming Officer, INOX

The first three months of the year were very good for the industry. Films of diverse genres have worked, be it Simmba, URI: The Surgical Strike, Total Dhamaal, Captain Marvel, Luka Chuppi or Badla. The first quarter has been very profitable. Today, is is almost impossible to predict the box-office performance of any film. Look at what happened in 2018! Three of the biggest films underperformed. On the contrary, there were some small films that worked wonders, such as Stree, Badhaai Ho and 102 Not Out. We expected them to earn `20-40 crore but they collected more than `100 crore.

This year, URI performed exceptionally well. We will see a mixed bag of big films as well as content-driven films throughout this year. But we really cannot predict which film will do well. If you look at 2018, you will see that the market for films has grown. I don’t think OTT platforms have affected footfalls in theatres. If they had, then films would not perform as well as they have.

It is all about content. If a film is good, events such as exam season, IPL season, Ramzan and pre-Diwali will not hamper business. It all boils down to content. Fortunately, in the last two years, people have watched films with fresh content even though they were perceived as small films.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, Associate Vice-President, Operations and Development, Miraj Cinemas

In terms of footfalls, I think the rest of this year will be at par with the last three months. The much-awaited film, Avengers: Endgame, which will release on April 26, will sell like a hot cake. Then there is Salman Khan’s Bharat, Ajay Devgn’s De De Pyaar De, RAW – Romeo Akbar Walter and Kalank. I expect them to work wonders at the box office in terms of collections and footfalls.

I believe 2019 will be very fruitful for the industry. We have good Hollywood films, Bollywood films and regional films releasing this year, much like what we have seen in the last five years. Netflix and Amazon Prime will never affect our films because cinema and the web are very different platforms. Even if they do, the effect will be negligible.

From the industry’s point of view, people’s consumption of content is increasing. Netflix and Amazon Prime are increasing the appetite of the audience, which will translate into the number of people going to theatres. It is an altogether different experience watching films at the cinema. Films are first screened in theatres and after about 30 days, one can watch them on OTT platforms. I don’t think these platforms will be a big challenge for our cinemas.

Rajesh Thadani, Distributor, Mumbai

The first quarter of 2019 was amazing because we saw all kinds of films doing well at the box office, be it medium-budget, content-oriented films or higher-budget, multi-starrer, massy films. This is a very good sign for the industry. Content-driven films like URI – The Surgical Strike, Gully Boy and Badla; a multi-starrer film Total Dhamaal; another massy film Luka Chuppi; and historical films like Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi and Kesari have all grossed amazing numbers at the box office. Even the remaining year looks very positive with the line-up that we have. As long as films have good content, the next three quarters will also be good. This year’s first quarter was indeed better than that of last year.

Brijesh Tondon, Distributor, Delhi-UP

There are so many films that have released in last three months that are doing very well at the box office. People loved films like URI: The Surgical Strike, Gully Boy, Badla, Total Dhamaal, Luka Chuppi, and Kesari, and these films are of different genres. Four films have already crossed the `100-crore mark and the first quarter has proved to be very good for the industry. It was definitely better than that of last year.

As far as the rest of the year is concerned, I expect it to be even better, given the line-up of films. The audience is interested in watching different kinds of films with good subjects. So, if the product is good, it is certain to be appreciated by the audience and everybody benefits from that.

Jeetu Khandelwal, Distributor, Orissa

This year, most of the films that did well were medium-budget films like URI: The Surgical Strike, Badla, Luka Chuppi and so on. Gully Boy also did well, but not all that well, in smaller centers. Except for URI: The Surgical Strike, these films did well only in multiplexesURI was the only film that did well universally. Gully Boy earned exceptionally well in Maharashtra but not so in our territory.

In my territory, 60 out of 100 screens are almost dead. We need massy films to reach our audience. But for multiplexes, the first three months were healthy. The upcoming list of films is a positive sign for the industry. We have a lot of hopes from the upcoming film Kalank. All in all, the year seems quite promising.

Jaspal Dhingra, Distributor, East Punjab

The year 2019 started wonderfully and films that did not inspire much hope did very well at the box office. All types of films – a multi-starrer like Total Dhamaal, war films like URI: The Surgical Strike and Kesari, a historical film like Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi, and a light-hearted film like Luka Chuppi – worked wonders. I see many good films lined up for the next quarter.

It is very heartening that films that do not have A-list stars are being wholeheartedly embraced by the audience. For instance, Badla was a very different kind of film and look at its business! If you have an interesting subject with interesting screenplay, people will welcome it with open arms.

Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi so well in North India. I am sure that the rest of the year will see more good films that will be loved by the audience. The time has passed when business depended on the stars. Kesari has only one star in the film and the other actors are not so well-known. The film is directed by a Punjabi director, Anurag Singh, and I am sure that in the next two to three weeks, the film will be stable in theatres. I am also very positive about RAW - Romeo Akbar Walter. The film has good content and it will do well at the box office.

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