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Losing Proposition

Exhibitors in the doldrums as the Padmavati impasse hits business hard. How are they coping?

2017 hasn’t been kind to the Hindi film industry. All eyes were on four biggies which were to release in the last leg of 2017 – Judwaa 2, Golmaal Again!!!, Padmavati and Tiger Zinda Hai. While Judwaa 2 became a huge success followed by Golmaal Again!!!, which breached the Rs 200-crore mark, Tiger Zinda Hai is yet to hit the marquee. The big roadblock is the controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati.

Exhibitors had betted big on the Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh-Shahid Kapoor-starrer, but the impasse over the film is showing no sign of abating. This means just one thing – huge losses for exhibitors. This, on the back of a particularly bad year, when the Hindi audience just didn’t patronise the box office like they used to.

There have, however, been a few consolation prizes, movies like Qarib Qarib Singlle and Tumhari Sulu, and there’s this week’s release Firangi followed by next Friday’s Fukrey. But these films don’t match up to the scale of Padmavati. Since Padmavati was to release on December 1 but is now in limbo, exhibitors point out that the smaller films will not be able to fill all the slots. Moreover, they have had to rework their schedules at the last minute.

This week, we asked exhibitors how they plan to deal with the crisis.

Mahendra Soni, Co-founder & Director, SVF Entertainment

We were all looking forward to a big jump in box office numbers in December and because Padmavati will not be releasing right now, it will make a big dent in the year’s overall projections. SVF Cinemas were to open two properties but their launch date has been postponed by two weeks. We will be opening with our biggest release Amazon Obhijaan. I hope the issues relating to Padmavati’s release are sorted out.

Devang Sampat, CEO, Cinepolis 

At Cinepolis, we follow the calendar year and hence December is a very important month for us to track our annual budgets and achievements. Any significant shuffling of movies impacts our projections and planning, while marketing communication gets very confusing, not only for the audience but also for our advertising clients. As an industry, we should work towards advance planning of the calendar and try to plan marketing and release strategy in advance too.

Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts (Mukta A2K Cinemas)

The shuffling of films due to Padmavati being postponed has not really been an issue for us but it will hurt the box office for the quarter. The magnum opus would have built on the Golmaal Again!!!momentum and now we will have to wait till the end of the year for another biggie. The shuffle won’t be a problem as there was plenty of time to handle the promotional campaigns and PR for the smaller films that will take the place of Padmavati.

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

2017 has been a bouquet of wonders for the audience. From whimsical movies like Jagga Jasoos to subtle fares like Tumhari Sulu, Bollywood has enthralled audiences to the core. Yet we were lacking that one big magnum opus, which Bhansali’s Padmavati promised to be. But the recent row surrounding the movie has hurt everyone. The postponing of its release has affected us and everyone else in the film fraternity, to a great extent.

Sunil Gholap, Programmer, Movietime

It is a big loss for all exhibitors that Padmavati has been postponed. We were looking forward to two big movies closing out the year but when one of them shifts, it upsets the balance. We had set some targets for the year end. Now we will not met them because of this last-minute change. Other movies, the smaller ones like Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana, Qarib Qarib Singlle, etc are running in cinemas still but they cannot make up for the business that Padmavati would have generated. Also, shuffling all the other dates has caused us to re-plan everything in terms of screens.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, AVP Operations, Miraj Cinemas

As an exhibitor, I must admit that we are in a fix. After the controversy (over Padmavati), there was much hype over the film. We were excited because it had soared on the popularity charts and it was also larger-than-life, just like Baahubali was. In fact, after Baahubali: The Conclusion released in April, there has been no movie that has been this big during this financial year, apart from Padmavati.

Expectations were sky high from this film in terms of revenue and other parameters. Hence, the change in the release date has affected us very badly. The shows allotted to Padmavati have gone to waste now. The films releasing instead of Padmavati are Firangi and Tera Intezaar, whose business cannot compare with the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

We were expecting a lot from the last quarter of 2017. During Diwali, we had Golmaal Again!!! and Secret Superstar.While the first film did well, the latter had no commercial value. In November, the numbers dropped again, with many small films releasing. They are doing well in their own way but are not doing great business.

We thought last year’s November was bad but the results of this November are worse. So, yes, it (the Padmavati impasse) is a huge setback for exhibitors.

Prem Lakhani, Programmer, Rajhans Cinema

The Padmavati row has  cost exhibitors big money. Whenever a huge film releases, no other movie releases for at least two weeks for fear of being eclipsed. Exhibitors were therefore banking on Padmavati but will run into losses instead. We will continue to sustain these losses till Tiger Zinda Hai releases in December end.

From believing we would hit the jackpot in December, we are now faced with a situation where we will find it difficult to even sustain our businesses, especially after the year we’ve had. We have three properties and we had blocked them for the release of Padmavati along with a few shows allotted to other films. Now we will have to shut one screen as the revenue from the films that are running in these screens is much less than the cost of operating these screens.

Satadeep Saha, Owner, SSR

Yes, it is a very uncertain situation for all of us. After Golmaal Again!!!, single-screens have been having a bad time. So we were all waiting for Bhansali’s Padmavati. Unfortunately, we are creating our own problems by protesting against the movie without first watching it. I really do hope the government allows the movie to release.

Debashish Sengupta, MD, Priya Entertainment

Exhibitors have been hit hard as we had high hopes from this movie, both multiplexes and single screens. This movie was all over the media and there were so many Padmavati stories as soon as shooting started. We had hoped to earn well from the release of this movie as the other movies like Firangi and Tera Intezaar, that replaced it, will not bring in the big bucks.

We are controlling six single screens and we have three multiplexes of our own. The Padmavati row has caused us huge losses and we are forced to keep movies like Tumhari Sulu running. No doubt, this movie is doing well but there is a limit to the number of shows we can run. To avoid closing screens, we are screening movies that are not doing well only to altogether avoid shutting our cinemas.

A movie like Padmavati brings in a lot of business. Remember, it’s not the movie alone that earns revenue but F&B is a good source of income for us too. So, if the audience does not come in, the losses are magnified.

Manish Talwar, Programmer, IP Cinemas

Exhibitors had to do a lot of juggling to schedule this film as it was a massive release and no other film wanted to clash with it. Not only did all of that go in vain when it was postponed; the losses sustained have been considerable. The controversy has the industry in great shock. But things must go on and we are preparing for our upcoming movies.

Pushkaraj Chaphalkar, Owner, Citypride

With Padmavati not releasing in December, the release schedule of many other movies had to be shuffled. This forced many exhibitors to suffer losses. It is a pity also because December was to be a blockbuster month, with two big releases – Padmavati and Tiger Zinda Hai. Exhibitors will have to now rejig their hopes and box office numbers. When the movie finally releases, it will hopefully not clash with any other movie.

Neeraj Ahuja, MD, Wide Angle Cinemas

This has naturally hurt our business and we still don’t know what is going to happen to the movie’s release. Around 90 per cent of the country was waiting anxiously for Padmavati to release. The other releases, like Tumhari Sulu and Firangi, just don’t compare in terms of box office numbers. The smaller films that are filling Padmavati’s slots in cinemas are barely racking up 10-20 per cent occupancy.

Arijit Dutta, Owner, Piyali Films

Reshuffling releases does cause slight discomfort if there are inadequate releases to compensate. In this case, the blow is cushioned somewhat. The setback comes from the fact that the next notable release is during Christmas. Reasonable losses should be expected for all exhibitors and the industry as a whole.

Ashish Gogia, Programmer, Suncity

We had high expectations from Padmavati and exhibitors all across India are facing massive losses because we had expected the movie to earn up to Rs 200 crore. If the movie does release in January or February, I don’t think it will earn as much as it would have in December because the latter is the ideal time for a movie to do well.

Kishor Kumar, Programmer, Raj Mandir

Till the Padmavati controversy is resolved, filmmakers are apprehensive of announcing release dates for their films as no one wants to clash with the Sanjay Leela Bhansali magnum opus. Therefore, cinemas are empty and if people don’t come to cinemas, what will happen to our business?

Gandharv Sharma, Director, Red Rocks Cinemas

It is not only exhibitors but people all over the world who were waiting for Padmavati to release. I think some journalists had watched the film during a special screening and they liked it. People should know about their culture and history and it is tragic that politics has ruined this for everyone. Exhibitors like us had made grand preparations for the release of this big-budget movie. Hence, we are sustaining big losses.

Akshaye Rathi, Proprietor, Rathi Group of Cinemas

Yes, the postponing of Padmavati has resulted in a huge dent not only in collections but also in the sentiments of the trade. Barring Baahubali: The Conclusion and a few films by stars like Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan, this year has been pretty dry. We saw two major films, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Tubelight, featuring the top two superstars of our country, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, perform much less than what was expected from them. Therefore, the trade had pinned all their hopes on Padmavati and Tiger Zinda Hai, to salvage the year. Now one of these movies, Padmavati, has been postponed and we do not know when it is going to release.

Every company creates their budgets based on projections of collections. December’s projections have gone haywire due to this film not releasing. Besides, when a film is postponed, interest in the film begins to wane a little. When the promotional campaign is re-launched later, the audience is not as interested as they were before. Fortunately, a movie as grand as Padmavati will not face this problem. For the sake of the studios that have invested so much money in this film, for distributors who haven’t seen a huge hit in a while and for exhibitors who need something big to survive on, for all their sakes, I hope Padmavati releases soon. Moreover, I hope that Padmavati and Tiger Zinda Hai release close to each other so that they can salvage 2017 for all of us. 

Mukti Gupta, Owner, London Paris Multiplex

The October to December quarter would typically be a stronger one for multiplexes thanks to the festive season and holidays. It goes without saying that good content is also necessary. Accordingly, this time around, expectations were high that Padmavati would do well at the box office on account of its big budget, big director and star-studded cast. If the movie would have released as planned, then it likely would have contributed substantially to this quarter’s revenue. Also, no big movies were lined-up near the planned release date of Padmavati leading to scarcity of good content and huge losses for all multiplexes. We are hoping that Tiger Zinda Hai will perform beyond expectations to cover up some of the losses incurred. Golmaal Again!!! and Judwaa 2 have done fairly well this quarter and have offered some consolation.

– By Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas, Sanghamitra Gogoi

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