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A New High, But…

In so many ways, the year that we have just bid goodbye to was like a twisted noir film in which nothing was what it seemed and the script could veer sharply off course at any given point.

Despite the success of Tiger Zinda Hai, Golmaal Again!!! and Judwaa 2 at the close of 2017, we began 2018 with a sense of trepidation, our confidence shaken by a spate of high-profile disappointments that had preceded the aforementioned hits. Could it be, as commentators worldwide speculated in the wake of a similarly disappointing summer for Hollywood, that the sun was setting on theatrical exhibition as the primary outlet for filmed entertainment while Netflix, Prime Video and other OTT players ramped up their content offerings and subscriber bases?

There was, therefore, much jubilation, not to mention relief, as the beleaguered Padmaavat got 2018 off to a winning start and a bunch of hits – many of them punching way above their perceived potential – followed with a degree of regularity that was as exhilarating as it was unexpected.

As we rejoiced in the jackpot struck by the relatively unheralded Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Baaghi 2 and Raazi in the first few months of the year, we were convinced that happy days were here again and salivated over the bonanza that was going to be delivered by the high-profile, ‘sure-shot-blockbusters’ that lay in store.

But then the plot thickened.

Though Sanju and Simmba delivered, other big guns like Race 3, Thugs of Hindostan and Zero misfired to set alarm bells ringing. On the other hand, in keeping with the unpredictable thriller theme of the year, much like a seemingly minor character emerging as the true driver of the plot in the climax, unusual suspects like AndhaDhun, Stree and Badhaai Ho sprang a pleasant surprise at the box office.

So now that the dust has settled on this topsy-turvy year, what do the numbers tell us about the final story that emerged after all these twists and turns? Check out the table below that compares the 2018 topline with that registered in the previous few years:

With a provisional total of over Rs 3,400 crore, 2018 recorded the highest collections ever for the Hindi box office. That, by itself, would certainly have been cause for cheer but it is by no means an unqualified success. And that pretty much was the leitmotif for the year – that wistful word: ‘but…’

To begin with, while 2018’s numbers may have set a new record, they are lower than what the trade expected them to be after a very strong performance in the first six months, which saw more than Rs 1,750 crore being collected. Historically, the second half of the year always outscores H1, very often by more than 50 per cent. So given H1 2018’s numbers, we ought to have been looking at a year-end tally north of Rs 4,000 crore. Not only did we fall well short of that expectation, 2018 was the first year in living memory to actually have a stronger first half than second.

Further, what 2018’s record topline conceals is the pretty dismal state of affairs that lies beyond the chart toppers. That becomes evident once you break down the year’s collections, as under:

Now this is as stark an illustration of income inequality as any! While the Top 10 films of the year averaged a substantial Rs 176 crore per film (a number that will rise even higher once Simmba’s lifetime tally is updated), and those in the Top 50 a decent Rs 67 crore each, the other releases were left scraping the bottom of the barrel with a measly average of Rs 44 lakh – an amount that does not cover even the most rudimentary promotional budget for the smallest of films.

In sum, 2018 was by no means a year without its share of disappointments and lows. But (that word again!), all said and done, given the nervousness with which we began the year, we have plenty of reason to be grateful for the glass half full rather than rue the glass half empty.

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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