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Periodic Table

The last couple of years, as we all know, have been a phase of massive churn for the Indian (particularly the Hindi) film trade. Well established precedents have bitten the dust, just as have some ‘sure-shot’ blockbusters. Conversely, some unheralded films and talents have sprung a pleasant surprise, just as has the audience’s appetite for the unconventional.

While the change underway can be positive and liberating – especially in terms of the substantial expansion we have witnessed in the roster of talents as also the range of themes/genres that have delivered at the box office and the encouragement that gives our filmmakers to go beyond formulaic cinema – it can also be bewildering.

For instance, in the not-too-distant past, most of us in the trade had a pretty good idea of what were the best and worst windows to schedule a film’s release in. The Eid, Diwali and Christmas weekends – and by extension, the months in which these festivals occurred – were on the top of everyone’s wish lists. On the other hand, weekends/months affected by the IPL tournament, school/college exams or the observance of religious events like Ramzan or shraadh were to be avoided as far as possible.

When so much has changed in the recent past, it stands to reason that we need to reexamine the validity of our preconceived notions on favourable or unfavourable release periods, especially since we have increasingly been witnessing ‘freak’ occurrences like big-budget disappointments even during the most bankable weekends and surprise hits emerging in what are considered dull periods.

With that objective in mind, we are breaking down the collections amassed each year during the current decade into various time periods to observe the trends that emerge. As under:

It is a pretty simple table to read once you get the hang of it and it holds some very interesting insights. The headlines: on average, December is the most productive month for the Hindi film box office, followed by July, while March and February yield the slimmest pickings. The third quarter (July to September) narrowly pips Q4 to take top honours, while the first quarter (January to April) is at the bottom of the pile.

Perhaps what is most striking about the data presented above is the way it underlines how paradigm shifting and unpredictable the last couple of years have been.

Earlier, the most remunerative months were almost always found in the last quarter of the year whereas the leanest months were found in the first half. This went for a toss in 2017, with April yielding the maximum collections while November – which otherwise has taken the top spot the maximum number of times – was the most barren. But before we could even start preparing ourselves to accept that perhaps this was the new normal, the numbers went in a totally different direction in the recently concluded 2018 – June took pole position for the very first time while the preceding year’s topper, April, brought up the rear this time around!

Another discernible and significant shift during the last two years is the one in the relative contribution of the first and second halves of the year to the annual box office. For much of the chart, the July-December span easily outscores the January-June period, with 60:40 being the general ratio. However, 2017 saw the gap closing quite substantially and in 2018, the first half actually topped the second by a whisker.

Moral of the story: a recurring theme in the mixed messages that the box office has been sending us of late is that there are no sacred cows any more, just as there aren’t any taboos when it comes to the narratives of our films and the stars/actors that feature in them. The same holds true even for our release calendar… there are no ‘safe’ or ‘no-fly’ zones any longer and like much else, it all boils down to the makers’ conviction in their films.

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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