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The Poor Rich Year

A neat symmetry bookends 2017. We started the year celebrating Dangal’s ongoing success at the box office and are ending it with Tiger Zinda Hai roaring triumphantly in movie theatres.

Along the way, we had Baahubali: The Conclusion smashing all records (language no bar!) and a bunch of other successes. Some were expected (Golmaal Again!!!, Judwaa 2, Raees, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Jolly LLB 2) and some surpassed our hopes like Hindi Medium, Fukrey ReturnsShubh Mangal Saavdhan, Tumhari Sulu, MOM and Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Yet, as we all know, 2017 was by no stretch of the imagination a champagne year for the Hindi film trade. We will explore why that was so a little later in this note, but first, let us take stock of how the topline for the year has panned out, and where it stands vis-à-vis previous years. Check out the table below:

Domestic Box Office Collections: 2009-2017

With domestic collections in excess of `2,900 crore, this year was the most remunerative ever for the Hindi box office, topping the previous highs seen in 2013 by more than `100 crore. Ordinarily, registering record-breaking numbers and hitting all-time highs would indicate boom times for an industry. Why, then, are we not celebrating?

Well, for one, this certainly is a case of the whole not being truly representative of its component parts. Though this may be a compilation relating to Hindi film collections, this year’s numbers include the massive takings of Baahubali: The Conclusion, which is essentially a Telugu film dubbed in Hindi. If you were to remove the `500 crore-plus receipts of the Hindi dubbed version of that film, you are left with a more pedestrian tally of around `2,400 crore, which is at par with the size of the industry a good five years ago.

What also contributed to the seemingly impressive 2017 topline was the tendency of the few films that did succeed to score big – like Golmaal Again!!! and Tiger Zinda Hai both crossing the `200 crore mark, with the latter well on the way to a triple century – as opposed to a more evenly and widely spread-out sharing of the kitty.

A more accurate representation of the true state of our business, therefore, is to be found in the right-hand side of the chart which looks at per film average collections rather than the overall tally. And when we look at that figure for 2017 – an average box office of less than `12 crore per film – we realise that far from being in an era of unprecedented prosperity, we were actually better off in 2009 than we are now, as far as this parameter is concerned.  

Indeed, even this already underwhelming per film average figure actually understates the extent of the malaise that afflicts the vast majority of our releases. That becomes depressingly clear when you look beyond the hits and break down the year’s releases, as under:

2017- The Haves and The Haves Not

There you have it. While the Top 10 films of the year may have averaged a handsome `183 crore per film, and those in the Top 50 a very decent `57 crore each, the other releases were left literally scavenging for crumbs – a measly average of `33 lakh. In other words, the distributor’s share of a film outside the Top 50 would not be enough to buy a full-page advertisement in a national daily, let alone the cost of production. Another damning interpretation of the data: the combined collection of 201 releases this year was less than that of Fukrey Returns, a film that does not feature in the Top 10.

No wonder, then, that the overarching emotion in the trade, as this ‘record-breaking’ year comes to an end, is a sense of relief that it’s finally over.  

And with that, it’s a wrap for 2017! Here’s wishing all you wonderful people a very happy New Year from all of us at Box Office India. Party hard, but party safe!

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