We entered 2019 on a high with last year’s last release Simmba holding sway over the box office, en route to becoming the 10th highest grossing Hindi film of all time. Lighting struck again almost immediately, with the second week of the new year seeing the release of Uri: The Surgical Strike, a film that delivered in multiples of even the most optimistic projections of the trade by collecting well in excess of `200 crore domestically.
Since then, releases have flowed thick and fast, some striking gold and many falling by the wayside, and here we are – already into the second quarter of the year. With Q1 now done and dusted, it is time to keep anecdotal evidence aside and take a look at what the numbers say about our industry’s performance during the first three months of 2019.
Check out the table below that provides a snapshot of the recently concluded Q1 as well as similar time frames over the last decade.
The way to read this table is: 52 Hindi films released in the first quarter of 2017, for example. Collectively, these films amassed `601 crore net at the domestic box office, which was a 15 per cent rise over the previous year’s performance in the corresponding period. On average, each of the 52 releases during this period earned `11.56 core, which was 23 per cent higher than the per film average during Q1 2016. Three releases from this quarter had lifetime collections in excess of `100 crore each in a year that would ultimately have nine such centurions.
Let us now put the spotlight on the matter at hand: Q1 2019.
The key (and very heartening) headline is that we have not only registered the highest collections ever delivered by any first quarter but also gone past a major milestone by amassing in excess of `1,000 crore net for the first time ever. While a 14 per cent year-on-year growth may by itself not seem especially spectacular, we have to bear in mind that Q1 2018 was also very productive, with collections of almost `900 crore. So any improvement on that is quite noteworthy.
Indeed, for the third consecutive year, we have seen all-time highs being recorded and subsequently bettered during the first quarter. This points to a considerable increase in the stature and importance of what was once considered the most lackluster period for film releases, and also suggests a welcome levelling out of revenue distribution throughout the year instead of being quite palpably bottom-heavy in the not-too-distant-past when the big numbers really came in only during the second half of the year. That conclusion is backed by the fact that collections in Q1 have virtually doubled during the course of the last 3 years, and the contribution of this quarter to the annual tally has risen from 15-18 per cent in the past to over 25 per cent in 2018.
To a very large extent, the impressive top-line of the last three months has been made possible by the sterling performances of URI: The Surgical Strike, Total Dhamaal, Kesari and Gully Boy – each of which earned in excess of `100 crore – and decent numbers from films like Manikarnika - The Queen Of Jhansi, Luka Chuppi and Badla. Incidentally, by delivering four box-office centurions, Q1 2019 matched Q1 2018’s record on this account and we are seemingly on track to emulate, if not outdo, last year’s tally of `100-crore plus films, 13 – the highest ever.
Unfortunately, not all the trends visible in the data above are positive. Despite the record-setting cumulative collections of Q1 2019, average collections per film actually fell marginally year-on-year, from `16.24 crore in 2018 to a shade under `16 crore. A major reason for this was the sheer number of releases – 63 during the quarter or almost five new films per week in the Hindi language alone, which is obviously way more than can be accommodated in the limited number of screens we have.
Even more worryingly – although prevailing wisdom suggests that we are now in an era where the so-called ‘content-based’ films are bankable bets at the box office – many releases that seemed to fit that bill failed to rack up the numbers they were expected to – Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Sonchiriya Photograph and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, for example.
However, considering the diverse narrative spectrum of the films that did succeed – ranging from two war films set in very different periods and with very different tonalities, a slapstick comedy, a suspense thriller, a romantic comedy and an underdog story set against the backdrop of ghetto rap – we can hopefully assume that the overall trend of an evolution and expansion of audience tastes continues to hold true.
To conclude, while it was not a case of total dhamaal at the box office during Q1 2019, we had enough going our way to keep the josh high. Let us hope that in Q2 too, the movie-loving audience of Bharat continues to favourably respond to the trade’s entreaty: de de pyaar de!
- Nitin tej Ahuja