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A Year Of Surprises

November’s numbers were undoubtedly a surprise but, overall, it was a good year, especially for small films. Exhibitors review the year so far

The year 2018 has been very good to the Indian film industry in terms of content as well as collections. From the smaller gems getting their chance to shine on the big screen to the bigger stars underwhelming the audience and the box office, the year has been a rollercoaster, and now there is the promise of a thrilling end as stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Ranveer Singh line up to conclude the year with Zero and Simmba.

But right before we wrap up 2018 with a bow, we talk to leading exhibitors across India about what worked for them this year, which films have been the most profitable, the lessons they learnt from the dips, and which projects they’re looking forward to come 2019. Here’s what they have to say:

Devang Sampat, Director of India’s Strategic Initiative, Cinepolis

Across our 350 screens, we saw footfalls grow 2 per cent over last year. Because of the price increase of 5 per cent, we could grow as per inflation. As a business, we have seen an overall 7 per cent increase in revenue compared to last year. We are expecting that with the line-up of movies, December will be a better month. Overall, we are seeing that this year’s numbers will be 7 per cent to 8 per cent higher than the previous year’s, which is a good sign for the industry.

Coming to regional cinema, the South was a little weak this time. But regional cinema like Gujarati and Marathi saw progress this year. Bengali cinema has seen a completely new trend. In these three regions, we saw very good hype. This year, Hollywood was a little weak compared to last year but next year we are expecting one of the biggest films of all time.

The line-up of Hindi movies looks quite exciting. We do not have any Aamir Khan film releasing next year but the good news in Bollywood is that small-budget, content-driven films have started working. That is a trend we saw in 2018, and if it continues, Bollywood will see another benchmark year in 2019.

Mahendra Soni, Director, SVF Entertainment

2018 will be remembered for its blockbuster beginning and end. What started with Padmaavat, Pad Man, Raid, Baaghi 2, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, was followed by Sanju and GOLD as mid-year anchors and we will end on a much bigger high with 2.0 already breaking quite a few records. Also, small-budget films like Stree, Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun proved to be consistent money spinners for urban, single screens and multiple screens alike. While single screens, which are adapting to two or more screens with multiplex-like features, are gaining ground, single screens in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns are reeling under enormous pressure. There have not been too many profitable films this year.

However, Sanju earned exceptionally well. Race 3 and Thugs of Hindosthan saw the most drastic drop from the first three days to the last four days in the first week, in the longest time. Bangla films like Guptodhoner Sondhane, Byomkesh Gowtro, Uma, Ek Je Chhilo Raja, Haami and Drishtikone got the Bengali crowd back into theatres, and now 2019 looks like a promising year.

Aquaman, Zero and Simmba also look fiercely capable of ending 2018 on an all-time high. Also, I think 2019’s release line-up from Bollywood, Hollywood and regional cinema is one of the best in the last decade. This should encourage exhibitors to expand and consolidate over the next two to three years.

Rajender Jyala, Chief Programming Officer, INOX

2018 has been a good year for the film industry. It began with the second week of Tiger Zinda Hai. That film did very well. It was followed by Padmaavat, which earned big. Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety was a superhit. It earned more than `100 crore. Nobody expected it to do so well. Pad Man did decent business. Baaghi 2 was a super hit that earned around `106 crore. Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran and 102 Not Out performed beyond expectations at the box office. Raazi earned `120 crore. Sanju earned more than `300 crore. Dhadak also performed well. GOLD and Satyameva Jayate earned decently well. Satyameva Jayate is John’s (Abraham) biggest film to date. It almost touched the `100 crore mark. Stree was a big surprise. AndhaDhun, which was released in the latter half of the year, was a sleeper hit. After that, we had Badhaai Ho that earned `130 crore. Two big films that were expected to do well – Salman Khan’s Race 3 and Aamir Khan’s Thugs Of Hindostan – underperformed.

If the small films had not done well, business figures would have gone down. However, a big ticket film 2.0 has already earned `100 crore in its first weekend. The big films that tanked had weak content. The smaller films that did well are proof that audiences want to see something different. Thugs Of Hindostan earned `50 crore on day one and smashed all previous records. It is very clear that they wanted to watch the film. But the word-of-mouth was negative and hence the film crashed. Today, different kinds of films are working. At the same time, regional and Hollywood films performed exceptionally well.

Avengers: Infinity War became the first Hollywood film to touch the `200 crore mark in India. Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2 and Deadpool 2 did well too. Even Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Bangla films earned big. Of late, Gujarati films have begun to do very well. In the regional space, smaller films have become major successes.

Kedarnath is looking very good. It will be followed by Aquaman. Even that looks promising. On December 21, we have King Khan’s Zero. After that, Simmba will hit the screens. I am hoping that 2018 will end on a high. 2019 will begin with the second week of Zero and the first week of Simmba.

I am banking on Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, Thackeray, Total Dhamaal, Gully Boy, Captain Marvel, Kesari, Kalank, the fourth Avengers film, Salman Khan’s Bharat, Student Of The Year 2, The Lion King, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Housefull 4 and Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff’s untitled next, in the year to come. I hope they keep making different kinds of films in 2019 as well.

Tinku Singh, Group President & CSO, SRS Cinemas

Our organisation has gone through a lot of trouble this year. Despite that, I would rate this as a very good year from the business perspective, in terms of box-office numbers and footfalls. What was different this year is that blockbusters have failed and story-based films like Stree and Badhaai Ho supported the industry. Had the blockbusters also worked, the business would have been much better.

The industry generally earns most during November. Since Thugs Of Hindostan collapsed very badly, it hampered business in that month. But the months we had no expectations from, surprised us. Small-budget films have done well in 2018. We thought we would not get a big distributor share from these films but look at Badhaai Ho! It is still running in some screens. Although we have only three to four screens, Badhaai Ho is doing very well in those limited screens.

Punjabi films have done exceptionally well this year. Some of those films performed better than Hindi films did. They have fared better than even Salman Khan’s film. Entertainment tax went up to 28 per cent. Despite that, movies are doing very well in the Punjab region. And, in Bihar, a couple of Bhojpuri films are performing well.

2018 was a mixed bag. Blockbusters have not earned big, but smaller, content-based films have worked wonders. For us, a good film is one that does good business. The line-up for this month and the next year looks great. We have films like Simmba and Zero coming out. I hope they do well. Today, any movie can do well, not only the blockbusters.

Rahul Kadbet, VP, Programming, Carnival Cinemas

In terms of box office collections, advertising revenue, F&B sales and other revenue-generating avenues, this year has been great in all aspects so far, despite external hurdles like the strike in MP, the nationwide F&B pricing issue etc. 2018 was backed by content-driven films, and word-of-mouth publicity played a bigger role in deciding the fate of a film more than the critics’ reviews. Where international content just did fine, regional and Bollywood films with low- and mid-budgets also performed exceptionally well, apart from the usual mega blockbuster films.

Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun are still getting us decent occupancy. Industry-wise, Stree, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Raazi, Sanju, Badhaai Ho, 2.0, Sarkar, Geeta Govindam, Rangasthalam, Kayamkulam Kochunni, Carry On Jatta 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther are some of the most profitable films of this year so far. Every year, we make our projections on the basis of upcoming key releases and there are certain expectations from those big-ticket films. This year, too, we were expecting Race 3 and Thugs of Hindostan to clock great numbers at the box office based on their star-power and the studios backing them but audience tastes are changing and now they prefer strong scripts and realism over A-list actors.

At the same point, some unexpected mid-budget and content-driven films worked wonders in our favour. Regional films have played a big part in balancing the box office this year. Marathi films like Aapla Manus, Boyz 2, Shubh Lagna Savdhaan, Naal; Telugu films like Geetha Govindam, Bharat Ane Nenu; Tamil film Sarkar; Malayalam film Kayamkulam Kochunni; Punjabi films such as Carry On Jatta 2, Qismat and Sajjan Singh Rangroot; and Gujarati film Shu Thayu?  are among the few top grossing films of 2018 so far.

The market for regional content is also expanding rapidly in India and abroad. So far, 2018 has been better than the previous year in terms of box-office collections and footfalls. More than 12 Hindi films along with a few regional films entered `100-crore club. We have a strong line-up for December such as Kedarnath, Zero, Simmba and 2.0 is running successfully in all languages. In 2019, we have films like Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, Total Dhamaal, ‘83, Student Of The Year 2, Kesari, Bharat and Housefull 4, to name a few.

Gandharv Sharma, Director, Red Rocks Cinemas

Compared to 2017, the year 2018 was not very good, especially the last six months. The first half of the year was decent but the second half was very disappointing. So, overall, 2017 was much better. This year, the most profitable film was Sanju, while Thugs Of Hindostan’s performance was disappointing. However, Badhaai Ho performed very well at the box office.

The last month of the year promises to be good. The film 2.0 is a one-time watch but Zero seems to be getting good bets at the box office. I can’t say anything about Simmba right now as the trailer has just released and it will take a little time to create a buzz. In the regional space, this year was very good for the Punjabi film industry. Next year, I think Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi will perform well. Other films lined up for next year have big names attached to them. I hope 2019 will be better than 2017.

Pushkaraj Chaphalkar, Partner, Citypride

This year was good from the business perspective. A lot of small-budget films did unexpectedly well and a couple of big films like Race 3 and Thugs Of Hindostan, from which we had high expectations, failed. Films like AndhaDhun, Badhaai Ho and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety were surprise packages. Sanju was the most profitable film from the business point of view.

It’s been a mixed year but, overall, it was good. As far as regional films are concerned, in the last two months, Marathi cinema has been performing well. In November alone, three films did exceptionally well. Films like Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar, Nal and Mulshi Pattern did very well in Maharashtra.

Further, there is a good line-up of Hindi films as well as regional movies. In Maharashtra, we have Mumbai Pune Mumbai 3 released this week and a film called Mauli starring Riteish Deshmukh releasing after that. Both films are expected to perform well at the regional box office. In Hindi films, we have Kedarnath, Zero and Simmba. There is a good line-up till February and we expect the next two months to be terrific from the box office point of view. As usual, the summer season will be dominated by Hollywood cinema. I hope all the anticipated movies next year will perform decently, unlike this year.

Shivendra Pratap Singh, MD, Opera Cinemas

2018 has been a year of surprises for the Indian film industry. Films which were billed as mega blockbusters bit the dust, while small-budget films helped the industry sustain itself through the troughs, once again proving that content is king.

Though there were many films breaking into the 100 crore/200 crore clubs, like Padmaavat, Pad Man, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Raazi, GOLD, Satyameva Jayate, Stree and Badhaai Ho, Sanju was the biggest cash churner of the year. Thugs Of Hindostan was the most disappointing film, in terms of the high expectations everyone had, taking into consideration the studio backing the project, the stellar cast and high production value.

Regional films’ contribution has been on the rise year after year, thanks mainly to their rich content. Most recent examples are Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar, Nal and Mulshi Pattern, whose business helped exhibitors recover from the shock of the festival release.

2019 promises to be an interesting year, with a good mix of big and small films. Starting with Thackeray and Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi in January and ending with Brahmastra in December, there appears to be a generous serving of good films, including Gully Boy, Total Dhamaal, RAW, Kesari, Student Of The Year 2, Bharat, Mission Mangal, Taanaji – The Unsung Hero, etc. Let’s hope 2019 gives us more hit films and entertainment. Till then, fingers crossed!

Ashutosh Agrawal, Director, Star World Cinemas

2018 has been a good year. For us, Avengers: Infinity War was the most profitable film of the year. Even Sanju performed exceptionally well. Thugs Of Hindostan was a big disappointment. The smaller films did well at the box office because they were high on quality content. Those films boasted good music as well. Badhaai Ho had a good album and very good content too. The same goes for Raazi. Films like Satyameva Jayate and GOLD that earned decent numbers at the box office also had good content.

Music plays a very important role in making a film successful. I believe that producers should give more leverage to music. In Hindi movies, music is central. AndhaDhun also had good content. I am very positive about the films that are lined up since they are very content-driven. I am really looking forward to Zero. I am also looking forward to Hrithik Roshan’s next film, Super 30. I am anticipating the next Avengers film too.

Yogesh Raizada, VP, Wave Cinemas

2018 showed a lot of growth in terms of business and box office collections when compared to last year. However, some big-ticket films bombed. They had ‘blockbuster’ written all over them and we had high expectations. If they had had strong content, business would have been much better. Hindi, English and regional films, all of them performed really well.

The only films that did not do well were the ones with superstars. Their films tanked this year because their current films are always compared to their previous ones. Our expectations surrounding them are sky high because those films have a huge star cast and are big-banner films. Because of this, we get disappointed even if their content is decent. Even if the content is average or slightly weak, the impact becomes negative. Hence, average films do below-average business. This is a contra view or a reverse calculation.

A film is a package that includes a production house, distribution, direction and a star cast, among other things. Of these, if even two or three things fail to click, then an average film will do below-average business. We expect a lot from a big-ticket film. According to me, the most profitable films this year were Stree and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. Badhaai Ho has sustained itself and is still running across cinemas.

Regional films have also done pretty well, especially Punjabi films. These films were heavy on good content. Punjabi movies were not doing well earlier, but they have picked up in the last couple of years. If a Punjabi film releases alongside a Hindi film, it can give the latter a run for its money.

I am looking forward to 2019 and hoping for the best. I hope it turns to be a better year than 2018 was. Both Zero and Simmba have huge star casts. The canvas is big for these movies. One of them is a romance masala and the other is an action masala film. If they have good content, they will work well. Let’s see who wins the race! Coming to 2019, there is a lot of hype surrounding Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi.

Bhuvanesh Mendiratta, Associate Vice President, Operations and Development, Miraj Cinemas

From the business point of view, this year has been fantastic. We have witnessed a lot of small-budget movies perform extraordinarily well at the box office. That is the standout feature of this year. If you look at the sales and flop-and-hit percentages, this has been a very decent and sustainable year for all exhibitors. At the beginning of the year, we had Padmaavat, a much-awaited movie that did exceptionally well. After that, there were a lot of smaller films such as Raid, Raazi, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Badhaai Ho, AndhaDhun and Stree that earned big bucks at the box office.

We are happy about this year. Except for Thugs Of Hindostan, I do not think any other movie has underperformed. We got very good results from regional as well as Hollywood content. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Avengers: Infinity War worked very well. Avengers: Infinity War garnered around `250 crore in the Indian market. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom earned about `75 crore here. About 90 per cent of the Hollywood films released this year have collected more than `50 crore.

I am looking forward to a similar year in 2019. December will be a golden year for the exhibition industry. The response we have seen for 2.0 has been extraordinary. Kedarnath is looking very promising and I imagine that this film will easily fetch `60 crore to `70 crore at the box office. After that, Aquaman, Zero and Simmba are lined up for release. The end of this year will be very fruitful. I am really looking forward to Zero and Simmba.

In the first half of 2019, I am looking forward to Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, Cheat India and Thackeray. We have high expectations from these films. The kind of content that they promise will push them to perform very well. The hype surrounding them is also big thanks to their teasers and trailers. I am sure Thackeray will be a big surprise for all of us.

The regional film industry is a big support for Indian cinema. Five or ten years ago, regional films only meant Tamil and Telugu cinema. Now, the spectrum has widened. As far as Marathi films are concerned, Naal and Ani... Dr Kashinath Ghanekar have performed exceptionally well. The Punjabi film industry has boomed in the last three to four years. Today, the regional industry is giving Indian cinema a really good boost.

From an exhibitor’s point of view, I think regional content is becoming a major USP for the Indian film market. The way good content is growing, I believe we can take our business to an altogether different level. The occupancy percentage of the Indian film industry was 23 per cent to 24 per cent a few years ago. Today, the occupancy percentage of national multiplex chains is 30 per cent to 32 per cent or more. Given the way the regional film industry is contributing, I expect the percentage to increase by 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the next two years.

Satadeep Saha, Exhibitor, SSR Cinemas Pvt Ltd

2018 was very good in terms of content-oriented movies like Stree, Badhaai Ho and AndhaDhun. They were the winners this year.  I think Badhaai Ho and Stree have made a good profit for producers and distributors. They were made on a very small budget but they went on to perform very well at the box office.

The biggest disappointments for us were Race 3 and Thugs Of Hindostan. Despite their stellar star casts, these movies did not work. They lacked good content. As far as regional movies are concerned, South Indian movies did very good business and 2.0 will be the highest grossing Telugu and Tamil film of 2018. Kedarnath looks fresh. Zero and Simmba have massive star power driving them. They are both looking good and will definitely do well at the box office.

Prem Lakhani, Programmer, Rajhans

This year was decent. I think the box office business has been 10 per cent lower this year than last year but this time, there were more moderate hits, which is beneficial for the business in the long term. Last year there was Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, which made up a major portion of the profits, but we get to see a blockbuster like that once in a blue moon, that is, once every four or five years. But the way that moderate films like Stree, Badhaai Ho, AndhaDhun and many more worked this year is a very good sign for the industry. These films were not made on large budgets but they did reasonably well.

In Gujarati cinema, this year saw two or three films doing extraordinary business and a few other films doing much better business than expected. The quality of regional cinema has improved. Marathi cinema is also growing considerably and some of the films are extraordinary.

Exhibitors get a 70 per cent share for films that run for the long term. So the films that might not have started with a bang but then went on to have a long run were profitable for us. We have even earned from Thugs Of Hindostan, if we look at just the numbers, but that was a Diwali release. For any such festival release, our expectations are higher. Because the film dropped a week after Diwali and it affected our business for the following two weeks, I would consider TOH to be one of the biggest disappointments. Meanwhile, 2.0 has started well and will sustain itself further.  In 2019, I am not looking forward only to the big-budget films. I hope the moderate films do even better than they did this year.

Aneesh Jain, Head, Finance & Accounts, Raj Mandir

2018 has seen some really big blockbusters and some huge flops as well. Sanju became the biggest blockbuster of all time. Thugs Of Hindostan, on the other hand, was a huge flop. Content is an aspect where the film went all wrong. It was too long and it got boring after a point. When people spend three precious hours watching a movie, they look for good content. From an exhibitor’s point of view, I would say that 2018 was not as good as other years. The most profitable films here at Raj Mandir have been Badhaai Ho and Sanju. Stree also made some profits. I have high expectations from Zero and Simmba. By the end of this year, there will be some good revenues.

Hiren Patel, Assistant Manager, Wide Angle

The most money that we have earned this year is from a Gujarati movie called Shu Thayu? that stars Malhar Thakar. Before that, the highest earner was Sanju. It emerged as the biggest blockbuster of 2018. Thugs Of Hindostan was the biggest flop this year. Admission rates for the film were very high. When we opened online bookings, the ticket rates deterred people from watching the film. Many decided to watch it only when it premiered on television. And the reviews for the film were negative. My hopes are pinned on Simmba and the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero. In 2019, I think Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, Student Of The Year 2 and Bharat will be major grossers.

Laxmi Khandeshe, Assistant Manager, K Sera Sera

The year 2018 was a fabulous one, with various different types of content being released. The way all those movies scored well at box office was quite unexpected. Buzz and word-of-mouth helped these films garner footfalls at the theatres. Social media played a vital role, with the sharing of reviews influencing numbers at the box office. Collections have grown by 20-30 per cent over the last year. Films like Padmaavat, Raid, AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho found a lot of takers and garnered good footfalls.

The huge loss to the film industry was TOH, which disappointed patrons during the festive season. If we talk about regional cinema, regional movies like Boyz 2, Naal, Aapla Manus and Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar performed well and continued to run for up to four weeks from their dates of release. These were the family films with good content, which prompted the audience to watch them at least once. It has been proven that content is king. If a film has some kind of message, it will attract more people and sustain itself longer. I am sure these efforts will show results in 2019 and will once again uplift the industry with good numbers at the box office.

-  Bhakti Mehta, Bhavi Gathani, Titas Chowdhury

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