Trade Tutor: Here's why the dull box office run of Ranveer Singh's 83' is good for Bollywood
I met Mr. Pankaj Tripathi exactly a month before 83’s release and he was all praises for the film. I had been hearing murmurs even before, that the film had shaped up really well. As the release date approached, more screenings happened and word of mouth was electric. When the film was a week away, I had started hearing stories that it was even better than Bajrangi Bhaijaan. The press screenings happened and the film was declared a blockbuster. Some journalists compared it to Sholay and Mughal-e-Azam. It was widely publicized that records would be shattered at the ticket counters. "Cinemas will become stadiums and people will line up to watch this masterpiece."
Well, none of that happened and the film struggled from day 1 at the ticket counters. I had no doubts that 83 would be a terrific film. I believed every word Tripathi ji said, but the Box Office is a different beast altogether. I just couldn’t get my head around how a Sports Historical Drama could be a theatrical blockbuster. It never happened before and even globally, sports dramas, as a genre, were now ordered by OTT platforms. The thing that was of great concern was the fact that as an Industry, Bollywood believed that 83 would set the Box Office on fire. People believed that a niche product with the help of scale, visuals, patriotism and a national obsession ( cricket) could help it reach Box Office glory. This is exactly the issue a majority of Bollywood filmmakers are suffering from; thinking that niche is universal. Hence, most films post Covid have tanked at the ticket counters.
83 till date has managed to sell approximately 57-58 lakh tickets (Majority in Metros) and on the other hand, Allu Arjun’s Hindi version of Pushpa has sold 75 lakh tickets (despite poor showcasing in first two weeks). This shows how disconnected Bollywood has become with its audience that a Telugu dubbed film has sold more tickets in its backyard than its supposed Blockbuster. The only Bollywood film to stand tall amongst ruins is Sooryavanshi (1.25cr tickets sold approx). Rohit Shetty, its maker, is an exception in Bollywood and not the rule. He has faced enough ridicule over his brand of Cinema by local press but has stood his ground to make everyone around him eat humble pie today.
Any film Industry needs to have theatrical muscle to survive and grow, else, other industries will take over your market and you will lose significance. There are many examples of Industries dying and markets being taken over by Hollywood. Theatrical success is important as you create great cinematic brands inside movie theatres, which can be subsequently monetized on other platforms.
Theatrical content of today is a different creature altogether. It has evolved tremendously post the arrival of deep pocketed OTT platforms. Many genres don’t work theatrically post Covid, for example, dramas are not working theatrically. Films targeting mature audiences find themselves in a spot these days as the audience hasn’t come back post Covid in full strength. Genre specific films are finding it difficult to get openings in cinemas. Films that are universal in nature and have wide appeal, are the ones that are pulling in audiences.
Today, I see a realization setting in Bollywood post 83, that theatrical films need to cater to the widest possible audience in order to get results. The small town audience that powered Pushpa to Blockbuster status, needs its attention. Films that are being announced are big films, popularly called as Multi Genre Filmmaking. Films that have action, romance, dance, songs, comedy and dollops of emotions are the ones that can bring Bollywood back in the reckoning. Films that excite all sections of audiences across the country are in the works. All top stars are now amping up budgets to dazzle audiences. Action in hindi films, that had nearly vanished barring few odd films, is making a huge comeback.
These are terrific signs for the industry. Bollywood caters to the biggest market in India and over the last decade it had fallen into a comfort zone and focused only on metros. Financially, they were successful, but erosion had set in and now it is facing stiff competition from Hollywood and Southern Filmmakers. Course correction is happening and the next lot of films holds promise. Bollywood has to go wide and conquer their core audience that resides in small towns of India. I am hopeful that in the near future, we will see a spate of Universal Blockbusters from Bollywood.
Also read: Trade Tutor: Has Bollywood lost its MOJO?