This Diwali, in a theatre near you

  • Komal Nahta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 19, 2014 19:40 IST year, to filmmaker Rakesh Roshan’s consternation, Diwali fell on a Sunday. Ordinarily this would not have bothered him, but last year, he had a movie to release – Krrish 3, starring his son Hrithik – and it’s well known in the industry that the box office is dull in the days just before the festival of lights.

Roshan was confused. Should he release Krrish 3 on the Friday just before Diwali when the box office would be just so-so, or release it on Sunday – Diwali itself – or even on Monday, the Hindu New Year’s Day?

After much back and forth, he eventually took my advice – and that of his distributors – and released Krrish 3 on Friday. A good decision, he acknowledged later, when the film pulled in Rs 65 crore at the box office over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, something he’d have never seen if it had been released on Sunday.

Smoke screen
A year has 52 weeks, and almost all of the 200 films released annually, open in theatres on Friday. For filmmakers, the most coveted weeks for a release are those that include Diwali, Ramzan-Eid, Christmas, Republic Day and Independence Day. The box office seems to buzz during these periods.

Christmas is a relatively new addition to this list. While it’s not perceived as a huge holiday period in India, it is one abroad, where the eight-day-long festivities give Hindi film lovers plenty of time to catch the latest Bollywood release.

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On Ramzan-Eid, it’s well known that Muslim audiences go to the cinema in large numbers after their weeks of abstinence.

But why is Diwali a bountiful period for the box office? After all, aren’t Hindus busy with Laxmi puja at home and in offices? Don’t people visit family and friends to wish them a happy new year the day after Diwali? And aren’t brothers and sisters busy with the Bhai Duj celebrations the day after that?

That’s three days of pujas and rituals, so why is there such a mad scramble to release films in the Diwali week? Why is actor Shah Rukh Khan so excited about saying ‘Happy New Year’ to the world with his film Happy New Year?

Are you ready? In keeping with his past releases, SRK’s Happy New Year will also open on Diwali

But this is not a new trend. For years, producers have released their big-ticket entertainers in the week of the festival of lights because the occasion is supposed to add to a film’s revenue by anywhere between 10 and 15 per cent.

Legendary filmmaker Yash Chopra would invariably choose this festive week for his films if he could manage it. Whether it was his Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) or Veer-Zaara (2004) or even his last film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), they were all released in the Diwali week.

Also read:The real Shah Rukh Khan

And because Shah Rukh Khan has acted in so many films made by the Yash Raj banner, by default, the Diwali week has become a Shah Rukh Khan week, just as the Eid week has become synonymous with Salman Khan and the Christmas week with Aamir Khan.
Shah Rukh’s Ra.One (2011) hit the screens on Diwali. His Chennai Express (2013) was also being readied for release during Diwali 2013 but when it was clear that Salman wouldn’t be ready with his Jai Ho by Eid 2013, filmmaker Rohit Shetty and Shah Rukh Khan sped up Chennai Express and brought it to the cinemas for Eid last year, instead of Diwali. And that gave Rakesh Roshan the chance to release his Krrish 3 on Diwali.

Again, Shah Rukh Khan was not sure till very recently whether he should release his Happy New Year on Thursday (Diwali day) or Friday (New Year’s Day) this year, thus giving his anxious distributors and exhibitors much heartburn. But it’s true, Diwali week is almost always bountiful for the box office.

Not rocket science

Why is this so? If practising Hindus are busy with the festivities, who’s going to the theatres? Well, for one thing, non-Hindus too constitute a large chunk of the cinema-going audience and for them, Diwali week just means holidays, not rituals. For another, the common man views Diwali as a festive occasion deserving of celebration, so watching a film is top priority.

That holds true even for practising Hindu families, who go to the cinemas once they are done with the festivities. After all, what are the new clothes for, if you can’t flaunt them, and what better place to show them off than in a public place like a theatre?

Moreover, a lot of companies, even today, distribute their annual bonus to employees a few days before Diwali, which means that people have more spending power during the festival week. And finally, cinema ranks high on the to-do list for most people, because it is associated with happiness and joy. In a country where cinema is religion, film-going is high up in the list of affordable entertainment – in spite of the sky-high ticket prices.

It’s true that collections on the day of Lakshmi puja take a beating. But the other shows register a marked jump in collections for all the same reasons. The same principle applies on the other two days of Diwali but overall, collections are much more than they would have been on a normal day. it is because of the boost the box office gets on such a festive occasion that producers don’t mind releasing two big films on the same day – something they’d never dream of doing otherwise.

Producers of big-ticket entertainers generally like to space out their films in such a way that no two star-studded movies release in the same week.

But Diwali week is different. There’s plenty of room for two A-list films to hit the theatres. If Ajay Devgn, with his Son Of Sardaar, dared to take on Yash Chopra’s swan song, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, it was because they were both scheduled to release on Diwali in 2012.

Years ago, Aamir Khan’s Raja Hindustani (1996) and Sunny Deol’s Ghatak clashed at the ticket windows only because they were both Diwali releases. Since all these films did great business in their week of release, the point was driven home that the festival of lights propels people to spend more than they’d otherwise do on films.

And this phenomenon is growing year by year, perhaps because of social changes. Today, youngsters, at least in the bigger cities, prefer going to the cinemas with their friends rather than their families. So even if a family might not find the time to spend three hours at the cinema during the festive days, youngsters have no qualms about going to a multiplex once they are done with the rituals.

And since many of them take up jobs soon after completing their education, they don’t have to depend on their parents for pocket money to watch a film. bang

Of course, a Diwali release does not guarantee success. But Diwali can change a film’s fortunes. The increase in footfalls in this period means that any film has at least a decent chance of not failing entirely, and a film that might do averagely well in any other week has a fighting chance of becoming an actual earning proposition.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra.One may have gone down in cinema history as an average grosser had it not released during Diwali. But thanks to Diwali, it crossed the average mark and emerged a winner because collections jumped on and after Diwali day.

Ajay Devgn and Rohit Shetty’s All The Best that released on Diwali 2009 started terribly slowly but the festive days – and good word-of-mouth reports – gave it such a boost that what seemed to be a losing film ultimately made profits for the investors.

That’s why the Diwali week will always be one of the most coveted weeks of the year for film releases. Diwali’s soundtrack of firecrackers is, in a way, an assurance to the film industry that the chances of a film bombing during this period are minuscule.

Komal Nahta is a film trade analyst and the editor of the film trade journal, Film Information

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