Friday is make-or-break day for Bollywood. But there’s one Friday that is the Holy Grail of filmland, the day every director, producer and distributor has his sights on: the Friday just before or after Diwali.
And with reason. Some of the biggest money-spinners in recent times have been helped along by their festive timing (see Diwali Sparklers). “Tradi-tionally, the period from Dussehra to Diwali is what brings in the money at box-office cash counters, with business picking up the day after Laxmi Puja and continuing till Bhaiduj (which falls on October 20 this year),” says distributor Sanjay Mehta, who operates in the Delhi, UP and Punjab territories. On these three days, he explains, families, having finished with their shopping, praying and feasting, flock to theatres for a dose of entertainment.
That explains why, every year, at least two big-budget movies are lined up for a Diwali release. This year will see three — the underwater action thriller Blue, that, at Rs 80 crore, is the most expensive Hindi film ever; Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor’s sweet-and-sour love story, Main Aurr Mrs Khanna; and actor-producer Ajay Devgn’s home production, All The Best.
So crucial is the timing that Devgn is said to have been ready to pay Rs 50 lakh to the United Producers and Distributors Forum (UPDF) to book himself an October 16 opening. Fortunately for him, Sujoy Ghosh’s Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Alladin, which was reserved for that slot, was pushed back to October 30, and Devgn gleefully took its place.
Bipasha Basu, part of the cast of All The Best, points out that the film’s “family appeal”, endorsed by its ‘U’ certificate, is bound to help its fortunes.
Basu has her calculations right — Diwali releases are usually aimed at family audiences; this is not the season for dark or offbeat films. And ‘family audience’ translates into more tickets sold. As Komal Nahata, editor of the trade weekly Boxoffice, puts it: “Business picks up phenomenally in the three-day Diwali period.”
A strategy that superstar Shah Rukh Khan has worked to his benefit over the last 15 years. Baazigar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein, Asoka, Veer-Zara, Don and Om Shanti Om all lit up the screen on Diwali. With the exception of Asoka, all hit pay dirt.
“Diwali has been lucky for me,” admits Khan. “This year, too, Karan (Johar) had planned My Name is Khan for Diwali but owing to my surgery, it has been pushed back to 2010.”
However, the festive spirit lingers all the way to the end of the year. So another Khan, Aamir, is gearing up with Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots, pencilled in for December 25.
NEW YEAR HANGOVER
However, the excitement fades as we step into the new year. In fact, Bollywood tradition has it that the first week of the year is particularly inauspicious. And the record books show that this week has not thrown up a single hit in the last 16 years. The practical explanation could be that by that time, most revellers have downed far too many pegs and find their kitty empty as well.
“Christmas is the last commercially viable week for a long spell. Makar Sankranti in the second week of January is a window of opportunity but school, college and board exams take up most of January, February and March,” says Utpal Acharya, vice president, programming and distribution, Inox Leisure Ltd.
Up north, there is an additional dampener: falling temperatures sometimes lead to cancellations of night shows, and even evening and morning shows in Delhi, UP and Punjab.
Business usually looks up around March. In the past, the good times continued into May with only the wedding season posing any threat till the arrival of the monsoon in Mumbai.
But a new danger has reared its head: the Indian Premier League (IPL). “Those watching cricket and movies are not part of the same pie. But the fact that you can watch cricket at home for free has taken away a sizeable chunk of film audiences. Business was down by almost 25 per cent during the last IPL,” says Acharya.
By the time business has recovered from the IPL and the monsoon, the next cloud looming up is the combination of shraadh and Ramzan. This is a time of abstinence for Hindus and Muslims alike, and the old guard refused to release a film during this period.
Scoffing at superstition, younger players decided to change the rules of the game this year. “With barely 26 weeks left after the multiplex strike ended and 80 to 90 films to space out, they decided to squeeze in as many films as they could between August 21 and September 18 in order to avoid the big competition at Diwali,” explains trade analyst Amod Mehra.
In the stampede, September 4 saw 10 releases (five Hindi, four Marathi, one Malayalam and one English). And two weeks saw eight releases each.
All the films flopped. Even Wanted, which released on the last day of Ramzan, picked up only after Eid, while Dil Bole Hadippa!, which released on the same day, never really recovered. The old guard smirked, the young ’uns licked their wounds. Some Bollywood traditions simply refuse to die.