Padmaavat stares at hurdles, but also has opportunity to earn big

The rushed release on 25 January in order to cash in on the Republic Day weekend, has resulted in a clash with another big-ticket film, Padman featuring Akshay Kumar.

bollywood Updated: Jan 18, 2018 23:53 IST
Lata Jha
Lata Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Padmaavat,Sanjay Leela Bhansali,Padmavati
A man walks past a poster of the movie 'Padmavati' outside a theatre in Mumbai on November 21, 2017. The film has been subsequently been renamed 'Padmaavat'. (Reuters)

The Supreme Court may have cleared the way for the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period saga Padmaavat (earlier Padmavati) but there is more to the film’s challenges than ostensibly visible.

Technically, the film will now have to be showcased in the BJP-ruled states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat but it’s not that simple.

“The final call will be taken by individual exhibitors as to whether they want to screen the film in their theatre,” said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema referring to the deep fear any theatre owner will foster thanks to miscreant groups like the Rajput Karni Sena that have expressed displeasure over the alleged disrespectful portrayal of their community and history in the film.

Late last month, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) granted a U/A certificate to Bhansali’s film suggesting a change in the title and other modifications.

To be sure, the change in title has meant complete repositioning of the film and its marketing campaign.

“A movie which was originally built around a very strong female character is now built around a poem, so it’s not just a name change, taking off the ‘i’ has taken away quite a bit of the spirit of the movie,” said Saurabh Uboweja, founder and CEO of brand consulting firm Brands of Desire.

That meant the idea of inspiring audiences with the image of a female icon had to be played down, Uboweja said. As a result, co-producers Viacom18 Motion Pictures had to come out with a new poster announcing the release date, advocating their respect and regard for Rajput traditions and denying any dream sequence between Khilji and Rani Padmini’s characters. They could also no longer cash in on the anchor song, Ghoomar. Moreover, the endless controversies meant it had to be a subdued second phase of marketing.

As a source close to the studio put it, “There is nothing to say. We will just release the film.”

Experts like Uboweja and Navin Khemka, managing partner, Wavemaker India, a GroupM owned media agency agree it’s more an informational exercise than a real marketing campaign now. The only idea is to tell people when the film is coming out and that it will be a safe and secure viewing experience in the theatre. Legitimacy from bodies like the SC helps in this case.

“They have to be careful, they can’t come out too aggressive, the only benefit in this entire crisis is they don’t have to worry about making people aware of the movie,” Uboweja said. “The question is how do you now get people to come to the theatres.”

As opportunity costs on the nearly Rs 150 crore film mounted, trade experts say Viacom found it inadvisable to wait. The rushed release on 25 January in order to cash in on the Republic Day weekend, has resulted in a clash with another big-ticket film, Padman featuring Akshay Kumar .

But the picture is not entirely bleak. Bhansali’s film has Tamil and Telugu versions releasing to reach out to a pan-India audience besides 3D and IMAX showcasing. Trade experts say apart from Rs 20-25 crore from Amazon Prime Video for the digital rights, Padmaavat is likely to make a minimum Rs 20 crore from satellite television rights and Rs 10 crore from selling music rights.

Another huge opportunity lies in the overseas market since Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures is distributing the film internationally.

Mohan said if a big Hindi film gets 250-300 screens in the United States, Padmaavat should get at least 450-500. In the United Kingdom, it would get about 175 compared to the usual 120 and 60-75 in Australia versus the usual 30-40.

“Even non-traditional markets like Spain, Norway and South Africa have expressed interest in the film. Plus, these international territories will actually get to see the original, uncensored version,” he said.

Many in the industry believe it could be a slow success story for Padmaavat. Given the limited release and the fact that people are likely to venture out cautiously, word-of-mouth and a clever promotional campaign, perhaps digital, become significant post-release. Acharya pegs its opening day figure at Rs 25 crore. A solo release, he believes would have brought in Rs 35-40 crore.

“While there are many people who want to go and witness the grandeur of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie that is best experienced in a theatre, there are security issues. But the audience also realizes a movie of this stature is best watched on the big screen. That advantage it will always have, like a Bajirao Mastani,” Khemka said adding that the film may have a slow build-up where people will wait and watch out for feedback and possible disruption.

“If it lasts three weekends, it could be the biggest film of the year. It’s very important to get this film right because a lot of hopes and money ride on it,” Khemka said.

First Published: Jan 18, 2018 23:53 IST