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Housefull, half empty

Busy dispensing tickets, BO vendors at most cinema halls are having a good laugh at the expense of Sajid Khan’s latest film’s title. But the joke isn’t on the multi-starrer, which opened to a relatively packed house around theatres...
Hindustan Times | By Serena Menon, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAY 03, 2010 01:35 PM IST
Busy dispensing tickets, box office vendors at most cinema halls around the city are having a good laugh at the expense of Sajid Khan’s latest film’s title. But the joke isn’t on the multi-starrer, which opened to a relatively packed house around theatres over the weekend and made around Rs 10 crore net across India.

The 70 to 80 per cent occupancy around single screens and multiplexes alike on Friday, seems to be leading them on a steady path to recover the Rs 45 crore spent in making the film, and the nine crore invested in the print and publicity blitzkrieg.

Even as a major chunk of the credit for the film’s success is being given to its ideal time of release — post the IPL, only big film after My Name Is Khan, after college exams and during the summer vacations — only the coming week will tell whether it can sustain and can truly be called a hit.

“The end of the IPL has benefited Housefull, as has the popularity of the music and the promotions. But the box office has not seen such a rush in a really long time,” says Komal Nahta, a film trade analyst, who estimates that the film should be able to make a clear profit of Rs seven to eight crore, if not more than that.

Rumour of the film’s opening even earned itself a comparison to the newest benchmark of a hit film — 3 Idiots. But some analysts think not: “It is doing decent business, but what is the meaning of comparing it to 3 Idiots. It doesn’t even come close. Earlier the yardstick for every film doing well was Ghajini and now this. Is this a joke? This kind of an opening is something that is expected from any Akshay Kumar film,” says Amod Mehra, a film trade analyst.

The fact that this film is about Rs 20 crore cheaper than Kumar’s earlier films like Kambhakt Ishq (2009), Blue (2009) and De Dana Dan (2009), that didn’t please the box office, also increases the chances of it recovering its money.

Says Vinod Mirani, editor, Box Office magazine: “With profit sharing, now the producer is not the only one taking the risk. So, instead of sustaining itself in theatres, it’s more about how much you can make on the weekend, and they are minting it. We can safely say, Housefull’s one of the best openings we’ve had since 3 Idiots.”

Now that the audience finally has a film to saturate themselves with, after a series of not-so-impressive-releases, only this week will tell the fate of the film, whose title seems to be talking, or proclaiming more than enough, for itself.Akshay KumarOverfull?

According to Komal Nahta: “Rajhans theatre in Surat was packed for the last show of Housefull at 11pm on Friday.

Apparently, the people who came to watch the film and didn’t get tickets, refused to leave the premises of the theatre. Finally, the theatre owners took a call and set another show for 11.30 pm. The tickets for this show were again sold out within 15 minutes. The show started at 12am. This is how much people were yearning to watch the film. What more can be said?”

This year again, you have four to five releases... Akshay: You know how releases work… dates keep changing. We expected a film to release on July 23, and then we find out that it has been delayed to July 23 next year.

At a time like this, when Aamir Khan is not signing a film and Shah Rukh Khan does only one or two is your decision to take this route a conscious one?
Akshay: Everyone has their own way. They believe in doing one film. But I like doing as many as I can. I like waking up in the morning and going for a shoot. I like entertaining people and I do commercial cinema. And I enjoy it.

Sajid: On the flipside, among the five existing superstars who can assure you your money back — Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan, and Hrithik does one film in two years. Salman does one or two in a year. Shah Rukh does one film in two years or a year. Aamir is very exclusive and does one film every two years. How is the film industry going to survive? Honestly, 60 per cent of the revenue for studios to pay spot boys, technicians and junior artists comes from an Akshay Kumar film. I ask him why he’s doing six films at a time. He likes working.

Do you consciously choose comedies? All your releases this year are comedies, as against action films.
Akshay: It’s not like that… Patiala House is not a comedy.

Sajid: Housefull is not really a comedy.

Akshay: If you look at the list of films that have been a hit in the last five years; 95 per cent of them have been comic entertainers. We have to do films that the audience likes. I have no choice. If I try to do different films, if I try to do Tasveer 8X10, four by two people don’t turn up at the theatre. (Laughs)

In small town India, there is a tendency for action films to create more buzz. Like I saw a poster, somewhere in Bihar, of a movie called All The Best, where all the actors in the poster were holding guns…
Akshay: Yeah, they do that. In Bihar, everything has to be blood, guns.

Sajid: Really? I wonder what they are going to do to the poster of Housefull.

Akshay: The bikini one? We’ll have to get the guys to wear a bikini. That segment has been a very serious audience for you. Your movie Jaanwar, for instance, was a huge hit there.

Do you feel that a genre like comedy brings you into the multiplex audience?
Akshay: Well, it brings moolah to my producer. That’s why I get more roles. They couldn’t possibly want to sign me again after losing money on a previous film with me. When I did Hera Pheri (2000), the comedy market was at an all-time low.
Internationally, a comedy film doesn’t even recover 30 per cent of its investment, as compared to a romantic film. Suddenly, after Hera Pheri, the market became strong. Things changed.

Sajid: It’s simple, 150 to 160 films release every year but the success ratio is not even five to seven per cent. Who are those filmmakers making films for? Nobody wants a film to do badly. If it does, it means only one thing — audience rejection.
Irrespective of cost or genre of the film, it gets rejected. A good film will always find its audience. And the audience always finds a good film. No good film ever flops.

For a fair part of your career, you’ve been accepted as an action hero and a star to the masses. Is urban acceptance important to you?
Akshay: It’s important to be accepted everywhere. It doesn’t have to be urban audiences only. You have to make sure that your movies run everywhere. It’s very difficult to get all segments to like a film.
It’s difficult to appeal to everyone. It is difficult to even decide what kind of films to do. The only solution is to do commercial cinema and leave the rest up to the audience. Thank God Dubai has started enjoying comedy. (Laughs) Earlier, they only wanted action.

Sajid: People don’t watch movies to fall asleep or change their lives. Films are entertaining, though it can be trash in the name of entertainment. It’s like a meal; we go to a restaurant to eat, not change our lives.
But you can’t serve sushi at a dhaba, right? The multiplex audience, which is 65 to 70 per cent of a film’s revenue, is very different from the guy who loves Jaanwar...

Akshay: Last week we had 17 releases, all multiplex movies. Together, they only made 10 per cent revenue. So where has this audience gone?

Sajid: Given a choice, any of us would want to watch movies at multiplexes. Not just because they offer better viewing experiences, but also because we like entering those malls. We like paying Rs 100 for the samosas, which in Chandan Cinema, cost Rs 20. They’re the same caterers, by the way…

Akshay: That’s Guru Kripa in Sion. I grew up there and used to watch movies in Roopam cinema.

Did you realise you’re going to become this big a movie star?

Akshay: No… not at all. I didn’t even want to be an actor. I was a martial arts trainer. I earned about Rs 5,000 a month. And one day I landed a modelling assignment and got paid Rs 21,000 for two hours of sitting next to furniture. After some ramp shows, I landed an assignment in Bengaluru. I had to catch a 6.30 flight. I was so happy, I was almost in tears. I woke up in the morning at around 4.30 am and at 6 am, I got a call and someone asked me “Where are you?” When I said I was at home, he started saying, “Unprofessional people like you will never get work.” I had mistaken a 6.30 am flight for an evening flight. It was a big deal for me, they had even bought me a business class ticket. All my dreams were shattered.

Then I used to go from studio to studio with my modelling photographs. Once, I went to Natraj Studio and I met this make-up man who asked me if I wanted to work in films. He asked me to wait outside and he went in to show my pictures to Pramod Chakravarthy, who called me inside and said, “Akshay, I really like these photos. I’m going to start a film, and I would like to sign you for it.” Just after seeing my photographs. He signed a Rs 5,001 cheque in my name. It was exactly 6.30 in the evening when he handed me that cheque and that changed my life. I always wonder what my destiny would have been had I taken that flight. I might have been a small model somewhere. But God had something else in mind.

Was it scary facing the camera for the first time without being trained?
Sajid: You’d gone to some acting school right… or was it some dance school?

Akshay: No, I hadn’t (nudges Sajid). When you make up your mind, you just have to face the camera. At the most, you’ll be humiliated and asked to go back home. And you will try again tomorrow. That’s the way strugglers think.

Basically, you had no ego at that point?

Akshay: I don’t have an ego now either. So many bad things are written about me… I have no problems with that.

Do you still ride your bike?
Sajid: He did it three days ago. He came to an event seated on a bike with a cloth wrapped around his face. I thought some terrorist had arrived. He travelled from Film City to Taj Lands End in Bandra in slippers. I couldn’t take him on stage because his clothes and shoes were in his car, which was stuck in traffic.

Akshay: Guys, please travel by bikes; you save two hours everyday! I get extra time to spend with my son. Sajid: But don’t travel like him, he’s the first guy in the world who has a driver for his bike too.

Most people succumb to politics in the movie business. You’ve stuck around for 20 years. Did you have to deal with it?
Akshay: I didn’t have to deal with much. Bad stuff keeps happening, but you have to keep your mind straight and keep working. I have never manipulated my releases and I am very proud to say that I’m the only actor who doesn’t have any movie in the can. All my movies have been released. If shooting has begun and I see a Mahurat (inauguration clap), I finish it.
You’re a disciplined person. You don’t drink or party, do you?

Akshay: No. I don’t go to parties at all. I just play with my son. I don’t even know what coffee tastes like. I drink fresh juices and hot water with lime. Thanks to the newcomers entering the industry, I have to keep fit.

When did you first realise that you’ve finally arrived?
Akshay: Whenever I think I’ve arrived, I always deliver a flop. (Laughs)

Was there a turning point in your career?
Akshay: My career graph has had plenty of highs and lows. There was a time when I had delivered 14 flops in a row; then I delivered 14 hits. I have never had a stable career.

Have you wondered why a certain film flopped?
Akshay: Some of my good films have flopped and some bad films became hits. I have no idea what the formula for a hit film is. I just try my best. After acting in 120 films, I still don’t understand the formula for a hit film.

Which good film has flopped?
Akshay: Sangharsh was a big flop. I think it was a very good film. I don’t know why people didn’t like it.
After all these years, do you tend to look at scripts differently now?

Akshay: It has to change. I have to be in tune with the world to see what kind of films work these days. Now I follow my instinct. It isn’t always right though, it can be wrong.

Is there any film you saw lately that you wished you were in?
Akshay: Yeah, I liked Wanted.

— Compiled by Serena Menon and Rochelle Pinto

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