SRK's Fan reveals Bollywood's new king (and it's not the superstar)

Be warned. Mere hype will no longer save the opening weekend.

 |  7-minute read |   03-05-2016
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They say the true worth of a movie in Bollywood is the Monday after it is released. That's when all the hype wears off and the advance bookings end. From then on you really know what the audience actually thinks of a movie.

At least, that's how you gauge the Indian domestic box office. That's why movies are launched in thousands of screens on Friday (or a holiday Thursday) and that's why the hype is raised to unprecedented levels so that a good chunk is recovered in the opening weekend itself. Then you don't have to worry about what the audience really thinks of the film later on.

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When one applies that logic to Shah Rukh Khan's latest movie Fan, then it's probably safe to say none of his movies in recent times has seen a greater fall. It has probably outdone the disaster that was Dilwale.

While in the opening weekend, Fan did a business of 52-odd crore rupees (it was released in 3,500 odd screens across India by the way), SRK's film barely registered Rs 30 crore in the next 15 days.

In the second weekend, it dropped to Rs 7.75 crore and that is unprecedented for any film starring the three Khans (including Aamir and Salman) in the multiplex age.

The film has currently done a business of Rs 83 crore and will not join Bollywood's beloved Rs 100 crore club that already features 40+ movies. So SRK's Fan didn't even join a large club of 40.

To make matters worse, if Bajirao Mastani beat Dilwale after the weekend, this time, The Jungle Book did the same to Fan! It was even more humiliating because The Jungle Book released a good one week before Fan and yet it outdid the latter owing to the hype and advance booking.

Ranveer Singh thrashed SRK in 2015. It was Mowgli's turn in 2016. Ouch! "Chaddi pahan ke phool khila hai" at the box office too. In fact, The Jungle Book is expected to end with a tally of Rs 175 crore while Fan, which has made less than half of that, may not even make it to the next weekend.

Dilwale was touted to be one of the biggest losses ever for domestic distributors and they didn't make much out of Fan either. The film was made on a budget of Rs 85 crore and reports say that an extra Rs 20 crore was spent on marketing and publicity.

Total cost to the producers: Rs 105 crore.

Domestic box office: Rs 83 crore (Note: Not all of that money goes to the producers.)

So it's a colossal flop right? The answer is yes for the distributors, but no for the producers.

But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

There was a time when only the domestic box office mattered. It wasn't enough to surpass the budget of the movie, but films would do multiple times the business for the simple reason that ticket sales were shared by the producers, distributors and film owners.

That's when the domestic box office could make you or totally break you. That's why Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) totally sunk Guru Dutt and he had to immediately come out with Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) to revive his fortunes.

That's why Mera Naam Joker (1969) sent Raj Kapoor into virtual penury (by superstar standards, that is) and things got better only after the release of Bobby (1973).

The first lifeline Bollywood got came in the 1980s. Music rights. Musicals had always been the staple of Bollywood and great songs powered the movies, but it was the cassette revolution of that decade that saw the emergence of big bucks from music rights.

T-Series minted money in the 1980s and became a full-fledged production house in the 1990s. Its owner Gulshan Kumar became so powerful that he was assassinated in 1997. But you could also say that the 1990s' romantic era was powered by music rights. (In contrast, the 1980s could be called the pale imitation of the angry young man era.)

So if you had really great songs, you could recover most of the money via music rights and people would still watch a film for the songs and it would have a decent run at the box office. With the advent of piracy, music channels mushroomed so the money balance was still retained.

The second lifeline Bollywood came somewhere in the 1990s. NRI audiences. And for that full credit goes to SRK. He almost single-handedly created the NRI market. He was their first superstar. He still is despite flops like Dilwale and Fan. And he still will be for some time to come.

But now we had the situation where music and overseas rights could actually trump the domestic box office.

The third lifeline Bollywood got came in the 2000s as multiplexes. Priya Cinema of New Delhi had already signed a deal with Australia's Village Roadshow to get PVR to the capital in 1997, but the actual revolution happened in the 2000s.

Ticket sales went through the roof and single-screen theatres were forced to upgrade and hike prices. 3D charged a premium and IMAX even more so. Ticket costs became fluid and matched demand. A 3D IMAX ticket can even touch Rs 2,000!

The fourth lifeline for Bollywood came in the past decade. In 2010s, films sell on pure hype! Now all you have to do is create a buzz on the opening weekend through social media, TV, print media, corporate interest via product placement, mobile marketing, et al.

Get a great opening and half the job is done. The best example is Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. It made Rs 130-odd crore in the opening weekend alone; that created such a buzz that people flocked to the screens in the second weekend too. That it's rated a lowly 4.9/10 on IMDb doesn't really bother anyone.

You can see how Bollywood producers have it so good and all they have to is juggle and manage multiple rights smartly to make a profit no matter how bad the movie is.

Coming back to Fan.

Its domestic plus overseas box office returns are pegged at Rs 185 crore. It sold the satellite rights for Rs 55 crore. That itself puts it at Rs 240 crore. Many brands have been associated with Fan and it's anybody's guess what they paid and what's the final turnover of Fan is from all such rights.

Let's face it. The Bollywood industry is heavily loaded in favour of the male superstar. Only he can create a buzz and have a grand opening weekend that will ensure hundreds of crores of final business. A heroine still fills in the blanks in a blockbuster.

The other big winner is the multiplex. All it has to do is juggle screens and ticket prices depending on demand. There's Bollywood, Hollywood and regional cinema, with 3D as an add-on. It has the largest margins in the food business (popcorn, soft drinks and any other food item you may choose to buy). It will always do well.

The new superhit jodi in Bollywood is the superstar and the multiplex. The two will never make a loss.

But here's a caveat. A multiplex will remain a multiplex but a superstar may not always remain a superstar.

Rajesh Khanna stormed into the scene in the late 1960s and lost his superstar status in the mid-1970s. Amitabh Bachchan ruled the 1970s, stumbled in the 1980s and lost his superstar status in the 1990s.

SRK has had a great run, but he had been faltering for the last 10 odd years. If his upcoming movie Raees fails, he will be left with a hat-trick of disasters (starting with Fan and Dilwale). Distributors will be wary and mere hype will no longer save the opening weekend.

It can't all be about marketing all the time!

PS It started with intolerance, continued through Dilwale while Fan and Raees may fail to arrest the slide.

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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