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How Streisand Effect made Pathaan box office collection break all records and un-cancel Shah Rukh Khan

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaJan 25, 2023 | 18:59

How Streisand Effect made Pathaan box office collection break all records and un-cancel Shah Rukh Khan

Named after actress and singer Barbara Streisand, the Streisand Effect suggests that if something is boycotted or censored, public interest might only increase (photo-DailyO)

When you are constantly asked to boycott a movie, there are chances that you yourself might be intrigued to give it a watch. The same can be said for Shah Rukh Khan's Pathaan (read our review here) which despite facing constant boycott movements, has managed to perform well in terms of its advance booking and first day ticket sales. 

With close to five lakh advance booking sales, Pathaan set a new record and is expected to mint anywhere between Rs 45-50 crore as opening day collections. All of this projected success comes in the face of the endless boycotts that had erupted out of extremist Hindu groups protesting against Deepika Padukone wearing a saffron bikini in Besharam Rang, Shah Rukh Khan’s religious identity, and so on. Even extremist Muslim groups were similarly making calls to boycott Pathaan as they believed the film would disrespect the titular Pathaan community. 

Another major concern was the media attacks on Shah Rukh’s own public images, especially in the wake of his son Aryan Khan’s infamous run-ins with the Narcotics Control Bureau. And yet, Pathaan is expected to earn enough to end the actor’s and Bollywood's dry spell at the box office. 

It can be ascertained that the backlash against Pathaan and Shah Rukh Khan himself only ended up being good for business.

Since the release of the film’s teaser and the music video for the song Besharam Rang, Pathaan has been constantly trending on social media and cominating news cycles. All these factors have only helped in unintentionally adding to the film’s promotion.

Psychologists point towards similar phenomena of unintentionally spreading awareness about a “cancelled” topic in other aspects of media and pop culture, mostly categorising it all as a case of the Streisand Effect. 

So, what is the Streisand Effect? Named after actress Barbra Streisand, the Streisand Effect basically points to the fact that if information is intentionally censored or hidden, it might only end up with the unintended consequence of spreading more awareness about this information. 

Why Barbara Streisand? The singer and actress infamously became the namesake for this phenomenon after the California Coastal Records Project took a photograph of her cliff-top mansion in Malibu, California. With the image in public domain to document the coastal erosion faced by California in 2003, Streisand attempted to sue the photographer Kenneth Adelman for violation of privacy. 

(photo-Know Your Meme)
(photo-Know Your Meme)

While Streisand lost the lawsuit, the image was downloaded over 4,20,000 times in one month alone! 

Two years later, in 2005, a resort attempted to take down photos of its urinals that were posted on urinal.net, a site that curated images of various urinals. With Marco Beach Ocean Resort losing the lawsuit again like Streisand, the blog Techdirt’s author Mike Masnick famously wrote, 

“How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don't like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let's call it the Streisand Effect.”

How the Streisand Effect can affect politics: In China, all mentions of Winnie the Pooh were banned on the Internet given how many locals jokingly suggested that their President Xi Jinping looks like the friendly yellow bear. Attempts to censor all mentions of the harmless children’s character ended up drawing flak from the ones against the Communist Party. Even today, memes and merchandise like T-shirts of Xi Jinping are common in Hong Kong and Japan

China is no stranger to the Streisand Effect as its draconian Internet censorship efforts have only prompted rebellious citizens to actively use and develop new VPN networks to surf the Internet more freely. 

Such cases have also been reported in other countries like Turkey, Israel, South Africa and India itself where videos, articles, songs, movies, or archival information generate more interest after being censored. This has increased more so in today’s Internet-heavy age, with piracy and data duplication being commonplace.

Streisand Effect and the entertainment industry: The most trauma-inducing displays of “shock value” in cinema are still talked about despite being banned in several countries. This is the reason why you can still find files of 120 Days of Sodom, and Cannibal Holocaust (which we also talked about in great detail earlier) on The Internet Archives, the same platform where the recent controversial BBC documentary India: The Modi Question was also uploaded for some time. 

Udta Punjab was finally released with an A certificate despite multiple cuts (photo-CBFC)
Udta Punjab was finally released with an A certificate despite multiple cuts (photo-CBFC)

The same can be said for mainstream films with some of the recent cases being the controversy-arousing Bollywood flicks like Udta Punjab and Padmaavat. The profanity-filled Udta Punjab faced the ire of the Central Board of Film Certification which was headed by the controversially conservative Pahlaj Nihalani back then. While Udta Punjab did average business at the box office, it was heavily pirated and downloaded before its release itself, making it the talk of the town.

As for Padmaavat, the Karni Sena’s best efforts and even death threats couldn’t prevent it from becoming a blockbuster.

The now-defunct YouTube channel All India Bakchod’s raunchy humour similarly got to reap the benefits of the Streisand Effect. Not only was the infamous AIB Roast with Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor heavily pirated and discussed for its outrightly raunchy humour but even AIB alumnus Tanmay Bhatt (who was cancelled later at the peak of Indian #MeToo for allegations of sexual harassment) managed to rake in more and more views when Mumbai Police asked him to take down a particular video. The SnapChat upload found the comedian mimicking and mocking cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and singer Lata Mangeshkar. Ever since politicians began complaining about the allegedly “offensive” video and even the police getting involved, the SnapChat video gathered over 2,00,000 views. 

Much to the delight of SRK fans, Pathaan also seems to have profited from the Streisand Effect. At least, that’s what can be said for now, with Pathaan having sold a million tickets already and becoming the first Hindi film to open with 6 am shows. The film also released in Tamil and Telugu, and 30 percent of the advance ticket sales also come from South India, a significant share for a Hindi-language film.

At the end of the day, the box office is all set to see a Rs 45-50 crore opening for Pathaan, thanks to the Streisand Effect!

Last updated: January 25, 2023 | 18:59
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