Cinemas rest on Ranbir-Alia starrer Brahmastra to tip scales for Bollywood
After a dismal two months when big-ticket movies sank at the box office, multiplex owners are counting on Brahmastra that releases on Friday to swing their fortunes this quarter (July-September).
The fantasy adventure from the Dharma Productions stable starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt comes at a time overall box office collections have dropped 20 per cent in July-August (over pre-Covid levels) and occupancy rates have gone down from an average of 25-27 per cent to 20-22 per cent, according to analysts.
The stock market prices of listed exhibition companies reflect the concern. For instance, PVR’s shares have fallen by 9.74 per cent in the last one month ending at Rs 1,922 on September 8 (the overall index, however, was in the green).
But there might be some good news. According to sources, Brahmastra is getting a theatrical release in over 5,000 screens in India and 3,000 screens abroad — a record of sorts — and in five languages (Hindi, Kanada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam). The movie will also run in 650 of PVR’s screens.
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Kamal Gianchandani, chief business planning and strategy, PVR Ltd, and also president of the Multiplex Association of India, said: “Our advance bookings have already hit Rs 10 crore, which we expect will go up by another Rs 2 crore till Thursday night. Brahmastra is actually faring better than the dubbed blockbuster RRR, so that is a good sign. After the failure of several big movies in the last two months, there is a lot of buzz around it.”
That only does not ensure a blockbuster future, considering that Brahmastra has been produced on a budget of over Rs 400 crore making it the most expensive Hindi film ever. Trade experts point out that it has to make at least Rs 300 crore (as producers will get only half the amount) to break even with the balance coming from over-the-top (OTT) satellite rights and overseas income.
Shibasish Sarkar, former CEO of Reliance Entertainment and producer of Hindi blockbusters like Sooryavanshi, said: “Based on the advance bookings one can project a first day collection of Rs 20-30 crore. But for the movie to really gain momentum it should be able to sell tickets that are five to seven times of advance sales. And that will be decided by the public based on the quality of content.”
The last two months were marked by box-office disasters. Three big releases — Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, Kapoor’s Shamsera and Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan — in July-August had a collective budget of Rs 490 crore. But they made only a third of the money from the domestic box office.
South Indian movies dubbed in Hindi — which have salvaged the losses of Bollywood flicks (they still account for 50 per cent of multiplex business) of late — also couldn’t recreate the same magic in the last two months. A case in point is Liger, helmed by Telugu superstar Vijay Deverakonda and was shot both in Hindi and Telugu, which was released on August 25.
Multiplex chains PVR and Inox had record revenues and profits in Q1 FY2023. A substantial portion of PVR’s revenues came from South Indian blockbusters dubbed in Hindi (such as KGF 2, RRR and Vikram) that became big hits and accounted for 45 per cent of its total gross box office collections.
There has been a shift in the movie business after Covid-19, said Sarkar. “What we are seeing is that audiences are either going in droves to see a movie and making it a blockbuster or rejecting it outright. Movies are no longer doing average business — the verdict from people is decisive now. They always have the choice of OTT, which has no shortage of content.”
Many film production companies are worried at the inability of theatres to draw audiences. A top executive of a production house said that only good content drove their (exhibitors’) bus, fearing that footfalls might continue to fall.
The only recourse for theatres has been to increase ticket prices, which rose 20 per cent in Q1 2023 (is it FY 2023?) and will go up further. However, that could backfire as the core target group is the younger generation, which is unlikely to sit through a three-hour movie besides ad breaks and intermission that is supposed to allow theatre owners to increase revenues through food and beverages. “Increased pricing and long viewing experience will be a self-inflicted death knell for cinemas in India,” the executive argued.
Analysts, too, are worried that as multiplexes operate properties on fixed long-term leases with escalation clauses, they could suffer if footfall drops and content remains patchy.
That explains why different stakeholders are pinning their hopes on Brahmastra to turn the tide ahead of the festive season.