3 Films that defied pandemic: Sooryavanshi, Pushpa and Spider-Man



Allu Arjun in Pushpa: The Rise—Part 1. Photo: Universal Communications PR.

Good cinema, in India, no longer has any regional or language barriers. At the end of 2021, three films—the Hindi Sooryavanshi, the English Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Telugu Pushpa: The Rise—Part 1 all defied the pandemic. All three were released with dubs in other Indian languages, the last one primarily in Hindi for the pan-Indian audience.

Their detractors and critics notwithstanding, all three films not only struck home (as in their rapport with the audiences), but to pun on the word “home,” struck gold worldwide besides in their home countries. They showed how the pandemic could not stop a good movie, not in the theatres, not with 50 percent attendance allowed in multiple places, and not with the health threats. The phenomenon reminded me of what a veteran distributor had once shared, that the 1967 blockbuster Ram Aur Shyam was running “Housefull” bang in the middle of a riot-struck New Delhi precinct.

Yes, nothing can stop a value-for-money, audience-respecting film. The resonance (or lack of it) may be subjective, but here’s where an axiom told to me by a veteran filmmaker counts: “A film liked by absolutely more people than those who dislike it becomes a blockbuster. A film liked by most becomes a hit. And a film disliked by more people than those who may like it becomes a failure!”

Since I found Pushpa: The Rise—Part 1 basically too long and repetitious, I must concede that it connected with even pan-Indian audiences despite those, and Allu Arjun’s stardom and performance, the action and the dialogues scored heavily. It now ranks, incredibly, among the Top Five highest-earning South Indian films worldwide!

As per India.com, the film ranks next only to Bahubali 2—The Conclusion, 2.0, Bahubali—The Beginning and Saaho. As it is still running with all the new Omicron-caused restrictions, it has collected Rs. 72 crore (or 7.2 billion) only in its Hindi version, and has every chance of overtaking Saaho, which is just about a hundred crore ahead!

On the purely Hindi front, the biggest hit is Sooryavanshi, released in Diwali 2021 with 50 percent occupancy in four states, including Maharashtra that contributes the largest Indian share (Rs. 81.43 crore in this case, incredibly with compromised seating!), has collected Rs. 195.55 crore “nett”. The “gross” is the actual theatrical collection, but that includes entertainment tax that goes to the government.

Add a worldwide gross of Rs. 60.84 cr. and we find that the film, which has now acquired a super-hit status and is the first-ever film of Akshay Kumar to be any year’s highest grosser, was the first to show the power of a well-made entertainer with the right blend of emotions, action, humor and also patriotism.

Sooryavanshi not only paved the way for the confidence of the filmmakers in the audience’s love for big-screen entertainment, but also showed that conviction pays off big-time! The producers’ consortium (Reliance Entertainment, Karan Johar, Akshay Kumar and Rohit Shetty) had held on its theatrical release for over 18 months, refusing to succumb to the OTT platform temptation!

We finally come to the videshi entertainer that exploded beyond expectations on the Indian big-screen as well as globally: Spider-Man: No Way Home. Starring Tom Holland and Zendaya, the film that has already made 7 times its humongous investment of $200 million has simply become the biggest earner of 2021 in India with a net of over Rs 207 crore already.

What’s more, Sooryavanshi has ended its theatrical run but is going strong on Netflix, and Pushpa… has just released on Amazon, but both films have proved that streaming did not make all that massive a dent in theatre collections in the overlap phase. The current desi trend of a window of just 4 weeks before a new movie streams on an OTT platform may make economic sense to the filmmakers.

But Spider-Man is still going strong in movie halls. Owing to its exceptional theatrical performance and the relief it has brought to theatre owners, it is in a win-win situation and will run in theatres in India at least for another two months. Globally, it is already one of the biggest money-spinners in recent times. For Sony Pictures, which has distributed the Columbia-Marvel film that is also a film marvel, it has crossed all the huge expectations from it! That the cinema-going audience can smell a good film is exemplified best by this movie.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Photo: Universal Communications PR

As Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer of the Indian multiplex chain, INOX Leisure Ltd., told the media, “Fans from all over the country, from both metro and non-metro circuits, have poured their affection for the film.” And in various parts of the country, shows were held as early as 4.15 and 6 a.m., reminding us of the biggest earners in Hindi cinema, like Gadar—Ek Prem Katha (2001).

To be sure, the two Indian movies as well as Spider-Man… would have fared better in normal circumstances, but the big-screen trio has truly defied the monster called pandemic.

And this is where 83 fell short even as it inches towards the domestic 100 crore club.

But that’s another story.




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