First Half 2024: It’s a record low for Hindi Cinema

Laapataa Ladies was the finest movie experience in cinemas but did only average business. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Hindi cinema had a bountiful 2023 in terms of collections and blockbusters. The first six months of 2024 were expected to be at least on par. But the reverse has happened. The situation today is not merely gloomy but outright glum!

And the industry, as of now despite the calamities, is refusing to see the writing on the wall or introspect and is persisting on going down wrong lanes!

The year, in the ‘big canvas’ sense of the term, opened with Fighter, made by Siddharth Anand, the director of blockbusters like War (2019) and Pathaan (2023). Going by its merits and face-value (Siddharth Anand’s track-record, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone and an Animal-fresh Anil Kapoor), it underperformed at the movie halls, making average profits only when we added the extra-theatrical revenues.

After this, leaving aside the hits Article 370 and Shaitaan, we had few and far-between successes rather than hits, like Laapataa Ladies (success thanks only to its threadbare budget), Teri Baton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya and Madgaon Express. Adds distributor-exhibitor Raj Bansal: “Crew was an expensive film, so it will probably settle for around average in terms of business.”

The big(gest) hit of the year was the modest-budgeted horror comedy, Munjya, released in the first week of June. A definite super-hit in terms of the economics, it proved again that mass-friendly entertainment was vital, not stars, because it featured Sharvari Wagh (by no means a star as yet) and first-timer Abhay Verma.

June 27 saw the release of the Telugu-Hindi (and other languages) multi-star Kalki 2898 AD, which was hyped as the biggest movie of the year in a pre-orchestrated media blitz that involved trade analysts, publishing houses and the paid media. Though the Hindi version opened well due to the hype and the face-value (Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan, in that order), and did good business in the first four days (it was a Thursday release), there was a slump from Monday, July 1. Internationally, it has done better, ditto in Prabhas’ home state.

Shaitaan was the only hit of the year apart from Munjya and Article 370. Photo: Universal Communications

Slump extraordinaire

As some trade analysts were involved in hyping not just Kalki 2898 AD but also other movies like Srikanth, Chandu Champion and some others (the hype begins with “news” that X tickets sold in advance to predictions like “Kalki will do five times the business of Animal or Jawan!”—this writer decided to speak only with non-Mumbai distributor-exhibitor veteran Raj Bansal and get his views.

Mentioning the key factors, Bansal said, “Manipulations, corporate bookings and similar claims are now causing a backlash, thanks to social media and people wising up to “reviews” appearing even before a film’s release! After a record-breaking 2023, people expected at least 75 percent of that level of business, but the industry is damaging itself by these fake claims. The only element that people want is entertainment, preferably with good music! One decent title-song played a major role in the average success of Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya!”

That music did have a major role in a film’s success is shown by the way Animal and Jawan fared last year. “Pathaan had just two songs, but decent ones!” opines Bansal. “The re-created songs from Gadar—Ek Prem Katha in Gadar 2 were big hits too.”

Munjya is the only super-hit of 2024. Photo: Hype PR

Bad music also proved the undoing of this year’s films like Ishq Vishk Rebound, as Ishq Vishk was a musical brand. “Note also that Fighter had a very weak musical score,” adds Bansal. “As it is, aviation films do not work in India as most of them do not have really strong scripts. But good music could have turned the tide.”

The disasters were led by Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and Maidaan, exorbitantly budgeted and sold, and Srikanth, Chandu Champion, Yodha and Mr. & Mrs. Mahi also were flops, the first two also being costly propositions.

Bansal is not very enthusiastic about the second half of the year either. “We have Ajay Devgn’s Singham 3 of course. But there is no film with Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan or Ranbir Kapoor,” he says. “Aamir Khan’s Sitaren Zameen Par is a modest movie. Akshay Kumar’s films are no longer very hot.”

Bansal also stresses on Stree 2 as another potential winner. “There are a couple of more movies that look attractive, but they will all be in the Rs. 100 to 150 crore bracket, business-wise,” he declares.

Though experience decides that no star can be really written off (like Shah Rukh Khan blasting back in 2023 a decade after his last genuine hit, Chennai Express, or Sunny Deol steaming back with Gadar 2, a full 23 years after its prequel), Bansal views that as of now, there is no other big star around. “John Abraham, Ayushmann Khurrana, Shahid Kapoor, Tiger Shroff, Varun Dhawan or Ranveer Singh are not hot property as of now. Their pricing isn’t viable. And I don’t feel good about two or three Ranveer films being announced and then dropped.”

But what about the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-Rajkummar Rao-Manoj Bajpayee clique asking for exorbitant sums and even getting them? “That factor will be soon settled!” says the veteran. “But even then, Nawazuddin and Manoj are largely banking on OTT releases of their movies and not on cinema.”

The heroines, as box-office draws, have stopped mattering, except for Alia Bhatt to an extent. Deepika Padukone and Kriti Sanon seem to be the only other ones who count somewhat.

The South India-made pan-Indian movies are also nowhere as hot as they used to be until 2022, even if the two highest grossers of 2023 were both directed by South big names Atlee (Jawan) and Sandeep Vanga Reddy (Animal) respectively. The 2024 Annual FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) report by Ernst & Young clearly states that business in 2023 for South Indian films has marginally declined and that even the ticket prices have been slightly lowered.

Parineeti Chopra and Diljit Dosanjh in Amar Singh Chamkila, Photo: Trailer Video Grab

OTT Film Releases

The direct-to-digital cinema is also facing a quantitative and qualitative slump. While Maharaj this year was probably the most viewed and acclaimed, and was a Yash Raj Films’ production, Amar Singh Chamkila also stood very tall. Bhakshak and Aye Watan Mere Watan were worthwhile efforts. However, with the platforms now becoming smarter in the moneys they dole out to filmmakers, the golden-egg-laying-goose no longer exists for several mediocre makers palming off substandard products to them!

Worthwhile efforts

It does not take much thought to reassert that Laapataa Ladies was the best film so far, and Amar Singh Chamkila topped the OTT space. Next off were Article 370, Maidaan and Maharaj. Above-average products included Fighter, Chandu Champion, Srikanth, Bastar—The Naxal Story and Madgaon Express.

Kiran Rao (Laapataa Ladies) and Imtiaz Ali (Amar Singh Chamkila) led for directorial excellence along with Siddharth P. Malhotra (Maharaj). Amit Ravindernath Sharma (Maidaan), Siddharth Anand (Fighter), Kunal Khemu (Madgaon Express), Kabir Khan (Chandu Champion) and Vikas Bahl (Shaitaan, especially first half) were other notable directors.

The actors and technical side, including writers, have been all discussed in individual reviews of these films.

As for what factors can help Hindi cinema recoup from the mess, that will be another story.







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