How the Pandemic altered the Box-Office Math—Part 2: The Theatrical Quotient

Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar. Photo: Universal Comminications

In the first part of this series (How the Pandemic altered star- and other movie equations—Part 1) on June 3, I analyzed the effect of the pandemic on cinema and the top stars. Here is how things have changed in multiple ways!

The Great Change!

With a general consensus (exceptions apart) that big-ticket (and all other) films will stream on OTT within four or a maximum 8 weeks after theatrical release (irrespective of  the b-o. response), it needed extraordinary content for audiences to not wait for the streaming date and visit the theatres on release, and subscribe willingly to high ticket rates and extraordinary F & B costs.

Single-screens had now become largely inoperative, as the already struggling cinema halls could not survive the long pandemic closure. An estimated 2000-plus of such 6000 screens countrywide had packed up for good during the scourge, leaving audiences at the mercy of the ruthlessly-expensive ‘plexes.

It is for this reason also that Salman Khan’s traditional audience could not rescue Antim—The Final Truth (admittedly a terrible rehash of the Marathi Mulshi Pattern), which did not get collections worthy of his fandom. Ajay Devgn’s visually-opulent Runway 34 could not make any mark until it was shown on OTT. And while disasters and bad films deservedly flopped now, the audience did not want to watch anything unremarkable in cinema halls at great expense (a calculated barest minimum Rs. 2000 for a family of four!). Personal finances, thanks to job uncertainties and business upheavals, were key add-on factors, especially with the comparatively very low-cost television and OTT waiting at home!

The only direct-to-digital films that truly were “successful” even in the ambiguous audience-response zones of streaming platforms were Shershaah (which upped Sidharth Malhotra’s status) and Mimi. Otherwise, even on OTT, the overwhelming majority of films were of the kind that would not have survived even for a week had they released in cinema halls. Some of these, obviously, were critically acclaimed. In the post-Covid scenario, too, only Darlings made an impact.

Vijay Deverakonda in Liger, one of the many South disasters, Photo: Universal Communications

Meanwhile, the big-screen success experience (Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Brahmastra: Part One—Shiva, Drishyam 2) was, so to speak, complicated by two more factors: One, exceptional content-heavy films, The Kashmir Files and now The Kerala Story, broke records and smashed through the Rs. 200-crore barrier when most star-heavy films could not, and two, another factor seemed to loom large: the pan-Indian South-made dubbed or bilingual film.

That the latter was a false alarm, despite Pushpa—The Rise: Part 1 steaming past Rs. 100 crore in Hindi in December 2021, and RRR and KGF 2 becoming blockbusters in early 2022, was soon evident. Decent figures were notched up by Kantara and even Karthikeya 2 in their Hindi dubs, but an overwhelming lot of let’s-cash-in-on-Hindi-versions movies like Valimai, Liger and the PS franchise fell flat on their faces—and continue to do so.

However, Hindi remakes of South hits that could have made a good impact failed too, either because the originals had been watched on OTT already (like Vikram Vedha) or had been needlessly altered for the worse with a perceived pan-India allure in mind (Selfiee, Shehzada, Bholaa). The sole glittering exception was Drishyam 2, which director Abhishek Pathak smartly retreated and improved in small but significant ways over its Malayalam original.  So much so, that Drishyam 3 is now being simultaneously shot in Hindi by Pathak and in Malayalam by original writer-director Jeethu Joseph to cash in on the curiosity.

And, to see the flipside, quite a few original films that would have done well or at least average business now stood no chance theatrically. Also, mismanaged economics and promotions made it doubly sure that most of the country was not even aware of their existence and content. Add lack of star allure and good music and we know what caused such reversals.

In 2023, the dark scenario so far is brightened only by two definite hits: Pathaan and The Kerala Story. In five months, the only other partial success is Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, and there are sources that dispute that tag to it. The audience is now super-cautious, and even forthcoming big-ticket releases like Adipurush (from the makers of Tanhaji…) or Gadar 2: The Katha Continues (the all-time 2001 blockbuster’s sequel) are looked at with enthusiasm more on social media than in reality.

Hard-earned money is the key that has to fit the lock of success!

How top names stand today

So who sells now?

It is perhaps an outlandish and ridiculous idea to rate stars on the basis of the total collections their films (hit, success and flops) have made! That automatically means that someone with more films just might get a higher rating. On the other hand, with Pathaan being Shah Rukh Khan’s only release in the last 5 years (and John Abraham’s too in the negative lead) with a collection of Rs. 543 crore, it might be perhaps a shade illogical to catapult SRK to Numero Uno without another film being around to assess his audience pull! And then, can we equate John’s star status with his?

After all, in 2022, KGF 2 collected over Rs. 400 cr. in Hindi, which does not put its hero Yash ahead of Hindi stars! Any individual film will succeed or fail strictly on its own merits or demerits!

So a ‘fairer’ way of assessing stars today would be in considering the average collection of their movies. Pathaan was to Shah Rukh Khan what Mohabbatein was to Amitabh Bachchan in 2000 and Dabangg to Salman Khan in 2010—a decisive comeback after a dull phase. And speaking of Salman Khan, his presence did add something to the admittedly high collections of Pathaan.

And yet, terms and conditions apply, for the average collections offer no conclusive ratings either, because two other superstars have had only a single release each: Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, a disaster, collected Rs. 58 crore, while Hrithik Roshan‘s Vikram Vedha took in Rs. 78.09 cr. though it was a flop. These figures too reflect the appeal of these particular films alone.

Some fairness can be attributed to Ranbir Kapoor’s 3-film average of Rs. 149.06 cr. (Shamshera: 42.48 cr., Brahmastra: 257.44 and Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar: 149.05), so he actually ranks next to Shah Rukh, and even the colossal flop riding only on Ranbir, Shamshera, still chalked up the above-mentioned figure.

Ajay Devgn would rank third with a 6-film average of Rs 119.25. Here, we have included his significant guest turn in Sooryavanshi (Rohit Shetty and he together, especially as Bajirao Singham, always are a draw) and also Gangubai Kathiawadi’s powerful cameo. We have not, however, included RRR for obvious reasons (Ajay’s relatively insignificant role). Incidentally, Ajay also made his web debut with Rudra—The Edge of Darkness last year.

Kartik Aaryan in Shehzada. The film was a flop but he is looked at as a future big name. Photo: Universal Communications

Thanks to Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Kartik Aaryan catapults to no. 4, even if he had the disastrous Shehzada. His two films averaged Rs.109.06 cr. But his Dhamaka and Freddy were OTT releases.

Varun Dhawan’s two-film average (both Jug Jugg Jeeyo and Bhediya were debatable modest successes) stands next at Rs. 75.84 cr. Salman Khan, also with two lead releases, averages Rs. 74.55 crore, and with 6 theatrical releases (Laxmii, Cuttputlii and Atrangi Re were digital), Akshay Kumar ranks next with an average of Rs. 74.52 crore. This negligible difference, however, ignores Salman’s definite but incalculable contribution to Pathaan, which can upgrade his rank completely!

With three consecutive loss-making lead films, Ranveer Singh’s mean collection is just Rs. 53.42, though he was also there in Sooryavanshi as Simmba, and must have contributed a mite to its collection as the character.

With Tiger Shroff (Heropanti 2) and Shahid Kapoor (Jersey) having a disaster each and Ayushmann Khurrana having four non-starters with an average of Rs. 18.44 crore, we must finally use our judgment to sift the grain from the chaff.

The TQ or Theatrical Quotient

And so, clearly now, ratings are going to be film-based as much as actor-based. The TQ (to coin a term) or Theatrical Quotient of the stars’ movies will decide their fortunes. On a broad basis, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan will continue to lead the list, followed by Hrithik Roshan, Ajay Devgn and Ranbir Kapoor. Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Kartik Aaryan and Varun Dhawan will follow. But anyone of these can move up or down fast.

And as of now, the highly-anticipated theatrical films include Tiger 3 (Salman), Jawan and Dunki (Shah Rukh), Fighter (Hrithik), Singham Again, Maidaan, Drishyam 3 and Auron Mein Kahan Dum Tha (Ajay), Animal (Ranbir), Capsule Gill and OMG 3 (Akshay), Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani and Baiju Bawra (Ranveer), Satyaprem Ki Katha (Kartik Aaryan) and Bawaal (Varun Dhawan). These will prove to be the decisive factors in 2023-2024.

And of course, there will always be the dark horses.




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