The increasingly confusing parameters of Hits & Flops

Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan is the latest example of a film whose finances are open to debate. Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

Thanks to, first, corporate entities as distributors and co-producers and, next, OTT platforms, the parameters for hits and flops have become even more confusing, which they partially were even in the past when films were only watched in theatres as new releases and later, as re-runs.

Adding to the confusion is the domestic 100 crore-and-more clubs. Traditionally, a ‘flop’ was that which lost money for the distributors, regardless of better business in one or more territories. The opposite case meant a hit. A huge flop was termed a disaster, and a mega-hit a blockbuster. Because it was the distributors who bought the film from the producers, usually did the advertising, and finally did their (varied) deals with theatre-owners, it was they who bore the brunt and their gains and losses decided in which category the film fell.

Even in earlier times, several films over decades were successes that were thought to be flops, or vice-versa. Certain films made big money over the years, even if the producers or distributors had suffered losses when the movie first hit the screen. With this arithmetic getting smarter as well as more complex over the recent two decades, things are not all that they seem. Let us look at some such graphic examples over the decades.

Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan

A recent article on, the leading film-based portal, tells us the following: the film was made on a budget of Rs. 125 crore which includes Print and Advertising, and a further Rs. 7.37 cr. as distributor commission to Zee Studios, so the total investment was Rs. 132.37 cr. Despite negative reviews and audience reactions, the film made Rs. 110 cr. at the domestic box-office, from which the distributor share came to Rs. 49.73 cr, and a further Rs. 50.86 cr. business in the overseas markets, which got them Rs. 22.88 cr. This, coupled with a further Rs. 100 cr. coming in from digital, in-film, music and satellite rights; saw a total collection of Rs. 172.61 cr.

Adjusting the initial cost of investment of Rs. 132.37 cr. from the final recoveries, the makers of Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan can be said to have made a profit of Rs. 40.24 cr. However, Salman’s usual remuneration (that is around Rs. 100 cr.!!!) has not been accounted for towards the costs and therefore in spite of the balance sheet being in green, it has been a dismal economic return for both Salman Khan Films as well as Salman Khan, according to the report. So what would you call the film?

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo

This Salman Khan film brought in over Rs. 200 crore domestically, and more overseas, but buzz then was that the distributors must have lost money as the costs for them exceeded the business done by it. But Rajshri Productions and Fox Star Studios, the two production houses, were themselves the distributors, and so the equations became totally different! Made at a cost of a total Rs. 110 crore (including promotions and advertising), the film’s worldwide gross was Rs. 432 cr. So the film was a definite blockbuster.

Om Shanti Om

In the pre-100 crore-club days, Om Shanti Om, Shah Rukh Khan’s home production, collected a hefty Rs. 72 crore-plus, making it 2007’s highest grosser. But it was said to be made at a costs of Rs. 40 crore or thereabouts, and since hits and average are based on distributor profits, the film could be considered average, only after overseas income and other rights were included, though it made big money for those times

RA. One

Much was made of the fact that this film collected 120 crore at the Indian box-office, but the investment was Rs. 180 crore and the distributors’ share, as always, was about half of the collections—Rs. 60 crore. Therefore, despite the rights, including overseas, where like all Shah Rukh Khan films it did well, the film was a clear loser, or flop.


The Sunil Dutt-Vyjayanthimala historical was a disaster in 1966, though its brilliant music by Shankar-Jaikishan did well. Directed by Lekh Tandon for producer F.C. Mehra after the blockbuster Professor, it, however, remains the producer’s highest-profit making film (in a filmography of about 20 movies in three decades!), after re-runs, music royalties and TV rights came in! The director had personally revealed this to me!

Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus Mera Naam Joker finally became a money-spinner. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Mera Naam Joker

Perhaps the biggest example of a flop that earned the highest returns in the long run was Raj Kapoor’s 1970 Mera Naam Joker. Randhir Kapoor, Raj’s eldest son, has stated that the film is one of their most profitable films now even in India. But even in 1970, a source stated that its distribution rights were sold even then at Rs. 1.5 million (Rs. 15 lakh) in the Soviet Union, where the movie became a blockbuster and collected in multiples!


Despite claims, Lagaan did well only in some international circuits and Mumbai. In all other territories, it lost money and the whole exercise to project it as a hit was not just as it was Aamir Khan’s maiden production but also because it was released on the same day as the blockbuster, Gadar—Ek Prem Katha!


This 1974 classic adapted from the Hollywood hit, To Sir with Love, was said to be a success, but it is a fact that producer B.A. Chandiramani had to sell his bungalow to cover his losses. The film, starring Vinod Khanna and Tanuja, with some hit music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, was even declared a Silver Jubilee (it had a 25-week run).


Rohit Shetty’s 2003 debut as director mysteriously flopped. However, it is now a cult film on TV and does well even on OTT. Many such films are repeated on the small screen after flopping in movie-halls, and earn good revenues. But reportedly, most such cases are of deals done by the channels that then have to showcase them repeatedly to recover invested money from ads. Mere Baap Pahele Aap, Sandwich and Sooryavansham are three more such examples. But Zameen is said to be a film in great demand, though Amitabh fans would also include Sooryavansham.

Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi. Photo: Universal Communications

Gangubai Kathiawadi

Probably the most contentious film in 2022: Many say that this Sanjay Leela Bhansali film  did not get back its investment despite theatrical returns in India of Rs. 129.10 cr. The budget, after all, was said to be around Rs. 100 crore, and the distributor share in India about Rs. 65 cr. But the worldwide collection is said to be Rs. 209 cr.-plus. This would make it seem a break-even project. At the same time, the film has been appreciated on OTT worldwide and so generally, right, wrong or uncertain, it is considered to be a financial success and in terms of appreciation, a hit. Bhansali’s Devdas, Goliyon Ki RasLila—RamLila and Bajirao Mastani are also said to fall in this ‘either way’ category!

Overseas hits, local successes & 100 crore films

Many Shah Rukh Khan films, like Paheli, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and My Name Is Khan and a few films of other actors like Amitabh Bachchan and some others did good business abroad (in terms of investment there by distributors) but flopped in India.

In many a case, old-time filmmakers would claim that their films (which did not do well) were “a hit in Bihar” (and/or Uttar Pradesh). Recently, the Hindi version of Saaho was, surprisingly, actually a big hit in Bihar. In the early 2000s, Asoka and Dil Ka Rishta were said to be hits only in Gujarat, while Dil Chahta Hai did well only in Mumbai and the South!

Among 100 crore-making films that have actually lost money are Hrithik Roshan’s Bang Bang!, Salman Khan’s Tubelight and Dabangg 3¸ Shah Rukh Khan-Varun Dhawan’s Dilwale and Shah Rukh’s Raees, Ajay Devgn’s Bholaa and Shivaay, Ranveer Singh’s 83 and Ranbir Kapoor’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. In this gray zone, reportedly, can also bealso Hrithik’s Krrish 3 and Kaabil, and Salman’s Jai Ho!, Race 3 and Bharat!

But, again, the true stories behind one or more of these may be different—or even polar opposite.

Perhaps, then, except for academic purposes, the audience (who today are more interested in a movie’s business more than in how good or bad a film is!) should follow Anil Kapoor’s dictum: “Just see how good or bad a film is, and whether you liked it! Leave the budgets and business angles to us!”










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