Why 83 lost the box-office match

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Ranveer Singh as skipper Kapil Dev in 83 Courtesy: Spice PR

It is official: 83 has entered the domestic 100 crore club, the second film in 2021 after Sooryavanshi.

Entering this elite box-office club was a matter of ecstasy for all in the years gone by: the first film to do so was the Chritsmas 2008 release, Ghajini. Then came 3 Idiots in 2009. After this had come Dabangg and Golmaal 3 in 2010. And Ready, Bodyguard and Singham in 2011.

And then the trouble had begun!

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Let us first understand what the 100 crore club means: a film has theatrically earned what is called a nett 100 crore (in India), that is, its total (gross) earnings at the movie halls by way of movie tickets minus the entertainment tax that the government charges. Subject to varying deals that a distributor and exhibitor (theatre-owner) have between them, this amount is then divided and profits (or losses) decided.

As a rule, however, with minor variations, the distributor has already paid a sum to the producer for the movie rights and also financed the P & A, or publicity and advertising (in all media), and so rarely is the producer in loss. Then there are cinema halls that work on fixed hire, that is, they get a fixed rental irrespective of the audience volume, so that they never undergo loss. Most work on a revenue-sharing basis with the distributor. Finally, there are the overlaps: a producer may be a (main or otherwise) distributor and a distributor can be an exhibitor (like India’s leading chain of mulitplexes, PVR).

As a general convention, however, a film that cost a distributor Rs. 100 must earn Rs. 200 to break-even, for the rest of the sum goes to the exhibitor. There are areas of relief, however, with other rights for music, satellite, streaming and overseas. These amounts are further adjusted where indicated. For example, if a film’s cost for a distributor is Rs. 50 crore and Rs. 15 crore come from all these rights, the movie business should be Rs. 35 crore to break even.

And so, in late 2011, came two films, RA. One, where the total recovery was a mere Rs. 120 crore against a break-even cost of Rs. 180 crore, and Don 2, which barely managed a slim profit. Both these films were 100-crore club members. Over the next decade, among the other 100 crore films that lost money or made only a nominal profit were movies like Jai Ho!, Dilwale, Tubelight, Race 3, Dabangg 3,  Raees, Bang Bang!, Krrish 3, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Shivaay.

There are two more axioms: international collections for Hindi films, however successful, mainly in nations like USA, UK, Canada and the Gulf countries do not normally account for more than 20 percent of the clean revenues that come in. And two, a movie’s box-office status is usually decided by the return of investment as follows: Rs 100 returns against Rs 50 means a hit, Rs 75 means average or modest earner, Rs 150-200 or above means a super-hit or blockbuster.

And here is where 83 lost out. Its budget was a staggering Rs. 270 crore, and as of now, three weeks past the release, the worldwide theatrical gross is just Rs 180 crore! Add the other revenue streams mentioned, including its streaming rights (on Amazon Prime Video from—rumored—February 24) and there is still a humongous shortfall of around Rs. 80 crore as per some trade sources. Worse, the theatrical earnings (including from dubbed versions in South Indian languages) have begun fizzling out and leading man-cum-co-producer Ranveer Singh is said to have already foregone the rest of his remuneration!

“Films do not fail, budgets do!” is a time-tested principle in cinema. And so, flop films are of two kinds: the first are those where the audiences do come in but the return on investment does not reconcile (some Amitabh Bachchan movies in the late 1980s and early 1990s and many Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan films later fell in this category). The second are those films where the audiences simply were not interested.

And veteran trade analyst Vinod Mirani feels that 83 was a mix of both. “Today’s youngsters are not interested in Kapil Dev!” he opined about the film, which was a description of India’s historic and first cricket World Cup win in 1983. “The documentary flavor added to the disastrous fate. They should have woven a story around it. Look at how Neeraj Pandey treated M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story.”

While 83 was well-received by critics and even real cricketers, past and present, the alarming dip in collections from day 4 (after an unexpectedly low opening, the film could not even maintain the weekend December 25 and 26 collections, though Christmas is considered a boom season). And the collections—Week 1: Rs. 123.75 cr, Week 2: Rs. 50. 71 cr. and Week 3: less than Rs. 7 crore globally in the first four days showed a lot.

Two other rather unexpected factors came in: one, the pandemic’s third strain and added restrictions due to it, and the presence of two strong movies despite the negatives—Spider-Man: No Way Home and Pushpa: The Rise—Part 1. But as this and past experience shows us, nothing can stop a film that gets great word-of-mouth.

This writer liked the film a lot, mainly for the deftly-executed cricket sequences, the performances and the dialogues. But there were three aspects that remained strongly negatives, especially for the Indian audiences at large:

1 A pro-Pakistani slant in the fictitious addition of the sequence where a Pakistani commander on the border promises no shelling on the day of the Final. Director Kabir Khan’s contention that “The Pakistanis will love it!” was a gross error of judgment, and even otherwise, ridiculous. He sacrificed the majority for a perceived minimal fraction of additional audience!

2 The then-Prime Minister absurdly organizing television installation within days in a riot-struck village in the North so that there is “unity” between Hindus and Muslims was farcical and facetious. It was made worse by the fact that there was no such fact to corroborate at the time. And who can install TV infrastructure and make people buy TVs literally overnight?

3 For the generation that wanted to re-live the glory and knew of the facts, the undercurrents between Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar in real life were falsified into a continued bonhomie. The viewer found such whitewashing fake and some of the drama could have been reduced by this.

To all practical purposes, thus, 83, despite its endorsers, lost the crucial box-office match. And that was a pity, considering its noble intent, proving one final axiom: In cinema, ideas do not work, scripts do.

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