Will Diwali 2022 be Bright and Prosperous for Hindi Cinema?

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Akshay Kumar in the action adventure thriller Ram Setu. Photo: Hype PR

The paradigm shift in Hindi cinema in every aspect from concepts, technology, film production, marketing and release includes one slow change that has come in over the last many years or so; the importance of Diwali as a special date with the movies!

Earlier, when release dates could not be predicted as films were shot over a minimum 12 to a maximum 36 or more months in installments, some happened to release to coincide with Diwali. But when filmmaking began to get much more organized, and (from the last few years) release dates began to be planned (initially only by a few filmmakers), Diwali (like Eid, Christmas and now even Republic and Independence Days), began to be looked at as a special, high-priority, premium date for a movie to hit theatres.

Thus, while Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) all came in or around the festival time, in subsequent years, competition and rivalry around a festival release began to take center-stage.

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In 2012, for example, there was actual one-upmanship and some bad blood because Yash Raj Films (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) and Ajay Devgn Ffilms (Son of Sardaar) both vied for attention and accusations of manipulating screens and shows flew thick and fast. Both films finally did moderate business.

Interestingly, it was very rare that when more than one film arrived on Diwali that all did well. 2006 saw Don as a hit and Jaan-E-Mann failing, and in 2007, similar respective fates befell Om Shanti Om and Saawariya, in 2009, All The Best did average business, while Blue and Main Aur Mrs Khanna were disasters. The story continued in 2010 (Golmaal 3 versus Action Replayy) and even 2017 (Golmaal Again versus Secret Superstar, which did well only overseas).

In 2016, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Shivaay both failed to make the grade, though technically they entered the 100 crore club (nett theatrical business in India), as the budgets were way bigger than collections. There were some lucky solo releases, but there was no guarantee of success—if Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo in 2015 did well, Thugs of Hindustan (2018), came a cropper despite the hype, huge admission rates at opening week and a crowd-puller like Aamir Khan in a first combination with Amitabh Bachchan, all backed by Yash Raj Films!

Content makes the biggie—The lone Diwali release in 2021, Sooryavanshi, featured Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh, but worked largely due to Midas touch director Rohit Shetty. Photo: Universal Communications.

Then came the lockdown, wherein Ludo, Chhalang and Laxmii all vied for an OTT Diwali release, with the last ultimately getting more views and Ludo being applauded. In 2021, the lone release, Sooryavanshi, which hit the screen in many states with just 50 percent occupancy, still became a big success.

Yash Raj Films, Shah Rukh Khan initially and Ajay Devgn usually designed their films for a festival release, though this certainly did not assure success. As veteran trade analyst Vinod Mirani pointed out, “As it is, business is never good on actual Diwali days when festivities are there. Diwali is an overrated box-office date!”

Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi adds, “People will watch a good movie any time! Bahubali 2—The Conclusion released during Ramzan and when examinations too were on. It is still the highest-ever grossing Hindi film in that language alone!”  Superstars, he says, do determine some receptivity. But the final outcome is always thanks to the film itself.

Diwali 2022 sees two releases—Akshay Kumar’s Ram Setu and Ajay Devgn’s Thank God. And, as of now, no one can predict which way the films will go. While Akshay, as always, remains optimistic about all his releases, Ajay says matter-of-factly, “People decide which movie to watch in theatres, and which ones they should watch later on OTT. We still have to figure out what they want!”

Figures out trade analyst Taran Adarsh, “This Diwali, both films have A-listers, but their promotions are low-key. Larger-than-life entertainers with correct promotions, with preferably A-lister stars, will be what drives audiences into theatres, especially during the festive and holidays seasons. But content and word-of-mouth will determine the final outcome, as always.

Ram Setu’s advance bookings open from October 20, 5 days before the release, and the “expert” expectation is high. On the other hand, the interest generated by the storyline and light comic vibe of Thank God and its two trailers that have been shown may promise at least a double-digit opening for the Indra Kumar entertainer.

Golmaal Again in 2017 showed audience preference for light family entertainers during Diwali. Photo: Universal Communications

There is no rule for which genre ‘rules’ in this festival. But as a general ‘mandate’, family entertainers with a humorous touch do have an edge, as demonstrated by All The Best, Golmaal 3, Golmaal Again and Housefull 4 (2019).

But if one decides on track-record, beginning ironically with the 2020 online release of Laxmii, Akshay Kumar has had a bad run of late, but for Sooryavanshi which came from the Midas touch of Rohit Shetty, while Ajay Devgn’s last three laugh-riots—Golmaal Again, Total Dhamaal and De De Pyaar De, have all been very successful. The young Sidharth Malhotra too has got tremendous success with his last film, Shershaah, the gritty biopic released last year.

Value for money content that spurs people in these economically-challenged days to enter high-priced multiplexes and spend a bomb also on food and beverages, as Ajay points out, is the clinching factor today. This only means that how a film fares on opening day is of relatively minor importance, other than as a slim indicator of audience interest.

This year, the release date comes after Diwali day (October 24) for the rest of India and just before New Year (October 26) for the Western zone (as October 25 is a ‘free’ day as per the Hindu calendar), and this might help reception to the two movies, as per Vinod’s statement above.

Let us then hope for the first time in three years, both films reap a box-office bounty. One is an action adventure thriller based on Lord Ram’s bridge between India and Sri Lanka, of which geological evidence has always been there! The other is a fantasy that teaches homilies on life even as the hero dies and reaches Heaven.

But this occasion to thank God (pardon the pun!) will happen only if we, the audience, like both the films enough. Here’s to a Happy Diwali!

 

 

 

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