Going by the reviews and the audience reaction, Irrfan Khan starrer Madaari, which released last Friday, is an average entertainer. It managed to collect just Rs 2.25 cr on Friday and Rs 3.50 on Saturday in India, taking the two day total to just Rs 5.75. Those who saw the film had great things to say about Irrfan’s performance but didn’t find the thriller gripping enough to recommend it to their family and friends.
We obviously can’t go by what the fraternity member’s tweet when they praise each other’s films, a lot of them say good things but don’t mean even a word of the 140 characters. None of the trade experts are surprised with Madaari’s poor show. But if most from the Bollywood trade could see through this then what were the producers thinking?
There is obviously no trick in any book in the world where a film’s fate can be predicted before it’s release but trade experts and exhibitors can see through the obvious ones.
When films with offbeat subjects like Neerja and Airlift do well, the industry becomes optimistic and overconfident about what is referred to as 'content-heavy' films. But following the herd mentality doesn’t make much business sense. There is no doubt that Irrfan Khan is one of the finest actors of our times but is that enough for a film to do well? Clearly not.
Piku, another offbeat film starring Irrfan Khan, which released last year, was a huge hit. In Piku, Irrfan was backed by Bollywood’s top actress Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, a solid script, and a fine director. Irrfan also did Sanjay Gupta’s Jazbaa in the same year with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. It was pitted as the beauty queen’s comeback vehicle but it tanked; most of the reviews were negative and there seemed to be only a handful of people in the theatres. Jazbaa had a weak script, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was clearly not a crowd-puller and the captain of the ship was an out-of-form director. All this led to Jazbaa’s disastrous box office collections.
Before Jazbaa, Irrfan was seen in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, which was a brilliant film. It had Shahid Kapoor — a bankable star and national award-winning actress Tabu. Haider had everything going for it and it turned out to be a big hit; a good film backed by the right cast.
This time, Irrfan very well knew he has to carry Madaari on his shoulders as he is the only selling point of the film. He went all out to promote it, from interviews, to appearing on reality shows and even did news shows like Walk the Talk. He left no stone un-turned. He even made headlines when he spoke about the misconception of Qurbani in Islam and he was criticized for it. Controversies before a film’s release have worked in favor of some films in the past but there is no guarantee that it will always work. This controversy made it to the newspapers but died down very soon as it didn’t repeat on the 24-hour news wheel, which happens when stars like Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan speak on social issues.
The most juvenile decision on Madaari's part was releasing it with Rajinikanth’s Kabali; this was the final nail in the coffin. There was absolutely no buzz for Madaari on the day of the release, it was barely mentioned on news channels and websites because last Friday was all about Rajinikanth and his fans. In case of superstars like Rajinikanth and Salman Khan, most of the time it doesn’t matter if the film is not up to the mark, their fans still go and watch it.
This brings us to a crucial question: when should one release a film? This has become the most important decision in the movie business, as important as making a film. This is the reason we see top stars fighting for release dates through the year, and big producers block dates a year in advance.
Even the biggest stars prefer a clear window, so why on earth did the producers of Madaari think it would work when Salman Khan’s Sultan is still in the cinemas, and Rajinikanth’s Kabali and Hollywood film Star Trek Beyond are releasing on the same day? The problem is not just that Madaari is an average film but it released during the worst possible period.
I am no box-office expert but even I could see through this suicide attempt. Every Friday the ticket window teaches us something but to understand that, Bollywoodwalas will have to take their blinkers off.
Rohit Khilnani is an Executive Editor at Web18, he tweets at @rohitkhilnani