After a social media war that took a decidedly ugly turn, things seemed to have simmered down on the Shivaay-Ae Dil Hai Mushkil front.
But that may not be the case.
It seems the fight has simply shifted to another arena — this time the "offline" one of theatre screens.
Recent reports have said that Fox Star Studios has entered into a special deal with PVR, the multiplex chain, for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, in order to ensure that it has a wide number of screens on its 28 October release.
Apparently, this news hasn't gone down well with Ajay Devgn, who when asked about the development, was quoted by DNA as saying to a reporter: "You will get the answer about which film gets a bigger release on 28th October. On that day, I will ask you this question and you will answer this question yourself."
Why is the number of screens so important?
Because when it comes to a big box office clash, the business of the film with the greater number of screens gets a crucial initial thrust, especially over the all-important opening weekend and first week.
The issue of securing maximum screens gains more importance with single-screen theatres rather than multiplexes that can accommodate a greater number of shows in any case.
In previous box office clashes, we have seen the film with the greater number of screens enjoying an advantage.
Previous instances where a clash of this sort caused so much bad blood in Bollywood included the Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Son of Sardaar box office showdown. At the time, Ajay's film had secured 2,000 screens for SOS while YRF got 2,500 for JTHJ. Jab Tak Hai Jaan went on to earn over Rs 190 crore at the worldwide box office. Son of Sardar — while it was a hit — did trail behind.
The disparity in screen count was even more evident during the Dilwale-Bajirao Mastani clash. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh had broken down the figures at the time: In the first week, Dilwale played on 3,100 screens to Bajirao Mastani's 2,300. But in the second week, Dilwale lost a few screens and fell to 1,500 while Bajirao Mastani stayed strong at 2,100.
The higher number of screens in its first week resulted in stronger box office collections for Dilwale — after its opening weekend, its earnings stood at Rs 65.09 crore (domestic) and Rs 145 crore (worldwide). On the other hand, Bajirao Mastani grossed Rs 46.77 crore (India) and Rs 90 crore (globally). This despite the fact that Diwale was universally panned while Bajirao Mastani won positive reviews.
With Shivaay-Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, however, there is a sign that producers/distributors won't be engaging in the kind of arm-twisting they previously have to secure the most number of screens for their releases.
A report on the entertainment news portal SpotBoye quoted officials from Fox Star Studios sayng they wanted both Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Shivaay to have an equal number of screens.
This is in stark contrast to other studios/distributors who often strike 'deals' with theatre owners/chains on the understanding that their future films will be screened/withheld depending on their cooperation in the form of screening the current one. (And Fox has a pretty good bargaining chip in the form of MS Dhoni: The Untold Story.)
Moreover, single screen theatres have also taken themselves out of the equation by signing an understanding that states they will not be drawing up any exclusive contracts with any producer or distributor.
This development has come about as a result of the losses single screen theatre owners suffered as a result of the recent Mohenjo Daro-Rustom clash. While Rustom had a marginally lower number of screens (reports peg Akshay's film as having opened at 2,300 screens to Mohenjo Daro's 2,500) the single screens were all given over to the Hrithik Roshan starrer. As a result, they made terrible losses when the film bombed.
If single screen theatres get a chance to screen both Shivaay and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, they have a chance to benefit from the success of one or both films.
And with screens refusing to play favourites — and distributors not expecting them to — both films should have a level playing field.