Why Bollywood stars are dependent on a holiday release for their films
It’s surprising that superstar Shah Rukh Khan has to look for holiday weekend to secure the business of his next film.
Raees, which was scheduled to release in Eid, and clash with another big-ticket Salman Khan film Sultan, has finally been postponed to yet another unwarranted date, 26th January 2017. Thought it’s a holiday weekend the risk in business looms as two other films, Kaabil and Baadshaho, were pre-decided to release on the same day.
For almost a decade, the biggest stars of Bollywood—mainly the three Khans of the industry—have settled to an understanding, to release their film on different festivals to have a hold over the holiday seasons among themselves. This would ensure (seemingly) that their film does well at the box office.
“Today release dates are very important. You have to take full advantage of the initial performance of the film at the box-office. You release it during a holiday period or a festival so that you get maximum footfall, maximum screen and undivided attention of the audience,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh.
It was Aamir Khan who started the idea of holiday releases, with his action film Ghajini in 2008 Christmas and it turned out to be the first Rs 100 crore film. The next two consecutive years saw Aamir come out with Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots on Christmas, and both did exceedingly well at the box-office.
“Aamir took a very simple economic advantage. Most countries are in holiday mood between Christmas and New Year. So he started targeting that window. His films come little before Christmas, so you get the weekend, then you get Christmas, then you get Good Friday, then you get the New Year holiday period,” reveals exhibitor Akshaye Rathi.
Soon, the other two Khans — Shah Rukh and Salman — followed suit, by identifying a time of the year when their film would cater to their audience.
The year after Aamir came out with Ghajini, Salman Khan released Wanted on Eid. It was logical because Salman has the largest following among the masses. Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, is the king of overseas romances, happy films, family films, and therefore, Diwali suited the aura for his films.
Meanwhile, when Akshay Kumar started doing patriotic films like Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty, Baby and Airlift, Independence Day and 26th January became important for him.
“There is a lot of calculation behind these holiday releases — which film caters to what audience and for that audience, which is the interesting period,” says Rathi.
There was a time when there would be maximum 50 movies released in a year. Now we have around 350 Hindi movies every year, and with increased content comes the need for an interesting release period.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is that you have the same 52 weeks in a year, and number of films released now is five times more, so the criticality of a holiday period has become much higher now,” says Rathi.
Slotting these releases around holidays and festivals turns out to be quite profitable for producers, distributors and exhibitors as well. However there is a downside to this phenomenon: the shelf life of films is diminishing day by day.
Citing an example Rathi says, “Hum Aapke Hain Koun opened in one theatre in Mumbai, Liberty. Liberty has, lets say, 1000 seats, so only 4000 audiences could see the film in one day. Compare that to Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. In Mumbai, the inventory has been — at least with all the multiplexes and all the single screens that played it — a couple of lakhs seats every day. So lets say one lakh people want to watch PRDP, divide one lakh by 4000 you will get how many days the film would have run to accommodate that many audience. That’s why the shelf life has diminished, and because of the higher number of cinemas, the volume of business per day has increased."
" It is for this reason the first weekend has become very critical. When there is a National Holiday in one of those three days, your business shoots up by 25%, which is a big deal. Even one big day in the first week makes a huge difference in the balance sheet."
Taran Adarsh however maintains that holiday release certainly has an advantage but of course it’s the content that does the talking.
Distributor and trade analyst Girish Wankhede reveals that there are films which release on Diwali after a huge hype, and have not done well inspite. Saawariya and Blue are two examples. “If the content is good, people are always willing to pay, but if the content doesn’t meet up to the expectations then it fails,” said Wankhede.
Ask Wankhede if the huge demand for holiday release dates among filmmakers create a kind of artificial "scarcity" of release slots at the box office, and he explains, “ No one wants to clash with the big ticket films. Now if you announce that a film like Raees is releasing on 26th January along with Baadshaho and Kaabil, no film will release in a week before that on 19th January, because the film releasing on 19th January will get only one week window."
Taran Adarsh however argues that Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan were released in consecutive weeks of one another, but both films did tremendous business at the box-office.
It's a numbers game after all, and it doesn't exclude Bollywood.