How Padmaavat trumped fringe groups, fear-mongering and middling reviews to win at the box office
Despite the bans, fear-mongering and middling reviews, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat has managed to do brisk box office business. Trade analysts on what explains its success
Despite protests, bans, fear-mongering and several other obstacles, about one million people thronged to the theatres to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat on the first day of its release. The film is poised to collect approximately Rs 250 crore at the box office (on its eighth day in theatres, its domestic earnings alone were at Rs 166.5 crore); the question now is just how Padmaavat — battling substantial odds, middling reviews and a somewhat limited release still managed to do well.
Trade analysts say that the film has garnered a mostly positive audience response, and the controversy in the run-up to its release generated a fair amount of controversy. Says Amul Vikas Mohan, trade analyst and editor of Super Cinema, “When authorities impose a ban and say that something is not good for you, then you want to know why it is not good for you. Even a lot of people who don’t ordinarily go out and watch movies went for Padmaavat to understand what the hue and cry was all about.”
Mohan called the film "review-proof and word of mouth proof" because of the amount of publicity it had generated before its release. "There are news channels running stories on Padmaavat even nine days after its release. The film and the protests around it have now become part of pop culture," he adds.
While Padmaavat's box office showing may seem triumphant, Mohan also points out that had the film had a normal release, it would have stood to make even more money; he estimates its first week earnings would have been Rs 200 crore domestically. Its run at the bx office is far from over, however. "There is no (other) release even in Padmaavat's second week in the theatres and the next two big releases — Padman and Aiyaary — are only on 9 February. It is only then that the screen count will affect Padmaavat. Padmaavat would have definitely crossed Rs 300 crore had it got a normal release and there is no clarity on when, if ever, it will release in the territories where it wasn't exhibited," he says.
Padmaavat earned mixed reviews, with many critics finding it a problematic film. Why then didn't this affect the film's opening? Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor-distributor and trade analyst, strongly feels that this trend shows the “disconnect between the thought process of the critics who write these reviews and the public at large”. “More often than not, some of the biggest grossers like Tiger Zinda Hai and Rohit Shetty's films are panned by reviewers. Some of our critics compare Indian cinema to that of the West when the outlook of both is very different. In the West, cinema is about art. Here, it is about entertainment. So you cannot view them through the same lens. In India, people spend money on watching these big screen spectacles, be it a TZH, Padmaavat or Dhoom 3," says Rathi.
Rathi believes there's a lesson in Padmaavat’s success for the film industry: “Despite the ban, despite the fear psychosis and threats of vandalism, people have come out in huge numbers to watch this film. It shows the kind of love that Indians have for the films they like. It’s for us to give the audience a good and engaging story."
Trade pundits also feel the sympathy factor may have worked in Padmaavat's favour. “The audience kind of witnessed what Sanjay Leela Bhansali went through, how the lead actors gave their blood, sweat and tears to the movie, working on it for two long years. What happened with Baahubali? They know that Prabhas gave five years to the film, and they love and respect this (commitment). There is an attachment factor that went in favour of Padmaavat. Whether the story was true or not, people wanted to watch this film and they loved it,” says Vajir Singh, editor, Box Office India.
Veteran journalist and critic Indu Mirani says Padmaavat has benefited from the word of mouth, whether positive or negative. "It's amazing how people have bought into this whole story," says Mirani. "The curiosity is one of the main reasons why it's doing so well. And for the audience, it offers so many spectacular things: there is this lovely queen, and a fantastic performance by Ranveer Singh. Regular filmgoers want to watch grand films, something that is beyond their imagination. That makes a difference... People crave big time for extravaganzas."
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