Why 83 underperformed at the box office: More docudrama than masala, high ticket prices, no youth connect, third wave

'Winning the '83 World Cup is a fond memory for all but again, the youth couldn't connect nor relate to the film. And the youth constitutes a majority of our box-office tickets': trade analysts and film experts weight in on 83's box office.

Subhash K Jha January 04, 2022 10:40:21 IST
Why 83 underperformed at the box office: More docudrama than masala, high ticket prices, no youth connect, third wave

Ranveer Singh in 83

Blame it on COVID-19. Or the fact that in hindsight, the film looks like a documentary instead of a feature film. But Kabir Khan’s highly regarded sports film 83, which was made at an estimated cost of Rs 270 crore, stands to lose over Rs 150 crore at the box office.

One of the film's producers, who wishes to go unnamed, says it is futile and self-defeating to play the blame game. “Why blame the COVID resurgence? Even with the threat of the third wave, audiences flocked to see Spider-Man  and the Telugu film Pushpa. No. If they wanted to see 83, they would have come. But they didn’t. And the main reason for this is the youngsters couldn’t connect with the euphoria of the 1983 World Cup victory. For people who were witness to the victory, the film was like a documentary. They knew everything that they saw in the film from before. So we lost audiences both ways.”

The under-performance of 83 at the box office has shocked the film industry, none more so than the producers, which include Deepika Padukone, of this lavish Rs-270-crore project.

A source close to the producers told this writer that the blame game will start soon. “The film looks and feels like a documentary on the 1983 World Cup. Some from the production team had pointed this out while the  film was  being made. What was the need to shoot at the pricey Lord'spors stadium in London when there are so many similarly vast cricket stadiums right here in India? But the naysayers were shut down by director Kabir Khan and Ranveer Singh, who were fully confident of getting the audience into theatres.”

Apparently, a large chunk of Singh’s fee is pending. And he may be compelled to write it off to counter at least some of the losses.

For Khan, the failure of 83 is a double setback after the poor response to his last directorial, Tubelight. That too was a very costly film. At this rate, he is likely to acquire the reputation of a prohibitive filmmaker.

Why 83 underperformed at the box office More docudrama than masala high ticket prices no youth connect third wave

Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev in 83

Producer Ajay Rai, who had tremendous success with his OTT series Tabbar in 2021, feels the brilliance of the film cannot be undermined by its box-office performance. “Whatever its box-office performance — and let’s not  forget 83 was released when the third wave of the pandemic was around the corner — the film is as brilliant as Lagaan, that other cricket masterpiece. A film’s quality cannot be judged against its box-office performance. Even today, we talk about Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool and Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker, which were declared flops when released.”

Says trade guru Taran Adarsh, “There's no denying the fact that 83 is an extremely well-made film but unfortunately, the praise, the accolades, the critical acclaim, and the strong word of mouth haven't translated or converted into footfalls. The film has worked at select metros, that too at premium multiplexes. Outside metros and especially at smaller centres/mass belt, the film has not found acceptance. The expected numbers are missing. One of the reasons could be that people found it to be a docudrama. It appealed more to the big-city audience. The mass belt just did not take to it, especially the youth and those who relish masala fares. 83 has it all — it was very well made with strong emotions as its USP. The release period was most appropriate too. Christmas and New Year celebrations are one of the most lucrative periods as far as movie business is concerned. Unfortunately, 83 did not take off the way it should have. Pushpa and Spider-Man, released one week before, continued to pose stiff opposition to 83 in mass belt and metros respectively. The moviegoers felt these two films were better alternatives than 83. Sad but true.”

Film critic Raja Sen feels 83 did not offer enough incentive for theatre attendance. “It is becoming increasingly clear that people will only go to theatres for an experience they cannot get at home. They went for Spider-Man: No Way Home because that was a beloved film offering larger-than-life movie magic. Even the people curious about 83 are willing to wait a few weeks, and watch it on a streaming platform. That's the difference."

Producer and trade analyst Girish Johar adds, “It’s very easy to dismiss in hindsight but yes, with 83, majority of the critics went wrong. Films are very subjective experiences, and the easy way out is to go with the flow. That’s what hampered majorly. Personally, after watching the film, I  felt the film is more of sports docu-drama, and not an entertaining film. Apart from Ranveer Singh, who was towering in the film, there was no character development of any of the actors, which could connect.

Yes, winning the '83 World Cup is a fond memory for all but again, the youth couldn't connect nor relate to the film. And the youth constitutes a majority of our box-office tickets.

Also, the marketing, though wide, was not focused. Showcasing fights over cinema screens, distribution delays in advance booking opening further aggravated the matter. High ticket-prices was a major concern too. Using bullish media reviews days in advance of the release, pumping expectations of the audiences, which when they actually saw the film, was no match, that too hit the sentiments over the end-product. Finally, I feel that the budget was too high for this kind of vision. Had the budget been half  of what it is, it would have been a winner, despite all of the above and despite the pandemic.”

Trade analyst Atul Mohan feels there is no clear-cut answer to why 83 underperformed. “Nobody can answer this question. Everybody may come up with one theory or the other but why the audience rejected this modern-day classic, nobody will be able to figure out. Maybe the audience wanted entertainment, and that quotient was missing here. But one thing is for sure: the high ticket pricing in today's times did keep a lot of people away from watching the film on the big screen. As we all know, all films are available on some streaming platform in four weeks' time.”

Producer Suneel Darshan adds, “There are several reasons attributed to a movie's failure but this time 83's debacle is because of its docu-drama genre, and timing of its release so close to Spider-Man, and more so Pushpa, which have collectively snatched away Rs 100 crore of box-office takings in their second week, proved fatal for 83.”

Exhibitor Akshay Rathi adds, “There are multiple reasons why 83 didn’t do that well. One was the whole notion of the the third wave of  the pandemic coinciding with the release of 83. Secondly,  in terms of the drama and storytelling, (they) possibly catered to a more urbane audience. The average Indian audience wanted to see a far more basic and accessible film. However, nothing can take away from the fact that it is a brilliantly made film. It’s  a film that will go down in the history of Indian cinema for so fabulously recreating the golden moment of cricket history. Nothing can take away from that.”

83 is playing in cinemas.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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