By Priyanka Bhadani
Gone are the days when film-makers waited for their films to go on the floors and take a substantial shape before announcing the release date. Now, the release date of a film is often declared with the announcement of the film. And it is not just Salman Khan’s Eid release, Shah Rukh Khan’s Diwali and Aamir Khan’s Christmas release that are fixed much in advance. Almost all the movies want to block a release date much in advance to avoid complications later.
The most recent example of it being Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls. While hush hush talks about the movie started earlier this year, an official announcement was made only two weeks ago when a poster of the movie was released. And within days, the makers announced the release date — May 1, 2015 — of the film.
The Bollywood calendar for 2015 is already choc-a-bloc with films lined up throughout the year. So, if there’s Sonakshi Sinha-Arjun Kapoor starrer Tevar and Akshay Kumar-starrer Gabbar and Baby in January, there’s Amitabh Bachchan’s Shamitabh and Dibakar Banerjee’s detective film Byomkesh Bakshi slated to release in February. Even dates further in the year have been blocked. In fact, the chase for the dates in 2016 has already begun. Hrithik Roshan-starrer Mohenjo Daro that is being directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, will be released on Republic Day in 2016; while a remake of Ram-Lakhan being planned by Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty will also release in 2016.
The trend of blocking a date much in advance to ensure proper production is only going to gain momentum in the coming time, believe experts from the industry. Nandu Ahuja, Senior VP, India theatrical, Eros International Media Limited that has three films — Tevar (January 6), Shamitabh (February 6) and NH 10 (date yet to be announced) — releasing in 2015, says that blocking the dates in advance assures a smooth planning of pre-release activities for the films. “From brand tie-ups and trailer launches to on-ground activities with the stars of the films, everything needs proper and well-planned approach and a fixed release date gives one the space to do that,” says Ahuja, who emphasises on the involvement of the artistes in the promotions of the film. “Until they are not aware about the dates they would be required to promote the film, the artistes won’t be available,” he adds.
According to distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi, the entire idea of deciding a film’s release date in advance is working in favour of the film industry as it is making it more organised. “Unlike the old days, the entire process of production of a film has become very organised with studios backing a project,” says Rathi, who thinks that unlike earlier when film-makers faced budget constraints as there was no single window to finance a project, these are changing times as now a producer doesn’t have to go to a distributor with the initial footage of the film. “The process earlier was really long and complicated as money came from multiple sources, but now with studios generating funds, it has become easier and also gives the producers a free hand to plan marketing campaigns,” he says.
Agrees Rudrorup Datta, Vice President, Marketing and Production, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures Ltd, as he cites the example of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the release date of which was announced much in advance. “It gave us ample time to spread the word and plan campaigns around it. In fact, while the film released in July 2013, we had started the promotions in November of the previous year,” says Datta, who thinks that it is important to keep the film in public mind for a longer period of time for it to do well.
The date of the upcoming film from Viacom 18 group, Mary Kom was pushed a bit from the earlier date announced. Datta says that when something like this happens due to some unforeseen factors, changes in marketing plan are made. “Most of the time it leads to cost escalation. While these are rare cases, we again have to do the groundwork to plan a date when the threat from other releases is not much,” he says.
Yusuf M. Shaikh, Business Head – Film Distribution, Acquisition and IPR Management, Percept Picture Company cites examples from the past when films like Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Son Of Sardaar released on the same date and in the bargain lost at the box-office. “Film-makers have realised that clashes are not good for business and thus the sooner one secures a place, the better it is,” he says.
In fact, one important reason to block the dates is to avoid clashes as there has been a significant rise in the number of films being released every year. “Till a few years ago, the number of film being made and released every year was limited to 60-70. The number has now gone up to 350. In such a case, it becomes really important for a producer/studio to secure a date, especially for a big budget film, to make sure that the money comes back,” says Rathi, who considers this the best method to ward off competition.
“The best part is that nobody is complaining,” says Girish Wankhede, National Marketing Head, PVR Pictures. He says that while it puts a deadline in place for various parties involved in the production, it also secures the space. “All the dates around festivals, bank holidays and national holidays are the first to be picked up,” he remarks as he says that it is working in favour of the industry because it is opening the ground for healthy competition. “We are following the Hollywood pattern where everyone wants the biggest share, but at the same time doesn’t want to enter somebody’s else’s space,” he says.
“It also makes other studios and producers aware about the competition that they may face if they plan their films on or around the same date. If more than one film releases on the same day, it eats into the each other’s box-office. Since nobody wants that, the best way is to avoid the dates that have been already blocked by somebody else,” adds Ahuja, who thinks it is a wonderful practice and should grow in the future.
So, with the trend of booking release dates of films in advance gains momentum, it will be the early bird who will get the worm and a larger share in the pie.