Updated: August 20, 2021 9:03:46 am
Akshay Kumar is the first Bollywood star to return to the 70 mm screen as theatres reopen in the country after the devastating second wave of Covid-19. BellBottom ticks perhaps all the boxes of an Akshay Kumar film – a thriller suffused with patriotism, inspired by a real-life story and giving its hero another chance to show off his martial moves and histrionics.
However, it might not be enough this time to get the audience voting with their feet. Covid-19 remains a big factor – theatres are not open to full capacity in most states while in a few states, including the all-important Maharashtra that accounts for almost 30 per cent box office business – they are still closed. Trade, after months of lethargy, has put its might behind Akshay, calling BellBottom release a ‘brave move’.
“As industry insiders, we are not looking at it from the perspective of box office numbers, but it will help the industry’s revival. With the release of BellBottom, the wheels of the industry will start moving,” film trade expert and producer Girish Johar told indianexpress.com.
He added, “Cinema is a state subject, and every state has its own protocols and SOPs. Some are allowing only 30 per cent occupancy, in some states it is a weekend lockdown, some are closing malls at 5 pm and some at 8 pm, so a lot of variable factors are in play. The priority is to give people the confidence to return to cinema halls. Rest, we have hints from the South Indian box office and the box office of Punjabi films that people are willing to return.”
Johar believes if it would have been a normal scenario, BellBottom would have “easily” earned Rs 20 crore on the first day. But his colleague, Komal Nahta suggests the thriller can collect approximately Rs 7 crore on opening day despite it being a non-holiday release.
He said, “The excitement for the film is immense. Unfortunately, the Maharashtra cinemas are not open but it will take a very good start since it is the first major release after 17 months. With theaters open at 50 per cent capacity, a Rs 7 crore figure would be a phenomenal start, and if this happens everyone should applaud the guts of the entire team.”
Maharashtra, which accounts for almost 30 per cent of a Hindi film’s business in India, hasn’t opened cinema hall doors as yet. But that’s a risk Akshay and the team behind BellBottom are willing to take. While talking about the film’s theatrical release, the actor had said, “The pressure is there on everybody but I’m very sure that things are going to work out. There’s a challenge, a risk. But if you haven’t taken the risk in life, then what have you done? So we have gone with it.”
Film trade analyst Taran Adarsh also feels it’s a step in the right direction because “people will return to the theatres only when big films with big stars will hit the screens.” According to him, “We cannot expect huge numbers as was the case in the pre-Covid times, but I guess people will soon get used to the habit of watching films in the theatres once again.”
And if you were to take a chance on a big name reaping benefits, Akshay Kumar is an apt choice to help the film business’ revival. Since 2015, Khiladi Kumar has delivered 11 films with a collection of over Rs 100 crore each. His last theatrical release, Good Newwz, made on a budget of Rs 117 crore, earned a whopping amount of Rs 205.14 crore. Mission Mangal, which also came out in 2019, was made on a budget of Rs 95 crore and collected Rs 202.98 crore at the box office.
It was in the year 2015 that Kumar entered the Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors with estimated earnings of $33.5 million alongside Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. By 2020, he was the only actor who featured on the annual list leaving the Khan-trio, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and singer Rihanna behind with earnings of $48.5 million.
Explaining what makes Akshay a bankable star, Girish Johar said, “Stories that he is trying to tell connect at a larger level. He connects with families. He is also trying to increase his base by trying different genres, we get to see him in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, we also see him in a Rustom and Gold. We see him in a comedy caper like Housefull, and now in BellBottom and Sooryavanshi. He is playing all the ranges catering to all the segments and strata, increasing his fan base with different stories.”
The 53-year-old actor has delivered hits across genres. From doing largely action films in the 90s, he has moved to comedy, drama, sports films and thrillers. Even multi-starrer comedy capers like Housefull and Good Newwz ride on his name. In the last six years, out of the 16 releases, Kumar has only delivered one flop. His sci-fi film co-starring Rajinikanth, 2.0, made on a budget of Rs 575 crore, could manage only reap Rs 189.55 crore on the box office.
As per Johar, Akshay has captured the zeitgeist and is getting closer to the numero uno spot with each passing year. “Akshay has somehow understood the pulse of the paying public at the box office, that’s why he is successful. Despite him doing 4-5 films a year, the audience is not getting tired of him because of the variety in his work. People think he is not repetitive which is a very big factor,” he said.
In an earlier interview with Forbes, Kumar had shared how he changed ‘zeroes’ in his cheques as he entered the film industry only to earn big bucks. “You have to change with the times. From screenplays and scripts to technology and the way of shooting and the audience. The zeros in my check have changed. Everything has changed,” the actor said.
Now, after achieving the feat of being one of the most successful Bollywood stars, it remains to be seen how Akshay Kumar will fare on the digital platform with his debut web series on Amazon Prime Video.