The upcoming Thursday is crucial for the Hindi film industry as two of the much-awaited films of the year — Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan — release on the day. Given the poor performance of Bollywood films during the first half of the year (the only exceptions being Gangubai Kathiawadi, The Kashmir Files and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2) and the flourishing business of the non-Hindi films, the box office collections of the Aamir Khan starrer and the Akshay Kumar starrer are very critical in reviving Bollywood from the slump it has fallen into.
A look at the advance booking trends of Laal Singh Chaddha, made on a reported budget of approximately Rs 180 crore, gives some hope to the film trade experts. Big cinema chains such as PVR, INOX and Cinepolis have together sold over 95k tickets which indicates that the film has already done a business of over Rs 11.5 crore. Akshay Kumar’s family drama Raksha Bandhan is lagging behind the Aamir Khan film and has sold approximately 50k tickets until now, collecting around Rs 4.5 cr before its release on Thursday.
Film producer and trade expert Girish Johar believes that it is important for Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan to do well at the ticket counters. “These films doing well is very critical for the fraternity because what has happened is right now there is a disequilibrium within the fraternity. Corporates and stars are making projects instead of staying true to the films or storytelling and that is probably what is backfiring. Everyone rushing to OTT is probably backfiring too because even Hollywood filmmakers are going back to theatrical releases,” he told indianexpress.com.
Film exhibitor Akshaye Rathi agreed as he suggested that not just Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan, but every film with prominent names associated with it is of significance in the current scenario. He said, “As an industry, we can do with any kind of victories at this point in time since they have been evading us for the past few months. It is critical not just for these two films but for the industry that these two succeed. With Aanand L Rai, Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan and entities like Viacom and Zee Studios backing them, hopefully, we will be able to succeed because all the right resources required to flourish are on the table. Now the only hope is these films connect well with the audience at large.”
While the Advait Chandan directorial is releasing on approximately 4000 screens, the Aanand L Rai movie has got around 4200 screens. Despite a little lesser number of screens, Johar suggests Laal Singh Chaddha would have an upper hand at the ticket counters “because of Aamir Khan”. He shared, “He is coming after a long time. His past films have a positive trajectory and he has rarely disappointed. Thugs of Hindostan too opened with a great number.” Upon its release, the film earned Rs 52.25 crore. Not just in India, the Aamir-led film, a remake of the Academy Award winning movie Forrest Gump, will attract a wider audience in the international market.
“Aamir Khan has a huge track record in the international market. And, Paramount Films, the original makers of Forrest Gump, are presenting the film worldwide which will definitely help as a Hollywood studio is releasing a film. On the whole, it’s going to be a bountiful weekend at the box office,” Girish Johar predicted. He pegged the Raksha Bandhan’s opening day collection will be in the range of Rs 10-12 crore and said Laal Singh Chaddha will open at anywhere around Rs 15 crore plus. Together, both the films might rake in over Rs 30 crore on their opening day.
Akshay Kumar’s back-to-back flops
Akshay’s last few films including Bell Bottom, Bachchan Pandey and Samrat Prithviraj have failed to pull the audience to cinema halls and this has “placed his choice of films under the scanner”. But, both Johar and Rathi believe that the performance doesn’t reflect on Akshay’s stardom, but the quality of the content of the films he has been doing.
Johar stated that now more than the star, content is a criterion for cine-goers to pick what film they want to watch in theatres. “The films that came post the pandemic were 2-3 years older which got stuck during the pandemic. So, audiences’ taste changed drastically because they were consuming world-quality content on OTT in their homes. That is the reason why most Hindi films have suffered,” he pointed out.
Also, Rathi said that not just Akshay, but every other big star has failed to convince people to buy movie tickets. “It’s not just Akshay Kumar, most actors have failed. Like, you have never seen an Ajay Devgn film wrap up in the range of Rs 30 crore but that happened to Runway 34. Similarly, Tiger Shroff (Heropanti 2) and Shahid Kapoor (Jersey) haven’t performed well.”
According to him, to revive Hindi cinema revive from its bad days, “It will take a consolidated effort by the entire industry to really be back on the track. All of us need to have a dialogue about where we went wrong and what we can set right. In some interview, Aamir Khan spoke about a longer window between theatrical and OTT releases, which is something that needs a discussion.” He also suggested that the piracy laws in the country need to be implemented strictly.
The impact of boycott culture
Among all the factors impacting the box office collection of Hindi films is the cancel culture where every Friday, there is a #BoycottBollywood trending on social media. While last week it was #BotycottDarlings trending on Twitter, this week netizens are calling for #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha and #BoycottRakshaBandhan.
While in Girish Johar’s opinion, such trends do not affect a film’s business since “social media forms a minuscule section of the audience”, Rathi believes “these kinds of things do affect the box office”.
He said, “It is every single one who decides to not go and watch a film be it for any reason, for something that an actor said, it’s one lesser ticket sold. So, it’s an issue which needs to be addressed crucially.”
“This volatile atmosphere that we are witnessing among our audiences needs to be addressed. The other thing that needs to be done is our stars need to be a lot more responsible. People who make them what they are is the audience and you cannot kind of keep rubbing them the wrong way and still expect them to turn up at the cinemas over and over again. So we need to find a middle ground which is rational and acceptable to the audience and creative fraternity,” Rathi added.
Now, with so much hope riding on Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan, it would be interesting to see if the two films will revive the Hindi film industry from its dry spell at the theatres.