Last year, just days before Sooryavanshi's big release, movie theatres across India shut shop over Covid-19 fears. In the 18 months since, the movie business has had it rough. But while the Telugu and Tamil industries have enjoyed a fair amount of theatrical successes, Hindi cinema has had to wait longer to make its big comeback. In the interim, several big-ticket movies sold to leading streaming platforms but Reliance Entertainment and Dharma Productions held on tight to Rohit Shetty's masala cop drama.
The wait paid off. The film released last Friday on November 5 and within the first three days it collected 77 crore. Shailesh Kapoor, Founder and CEO of media consulting film agency Ormax Media, says that with no big release this Friday he expects the film to continue doing well in theatres for next two weeks. Trade pundits agree that this is a superlative performance, only marginally diminished by the Covid restrictions of certain states. For example, Maharashtra, which constitutes the film's largest market, is operating at only 50 percent capacity. Some other states like Rajasthan still have night curfew, which means there can't be a late-night show. And in the South, there was competition from the latest Rajinikanth movie Annatthe. Despite these limitations, Sooryavanshi is a bonafide hit. "The performance was so good that the supply was not able to meet the demands, especially in territories where there is still a 50% cap. But overall, I think trade exhibitors are delighted beyond words, because this is a clear sign of business bouncing back and bouncing back with with a bang," says Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures.
The events of the past year presented somewhat of an existential crisis for the movie business. Will people return to the theatres? Have viewers been spoilt by the comfort of streaming at home? Will theatres only be a space for event films? Sooryavanshi's success may not have answered all of the above, but it definitely proves that if the film is of interest to viewers, they will come to the theatres. Aman Gill, the producer of upcoming Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey, says that the superb box-office collections of Punjabi film Honsla Rakh, even as Maharashtra theatres stayed shut, proved that people were ready to be back at the movies. Sooryavanshi's success has just reaffirmed that. "There's no excuse now. You can't blame the pandemic for low numbers anymore. If something is not working it's a problem with the content, not the pandemic," says Gill.
The latter half of November will see Hindi releases like Bunty aur Babli 2, Satyameva Jayate 2 and Antim. December will also see massive releases like the long-awaited 83 and Jersey. And as far as 2022 is concerned, every big ticket film has swiftly announced release dates and blocked their Friday.
"We would like to make another prediction – looking at the lineup we have, and the pent-up demand from audiences, the next five months will see the kind of box office that we have not seen for several years," says Gianchandani.
(With inputs from Sankhayan Ghosh)