Who Should We Blame When A Good Film Fails At The Box Office?

Co-founder of Crowdfunding platform Wishberry gets to the heart of the ‘insider-outsider’ debate raging Bollywood
Who Should We Blame When A Good Film Fails At The Box Office?

I have been reading a lot of posts about nepotism and whom to blame for it. Is it the producers not taking a chance on "outsiders" or is it the audience which is not going to watch "better" films and "actors"?

As a young producer of films like Aamis, Chuskit, Sethum Aayiram Pon and a few more, I would like to share my experience of releasing a film. I hope it helps understand an issue which could very well be a chicken and egg problem. To understand why a film did or did not work, one has to understand its economics more than its creativity. Let me give you one example that people have been ruing over – A Death in the Gunj, which was a brilliant film.

Did you know that it only released in a 100 screens across India and did not have enough marketing budget like the big films do? Big films like Padmaavat or Gully Boy release in 3,000+ screens and the marketing budgets run in several crores, spent by studios. Did you know that Chichhore released in over 2000 screens and Sonchiriya in a mere 775! That's because the former was a Fox Star distribution who could afford to pay for the 2000 screens and then further on marketing. Sonchiriya was distributed by RSVP movies, which is not a large studio. Yes, they did give us an Uri, but again that was released in 1700 screens despite having a newer, less popular face at that time like Vicky Kaushal. It's possible that the theatres didn't give more screens to Sonchiriya, despite having a popular face like Sushant (Singh Rajput) who had given a MS Dhoni and a Kedarnath before Sonchiriya. We will never know.

Also Tumbbad, another great film, despite having the backing of Eros and Color Yellow, did not get more than 500 screens and had almost nil marketing. (For a better understanding of numbers, I suggest you look at boxofficeindia.com which publishes these figures.)

Point is, you can make a brilliant film, but if you don't get enough screens for it by distributors or exhibitors, and on top of that, you don't have enough money to market the film, how will the audience ever even find out about it? And even if they do, it will either not be in their city, or it will be at a faraway location with just 1 show timing and that too at hours like 2 pm in the afternoon on a weekday! And because producers know this unfortunate truth and are the people who are putting their time and money behind it, they'd rather go with someone who's popular and who can bring back the ROI.

Now, tell me who is to blame?

1) Are the gatekeepers of cinema like PVR, INOX to blame who choose to give more screens and show timings to who's popular? Should they take a risk of giving 3000 screens to A Death In The Gunj or other such films to see what really happens? But they can't do that because they know that such films won't spend enough on marketing to send people to the theatres and they cannot take a risk of empty seats across 3000 screens, can they? Especially not when a studio is standing in line to spend crores on his film to drive revenues to the theatre!

2) Is the audience to blame who is not going to watch films like A Death In The Gunj or others? But they don't find out when they release, or even if they do they don't get access to them. So is the audience simply seeing what is available to them and industry leaders are misreading that as "demand for such films"?

3) Is the producer to blame? He is also reading the same data that the exhibitors are providing. Popular faces drawing audience to theatres, so he keeps picking popular faces.

4) Are the star kids to blame for having the money to spend on a large PR machinery to become "popular" even before their debut film releases and hence more desirable to the theatres?

5) Or finally, are the filmmakers of "intelligent" films with "better" actors to blame who don't get their marketing budgets in place? Could it be because investors also think that such faces may not draw an audience and hence refuse to invest in such films?

This chicken-egg problem has also seeped into digital platforms, who could've given a level playing field to all films by offering a digital library of a vast number of films to chose from and people could pay per film. But again, digital platforms are run on subscriptions, so they get into the same rut of the theatres! They also go by the same false data from theatres that only popular faces are in demand and hence they only take those films to drive subscription.

As you can see, there's not one person to blame in all this. It is unfortunately a broken system working on a false positive analysis of limited data being fed into the system.

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