The Pongal and Sankranti celebrations have also rubbed off their festive effect on the theatres as nine major films hit screens last week. Jayaram’s comeback film Abraham Ozler made a mark in Kerala, while Tamil Nadu saw Captain Miller, Ayalaan and Mission: Chapter 1 clash at the box office. What added more spice to the 4-day-long celebration with the main festive on Monday was Tollywood with Guntur Kaaram, HanuMan, Saindhav and Naa Saami Ranga. A slow-burn effect to the macho films was rendered by Sriram Raghavan’s Tamil-Hindi bilingual Merry Christmas. So, who fared better at the box office?
HanuMan and Guntur Kaaram are ruling the Telugu box office whereas Captain Miller is leading the TN charts closely followed by Ayalaan, trade experts tell us.
The first film to kickstart the festive weekend was Jayaram’s Abraham Ozler, which hit the screens on January 11 (Thursday). There was enough buzz around the film as it would mark the seasoned actor’s comeback and the expectations were further amped up with the surprise Mammooty cameo that was revealed only a few days before the film’s release. As per news updates, the film is said to have done impressive numbers at the box office.
In TN, reportedly, both Captain Miller and Ayalaan have crossed the ₹50-crore mark as of Tuesday. Entertainment tracker and columnist Sreedhar Pillai says, “This year’s Pongal releases are not in the same league as Rajinikanth or Vijay. It’s a Dhanush and Sivakarthikeyan clash. Surprisingly though, both films have done good business. Mission, which was expected to go unnoticed, has had an okay opening. CM and Ayalaan are neck to neck in Tamil Nadu; the former had an early advantage as only after day one, the Sivakarthikeyan-starrer picked up steam.” Pillai also notes that while CM targets the youth with its action themes, Ayalaan is a family-friendly film — it has a ‘U’ certificate in today’s times where getting the ‘U/A’ certificate is itself difficult. “During Pongal, you have to have a family film and Ayalaan has got that. But on a whole, Captain Miller has performed better outside Tamil Nadu.”
All eyes were on Trivikram-Mahesh Babu’s hyper-local Guntur Kaaram but Prasanth Varma’s HanuMan came out flying with his superhero story. The positive word of mouth about the film spread quickly even impacting its opening-day business. “More than surprising, HanuMan is a shocking hit,” quips Deepak Kodela, founder of Andhra Box Office, a digital platform that tracks the Telugu Film Industry.
As of Monday, Guntur Kaaram made ₹119 crores in worldwide gross and Hanuman collected ₹96 crores. “HanuMan would’ve made another ₹20 crores and it would’ve easily crossed the ₹100-crore feat on Tuesday morning,” adds Deepak. “The film had to gross only ₹40 crores in its entire lifetime to be considered a box-office hit and the film raked in ₹24 crores on the first day, having a thunderous opening.” Although Guntur Kaaram has received average reviews, the film has been doing well especially in northern parts of Andhra Pradesh like Vizag and Godavari districts due to the festival, distribution strategies and the number of shows being played in the theatres. However, Deepak points out that the film is a disaster in the USA, Karnataka and Ceded areas (a part of Andhra Pradesh). Venkatesh’s Saindhav with a January 13 release had made ₹11 crores in 3 days and Nagarjuna’s Naa Saami Ranga raked in ₹13.5 crores in two days after hitting the screens on January 14 (Sunday).
HanuMan dominates the Hindi market, Captain Miller finds audiences in Kerala
Out of all the South releases, HanuMan is the major film that has managed to leave an impact in the northern market, along with the Hindi film Merry Christmas. It has grossed ₹19-20 crores in the Hindi belt alone in the first four days and is expected to have a longer run. The film has also made ₹8-9 crores gross in Karantaka. HanuMan has not done the same numbers in Tamil Nadu and Kerala but both Deepak and Pillai are hopeful that the film will slowly pick up. On the other hand, the only film out of all the Telugu and Tamil releases that attracted the Kerala audience was the Dhanush-starrer. “Captain Miller has done exceptionally well in Kerala. The Hindi market though has been dominated by HanuMan,” notes Pillai.
Deepak asserts the success of HanuMan is more cultural than religious. “Apart from the Telugu industry, even Salaar (2023) did well only in Karnataka and Hindi markets. I think it is about similarities in taste. The movies of Telugu, Kannada and Hindi industries are culturally very similar. Of course, the mythology factor has helped HanuMan to take an opening. However, the film went from an opening of ₹2 crore net in the Hindi market to doing ₹6 crore net on Sunday which is also due to good word of mouth.”
Even though Captain Miller has outperformed Ayalaan in all other Indian states, the latter leads the way in the US markets. Speaking about the Telugu films, Pillai points out that HanuMan is featuring in the top 10 Telugu releases of all time in the US. “HanuMan is way ahead. It has done 3 million US dollars and that shows its potential.”
Merry Christmas couldn’t crack the Pongal clash
Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas has found a lot of love among cinephiles and stirred several conversations. However, the Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif film, which was also simultaneously shot in Tamil, has not been able to make a solid number in the Kollywood box office. Pillai asserts, “In Tamil Nadu, Merry Christmas got caught between the three films and is only the fourth preference. On the other hand, HanuMan has picked up and will do even better in the second week as it will have a few more screens. Merry Christmas had more shows on the first and second day in multiplexes but they have replaced it now with HanuMan.”
The continuing controversy
Amidst all the celebrations and different Ariselus and Pongals, there is a continuing controversy. Much before Guntur Kaaram and HanuMan hit the screens, Dil Raju (distributor of GK, Naa Saami Ranga and Saindhav) and Mythri Movie Makers (distributors of HanuMan) had a major release issue. Mythri Movies was frustrated that HanuMan was able to get only fewer screens and stated that Dil Raju was locking all the screens for his movies in the Nizam area (the territory covers Telangana and some districts of Karnataka and Maharashtra). Whereas, Dil Raju’s team had asserted that they are aiming to get as many screens as possible for the other three films to recover the invested amounts.
Even after HanuMan went on to become a big hit and draw huge crowds to the theatres, the controversy over the number of screens seemed to have not died out. Deepak says, “HanuMan is still struggling to get more screens. These 4 - 5 days are a very good holiday period and there is no question of struggling to run the show. So why will someone let go of the screens? Of course, HanuMan may get more screens for next week but nothing is confirmed yet.” The situation is quite different in Andhra, where the film might have at least gotten 10-20% additional screens, adds Deepak. “What makes things more problematic in Nizam is that the film didn’t even release in many of its areas. Although not many additional screens are added, there is an increase in the number of shows for HanuMan. For instance, they are playing early morning shows of HanuMan in the theatres of other competing films as well. Since this film has demand, it will pull the crowd even for 8 AM shows. So even today (Wednesday), HanuMan had early morning shows.”
Were there too many releases?
While the screens were divided to accommodate all nine films across the south theatres, there were too many options for the audience to choose from. Fewer releases would have meant better business for all the films, Pillai points out. “HanuMan would have done impressive numbers if it was a solo release. Likewise, the word of mouth for HanuMan was so good that it ate into the Guntur Kaaram collections. Otherwise, the Mahesh Babu film would have had an even better opening. Similarly, even in Tamil Nadu, if the films had been released separately, each would have gained a 15-20% increase in collections.”