Sekhar Kammula’s Love Story, which released worldwide in theatres last week “has had the best opening weekend after the second lockdown,” says Gautam Jain, Partner at Ormax Media. “It grossed 10.5 crores in the Telugu-speaking states alone from Friday until Sunday. So far, Love Story has made around 38-40 crores in gross collections worldwide. In the US, it has made over a million dollars in the opening weekend, which is a record considering Naga Chaitanya films have never done this kind of business there,” he adds.
Love Story had already carried a huge pre-release buzz. Kammula’s last film Fidaa was critically and commercially well-received leading to big expectations. Music by Pawan also heightened expectations — ‘Saranga Dariya’ has 330 million views and counting on YouTube. However, given that the film wasn’t headlined by a huge commercial star (like, say, Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan or Nagarjuna), it wasn’t clear if families — who make up a significant proportion of Kammula’s audience — would come back to theatres after the second lockdown. Rajkumar Akella, Managing Director, Comscore Theatrical, says that after the second wave there was a “palpable fear for families to come to theatres. ” He suggests that Love Story’s success is a positive sign that people across age brackets are returning to theatres.
“I think Love Story is a genuine superhit,” says trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. “It’s the kind of extraordinary opening that is at least somewhere near the pre-pandemic days. But it’s not a great film and by Monday, collections have come down.”
But this isn’t an anomaly, especially in the post-pandemic era. Jain points out that “even Seetimaarr that opened strongly didn’t sustain well, and the major collection of Vakeel Saab happened over the first weekend and declined from Monday onwards.”
What made Love Story’s success possible?
The brand values of Sekhar Kammula, Sai Pallavi and Naga Chaitanya, and the film’s successful music ensured a big opening. But the Telugu film industry has succeeded in churning out one theatrical hit after another (Krack, Wild Dog, Jathi Ratnalu, Uppena, Vakeel Saab, among others) through the pandemic, while other industries are just beginning to get back on their feet. In other words, being a Telugu film may have helped Love Story’s success, however indirectly.
“Everywhere in India, films are only a weekend business now. Andhra and Telangana are showing greater resilience because they are the biggest places for movie audiences in India,” says Pillai. He points out that one of the factors that made Love Story a hit is solid marketing, which is typical for the Telugu industry. “They have an organized setup with distribution networks and exhibitors. It’s a better structured business. So, they can overcome shocks like the pandemic to an extent.”
Big stars and directors in Telugu have also opted for a theatrical release as opposed to an OTT premiere, unlike in Tamil where films like Soorarai Pottru and Sarpatta Parambarai skipped theatres. Pillai suggests that it might encourage the audiences in these states to simply wait for the OTT release, instead of making a trip to the theatres.
Does the success of Love Story offer hope for other industries?
“Even after the second wave, Love Story was able to get an occupancy of around 90% (of the 50% occupancy allowed by the government) during the opening weekend,” says Pillai. It’s a sign that people are gradually coming back to theatres, even without big stars. For example, Seetimaarr had the highest opening weekend collections in Gopichand’s career, and again with just 50% occupancy. But this is happening only in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, with other states mostly struggling..
That’s because it’s not just about how good the individual films are. A lineup of films that excite the audience is necessary to keep up theatre-going interest. “Once you get Valimai, or Vikram, or Mahaan, or even Annaatthe, that’s when Tamil audiences too will come back to theatres, just as they did for Master and Karnan,” suggests Jain. Pillai is hopeful too, but he also reminds that “it’s unlikely that pre-pandemic collections can be reached anytime soon.”