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India’s cluttered film scene battles screen crunch this Friday

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-08-2017 Lata Jha

New Delhi: Film buffs in India will have a tough time making a choice this weekend as nearly a dozen movies hit the theatres on Friday. Even by Bollywood’s own standards, this is a big number, though the industry has been known for high-profile clashes in the past that, trade experts continue to reiterate, impacts the business of all coinciding releases. This comes at a time when previous releases like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Annabelle: Creation are already drawing crowds.

Among the Hindi offerings, there is A Gentleman, starring Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez; Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s action thriller Babumoshai Bandookbaaz; Amole Gupte’s children adventure Sniff, a satirical comedy called Mr. Kabaadi, starring Om Puri; director Deepak Anand’s romantic film The Rally, romantic film To Phir Aao Na, romantic comedy Muskurahatein, an English-language historical drama called Yadvi-The Dignified Princess and Yash Raj Films’s prison drama Qaidi Band.

Meanwhile, Hollywood has science fantasy The Dark Tower and action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard to offer. Regional releases include Ajith’s Tamil spy thriller Vivegam, Telugu film Arjun Reddy and Punjabi film Rupinder Gandhi 2 The Robinhood.

“Better films (of the clashing lot) always make a mark. But India needs more screens to keep pace with the number of films getting produced all across the country in multiple languages,” said Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, at online ticketing site BookMyShow.

At the moment, India is estimated to have anything between 8,000 and 12,000 screens, according to estimates of trade experts. The biggest films manage a count of 4,500-5,000. In April this year, director S.S. Rajamouli’s war epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion set a new record by releasing across 6,000 screens in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. In comparison to India’s screen density of six per million people, China has 23 screens per million, according to estimates of trade experts.

Experts like Saksena and Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive officer, PVR Pictures, attribute the inevitability of box office clashes to the number of films being made in India—nearly 250-300 in Hindi alone every year, besides Hollywood offerings that often see simultaneous release in this part of the world and regional films especially in cities where more than one language is spoken.

“Eight or nine films releasing together is not really an issue for a good film,” Gianchandani said. “Typically producers are careful and try to defer releases but sometimes movies get bundled up. Of course, there is impact and cannibalization especially when it comes to the same language.”

For now, Gianchandani sees A Gentleman, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz and The Hitman’s Bodyguard as frontrunners, though the internal team at PVR will work on the final screen distribution based on audience feedback and social media analytics.

Unlike Bollywood, in the south, it’s been a common trend for several films in the same language to get released together.

On 11 August, there were three Telugu film releases—director Hanu Raghavapudi’s thriller LIE, romantic action film Jaya Janaki Nayaka and Rana Daggubati’s political crime thriller Nene Raju Nene Mantri. In any given week, it’s quite common to see 7-8 Kannada films releasing together.

“We don’t really have a choice, do we?” said A Gentleman co-director Raj Nidimoru. “When we picked on this date a few months ago, it was a pretty empty period but slowly started getting filled up. But I do know that none of the films are similar in genre, so I’m hoping we’ll all find our audience.”

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