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Box office: Fudging the figures (Column: B Town)

Comments  Comments [ 0 ]    By IANS | 21 April 2019 | 10:32am

There was a famous saying in the film industry, which was a filmmakers answer to all criticism and that was: Let the figures speak. Not at all strange that both, the one who criticised a film as well as the one who defended it, used the same phrase! One of them got the satisfaction of being proved right albeit, at the others discomfort. Films of a maker like Manmohan Desai, for instance, were always panned by critics but the collection figures spoke for his films.

Till the late 1950s and early 1970s, a film was either a flop or a hit. A film was a platinum jubilee, golden jubilee, silver jubilee or a 100-day runner and that was the indicator of its scale of success. There was no social media, no electronic media, and no branding assignments for film stars to placate. One had to keep a certain few people happy and convinced that the film was a success and the producer was still dependable and bankable. These were the financers and distributors.

Most producers had regular financers as well as distributors (films were sold piecemeal circuitwise in

those days). It was, hence, in the interest of the film producer, to project his film as a hit. And, the biggest of producers did not shy away from giving out a twisted picture.

A jubilee was a must to project your film as a hit! The cheapest place to run your film for that long, that is 25 weeks, in those days was the Royal Opera House in Mumbai and Moti Cinema in Delhi. Opera House, for instance, enjoyed the reputation of being a favourite of many top notch filmmakers. It had a seating capacity of just about 600+ persons and charged reasonable rental.

If a film ran on merit for, say, about eight weeks or 100 days, Opera House was the cinema where a producer could afford to push it for another 10 weeks and celebrate a silver jubilee. This would be followed by a Celebration Party and that kept the distributors and financers connected. This was pure business strategy.

But, these 100-day runs and jubilee runs came to be misused by producers for ego satisfaction. And, the biggest example was when a producer ran his flop film which did not fetch him any share (amount accruing to the distribution office after deducting the cinema rental and other costs) from week one! The film was Balika Badhu, and despite not earning any share from the cinema hall, it was kept going for 25 weeks!

Then, there are a few instances of the Metro Cinema in Mumbai, which did not screen Indian films as a rule. The first Indian film it screened was Annapurna (Marathi) thanks to Sadashiv J Row Kavi and his rapport with Mr Alva., the manager. The screening of Hindi films started much later at Metro. Metro was like a prestige place. I remember two films and their makers who went out of their way to create "landmarks" here. One was Pahlaj NIhalani and the other was Yash Chopra.

Nihalani's film ran out of steam after a few weeks but he insisted on running it for 100 days, so what if he had to pay the theatre rental from his own pocket. The other instance was Yash Chopra's film Chandni. Metro was a huge cinema hall which charged 52 per cent of the capacity as rental. Chandni stopped drawing footfalls after a few weeks. But, the producer wanted to set a record. The film was forced to run for 25 weeks, the coveted silver jubilee! So, the producer had to make good the theatre rental from his own pocket!

The producer, in this case, did not mind paying up for the theatre rental. He had another problem. The Metro Cinema Canteen was run by the cinema staff. They were not willing to incur the losses borne out of a producer's whim of running his film sans footfalls. Their business would suffer. Well, a settlement was reached: the producer had to subsidise the canteen!

Coming back to issuing wrong collection figures. This came when the jubilee era was over. Films were released in, say, 18 to 20 screens in a metro. After the jubilee era lost its relevance, the era of percentage started. A film's performance was measured in the percentage of the houseful capacity and just about every producer started fudging the figures to be closest to 100 per cent!

While one way to manipulate this figure was just to issue enhanced collection figures, the other, rather more assured way was called 'Feeding' which meant buying out tickets to make collections look more presentable. This was done because trade papers had this policy of calling up a random cinema hall to confirm the figures. If the tickets were bought out, the figures would tally. If the figures were enhanced, this would show.

Except for nursing egos of a maker and actor concerned, inflating box office collections had no real logic. That was till actors were drawn into brand endorsements. With actors taking to modelling and charging in crores, their continual popularity was a must. And, what better reflection of a star's popularity than the success of his/her film!

But, now it is not about 100 per cent or such. It is about Rs 200 crore and Rs 300 crore. Earlier, the only media that dealt with film collections were the trade papers. To a great extent, they were honest. That was till a couple of more magazines entered the field with neither the qualification nor the honesty required to run such a publication. Also, jumping in the fray were mainstream newspapers. They had all added special supplements to the publication that dealt with paid content.

Getting a film into a Rs 100 crore bracket within a few days was easy now. The maker handed out the figures and these media did the needful. Agencies and their clients have no way of confirming the status of a film or the star they are paying crores to endorse their product.

In the film trade, everything is related to popularity and success. A film's other rights besides the theatrical rights - satellite, OTT, Overseas, TV and, of course, endorsements - are correlated with success. Like a failed hero was endorsing a mobile network but the logic said that how could an actor sell something when he can't sell a Rs 100 ticket for his movie? Also, one must have noticed that most of the new assignments for endorsements are going to the younger actors like Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and so on.

Now, there is this group of people from the film industry who do not want people to vote for the BJP. Here again, most of them are jobless and have no acting assignments, forget endorsements. That is because, their name in the billing of a film can't bring in the audience. Money talks and that comes through success.

After all, a major star can do just about one film a year and, as such, endorsements become the main source of income.

The critics rate a film with stars and there are some critics who are known as "5 Star Critics". They would not give anything less than 5 stars to a big star film, whatever its merit or otherwise. The PR departments, in turn, use these stars given by the critics to promote films; it is a nice give and take so much so that in some publications, the management handles the 'star ratings' depending on the business relations with the makers!

@The Box Office

*The past week saw the release of as many as six films: Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai?, Blackboard Vs Whiteboard, Ek Hakikat Ganga, Gun Pe Done, Paharganj and The Tashkent Files. While The Tashkent Files got some media due to its controversial theme, none of the six could manage footfalls.

*Romeo Akbar Walter (RAW) remained average in its second week. The film added just Rs seven crore in the second week to take its two week total to Rs 36 crore.

*Badla has remained steady and collected Rs 1.75 crore in its sixth week taking its six week tally to Rs 83.55 crore.

*Kesari holds its own despite opposition and has collected about Rs five crore in its fourth week, taking its four

week total to Rs 151 crore.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)



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