The coronavirus pandemic continues to be a dampener for the box office business worldwide. Several factors have contributed to a significant drop in film earnings in India. Cinema halls are still not open in major territories like Maharashtra (Mumbai and Pune), depriving Bollywood of a major source of its revenues. The uncertainty of Covid times has still not fully restored the confidence of the audience. Many single screens are also braving the losses incurred during the current times. Meanwhile, filmmakers try their best to pull viewers back to the theatres with a cinema-first release model.
Hindi titles Bell Bottom and Chehre have hit screens recently, alongside Hollywood mega budget outings The Suicide Squad, The Conjuring 3, F9: The Fast Saga and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, but the jury is still out on their post pandemic box office performance. Another anticipated title waits at the cinema doors, Kangana Ranaut starrer Thalaivii, set for September 10 release, in hopes of turning around the revenue.
However, there are other challenges that Thalaivii faces other than the pressing box office worry.
Track record of political biopics
Thalaivii is based on the life and times of one of the most dynamic and interesting figures in Indian politics, former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa. But as compelling a political biopic may seem, they have not been able to woo the audience as one would expect. The Accidental Prime Minister, Thackeray and Yatra are a few political biopics that released previously and received an underwhelming response from the audience, either because of the content or the craft. The plot is lost in veneration of the figure and image building, failing to live up to the hype or the controversies that surrounded them. Thackeray is a prime example of lost objectivity. It unabashedly supports Bal Thackeray’s controversial ideas. A hardliner, whose party opposed the migrants, is whitewashed. It will be interesting to see if and how Jayalalithaa’s lows are portrayed in the movie or Thalaivii too boils down to a exercise in vanity.
Women-centric film’s baggage
Even as women-centric stories continue to break new grounds in Bollywood, the yardstick for success remains box office business, or now, how much the film sells for on an OTT platform. Needless to say, the success of Thalaivii will have a direct bearing on women-centric films and the confidence shown by the producers in such projects. Thalaivii too will carry the baggage of monetary returns and must live up to the anticipation. Meanwhile, Kangana and the producers woes are mounted considering three national multiplex chains have reportedly decided to not accommodate the film.
Various release models and their viability is worrisome
Exhibition mode has become a major concern for all the parties during Covid- actors, producers and other stakeholders in theatre business. The Hindi version of Thalaivii will release on OTT two weeks after release, a condition cinema halls are unwilling to accept, considering a further revenue loss for an already cash-strapped business. This has led to an impasse and Thalaivii will certainly suffer. Lines are blurring further with simultaneous release model, the case with Salman Khan starrer Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, which released on OTT in a pay-per-view service, and in very few cinema halls, at the same time.
The pay-per-view model is also in the initial stages of development in India. Problematic is the fact the afterlife of a film is shortened in a digital-first release model. Plus, an accelerated trust in OTT also challenges the cinema business in long term that also affects the ‘star-system’ directly. Many small budget films have opted for direct-to-digital release but others like Sooryavanshi, ’83, Radhe Shyam continue to stretch further as they await normalcy to return. This unprecedented pull is not easy for the actors.