Dil Bechara: Success of Serendipitous Proportions

31 Jul,2020


By Shailesh Kapoor


Over the last seven weeks, following Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, allegedly by suicide, a murky Bollywood story has been playing out in the media. It started with a nepotism narrative, and has eventually snowballed into a larger controversy that’s an incoherent concoction of various sub-narratives, including nepotism, clique culture, allegations of a botched-up police investigation, celebrities using Rajput’s death to make their presence felt, and journalists using his death to get some primetime traction. There’s neither class nor grace in any of this, and one only wishes that chapter is resolved and closed soon within the legal framework.


In the midst of all the mess, Rajput’s last film Dil Bechara dropped on Disney+ Hotstar last Friday. The film was originally scheduled for a theatrical release, but with theatres closed indefinitely, it has made its way to the audience via streaming, like many other Hindi films have, and will, in the next few weeks.


Under normal circumstances, the film would have been a usual streaming release, getting its share of viewership based on its content and its credentials. But the events of the six weeks leading up to the film’s release are anything but “normal circumstances”. Disney+ Hotstar wisely decided to not put the film behind the paywall, hence opening it up to a wider AVOD audience base. While streaming platforms do not share numbers publically, our estimates suggest the film would easily be the most-sampled streaming content piece in India ever, with upwards of 50 million streamers accessing it. This number could be higher, closer to 75-80 million, and even more over the lifetime of the film. How much duration of the film they eventually sampled is another data point for which no estimates are currently available.


In the Ormax OTT Audience Report: 2019, a research conducted in the second half of 2019, the estimated regular OTT Audience in India stood at 76.5 Million. This number would have increased significantly over the last year, especially because of the surge in OTT consumption during the long-running lockdown. And then, there is a wider audience base that are irregular OTT audience, who may come to watch that occasional ‘event’. And Dil Bechara is as ‘eventful’ as it can get on streaming.


Dil Bechara is not a usual romantic film either. ‘Death’ is a central element in the film’s story, and the emotions it generates in the last half hour get amplified several notches because of the context one is watching the film in. That has ensured that the film has generated both pre and post-viewing conversations. The chart below lists the Top 10 shows/ direct-to-OTT films launched in India since April 2020, based on the ‘buzz’ they generated in the week of their release. Dil Bechara’s takes the top position by some distance.


There have been some silly media stories trying to convert the film’s estimated sampling into theatrical box =0office, by multiplying it with an average ticket price number. This cross-media mumbo-jumbo is so silly that inspires me to mathematically prove that if the Hindi GEC show Kundali Bhagya released in theatres in a movie spin-off, it will beat the collections of Bahubali 2, Avengers: Endgame and Dangal put together. There is no vaccine yet for media illiteracy, and journalists in some of the biggest publications in India can desperately do with some immunity.


Like Ramayan earlier this year, Dil Bechara’s streaming performance is a serendipitous event in which the timing, more than anything else, contributed to an immensely successful outcome. Disney+ Hotstar would know, better than anyone else, that this cannot be replicated.



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