Woken up, and smelling the popcorn!

12 Nov,2021


By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorAfter 20 long months of what seemed like a never-ending wait, Bollywood box-office sprung back to life last week. Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi opened to very good numbers, and has since sustained its box-office run, becoming the first major Bollywood hit since Tanhaji in January 2020.


There have been hit films in the South languages over the last year, but Bollywood has waited for its turn. And the floodgates have now opened. Of India’s 146 million (14.6 cr) theatre-going population (number of people who visited a movie theatre at least once in 2019, as per Ormax Media’s pre-pandemic report titled Sizing The Cinema), an estimated 47% (69 Million) have already visited a movie theatre at least once since theatres re-opened in October 2020. In the coming weeks, we can expect this number to rise further, and touch at least the 100 Million mark by the end of January, if not earlier.


It just took one Diwali weekend to debunk the argument that OTT may have killed the movie-going habit. As I walked into a theatre earlier this week, for the first time in 2021, the smell of the popcorn was unmissable, even in a somewhat sparsely-occupied multiplex on a Tuesday evening. In that instant, I wondered if analysts who have been scripting the death of the big screen factored in the rich sensory experience the theatre environment provides.


The road ahead is not free of challenges. A few states, including Maharashtra, are still on 50% occupancy cap. Multiplex owners and producers are sparring over revenue sharing. Films are going to clash despite release dates being available for both films to come on separate weekends. But none of that takes away from the huge positive endorsement the Hindi audience has given to the cinema halls since November 5.


Ironically, streaming platforms, who were supposed to be responsible for the doomsday scenario for the theatres, will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the return of the cinema culture. Big-screen friendly event films like Sooryavanshi will get more audience on streaming eight weeks after the theatrical release, than any direct-to-OTT film will ever hope to get. The stamp of scale that a theatrical film carries makes it reach wider. And these are the films that can pull in new subscribers for the platforms, while the originals are more suited to retaining these subscribers over time by offering them variety.


2019 saw a gross business of INR 10,948 Cr (109 Billion) at the India box-office, across languages. Can that mark be breached in 2022? Even with headwinds like a weak first-quarter pipeline because of shooting disruptions over the last year and a half, I’d be tempted to put my money on a new record in 2022. In any case, even if it falls short, it will only be by a small margin.


More power to the movie-going habit. And to the popcorn too!


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