Two back-to-back big releases -- Akshay Kumar's 'Bell Bottom' and the Amitabh Bachchan star vehicle, 'Chehre', both well-received by critics -- may have buoyed the spirits of film exhibitors, but their box-office collections have been far from encouraging.
'Bell Bottom', which was released on August 19, according to trade analysts, has grossed Rs 18.55 crore till date. Compare this with the Rs 64.99 crore collected in its opening weekend by 'Good Newzz' (with Diljit Dosanjh), Akshay's last film before the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. And that was far less than the extended opening weekend earnings -- Rs 97.56 crore -- of the other big 2019 film, 'Mission Mangal'.
A number of factors have contributed to this significant drop in earnings: cinema theatres are still under lockdown in Mumbai and Pune, depriving Bollywood of 25 per cent of its revenues; the requirement in a number of malls for patrons to produce double vaccination certificates before being allowed in, which is affecting attendance in theatres located in malls; and, significantly, the closure of 1,500 single screens across India because of the pandemic-induced economic stress.
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On 'Chehre', which opened on Friday, the analysts were not very bullish about box-office figures. Karan Taurani of Elara Capital predicted that it would make a "lifetime collection" of Rs 5-6 crore because of its "niche" storyline that only a "discerning audience" would appreciate.
Taurani also pointed out that collections have been low because of "very low occupancy in morning shows and night shows not being allowed". He also blamed the low occupancies forced by social distancing norms being in force. Also, over the last eight days, barring this past Sunday, which did see a spike in Delhi as a result of Raksha Bandhan festivities, attendance in theatres was at an all-time low across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Exhibitors, however, are cautiously optimistic about their business coming back to life, even if partially, because of 'Bell Bottom' and 'Chehre'.
Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Limited, said in a conversation with IANS: "Post the reopening of cinemas after the second wave, 'Bell Bottom' was the first big Bollywood movie to have hit the big screen. And it has done reasonably well within the restrictions in capacity, show limitations and weekend closures."
He also emphasised the lockdown still in place for cinema theatres in "major markets such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala."
The sentiment was share by Rajender Singh Jyala, Chief Programming Officer, INOX Leisure.
Speaking to IANS, he said: "We have always said that the industry needed a couple of mass entertainers to kick off the recovery process, and we are glad that these have arrive and are doing phenomenally well, despite the restrictions."
"We positively hope that the momentum built by the fantastic response to 'Bell Bottom' in the week gone by, and the hype around 'Chehre', would mark the onset of our revival journey."
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For Dutta, more than the initial numbers, it is the momentum that matters. He said to IANS: "We are encouraged by the release of the long-awaited 'Chehre' today. Hope this will encourage producers from the Bollywood fraternity to announce their big films for theatrical release and get movie-goers back to cinemas."