It's small-budget films vs. blockbusters in Bollywood

Commercial films often steer clear of clashing at the box-office to avoid eating into each other’s business. However, of late, several content driven films have released alongside commercial entertainers but have managed to find a place of prominence.

For instance, Zeishan Qadri’s ‘Meeruthiya Gangsters’ released alongside Nikhil Advani’s ‘Katti Batti’ least fortnight but managed to recover it’s making cost. Similarly, National Award-winner Nila Madhab Panda’s ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’ got noticed despite clashing with Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer, ‘Phantom’.

© Provided by MiD-DAY(Above) Zeishan Quadri’s debut outing, ‘Meeruthiya Gangsters’ clashed with Nikhil Advani’s ‘Katti Batti’ (below) on September 18

Call it the changing mindset of the industry or increasing audience acceptancy, small-budget films are no longer hestitant to go head-to-head with blockbusters.

© Provided by MiD-DAYOpportunity is key

There is no denying that releasing an indie high-on-content film with a star-studded flick requires the makers of the former to be confident of the product. “When a filmmaker makes a film, s/he takes on a lot of responsibility. Any film is the cumulative effort of many people, and no filmmaker would make a film he is not confident about. So, confidence is not the issue. Getting an opportunity to make and release the film is,” says Gulzar.

She goes on to add, “Terms such as ‘offbeat’, ‘unconventional’ and ‘commercial’ are subjective and I do not endorse labelling. Films, for me, are big-budget, small-budget, good or bad. However, the concept of non-stereotypical films releasing with big films is a great thing. This just means that the audience today has a bigger platter to choose from. It is a great time for filmmakers to explore subjects in any genre or language since along with Bollywood films, regional films are also being screened and receiving great response.”

© Provided by MiD-DAY(Above) ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’ managed to get noticed despite releasing alongside Kabir Khan’s ‘Phantom’ (Below)

‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’, despite releasing along with Saif Ali Khan-Katrina Kaif-starrer ‘Phantom’, managed to grab eyeballs. The film’s director, Nila Madhab Panda, explains that the audience is far more receptive to a variety of genres. This, in turn helps indie filmmakers. However, releasing a small film with big fish is always risky. “No matter what kind of content-oriented film you make — whether it is a no-nonsense film, aesthetically-sound film or a mindless entertainer, it has to be true to cinema. Today, the industry has become a factory that makes and sells formula-based films.

© Provided by MiD-DAY Most big production houses know that if, for instance, they make 10 films a year, six wouldn’t make money but the remaining will. That works for them. But that doesn’t work for indie filmmakers. They spend two to three years behind a film and even though they are confident, it becomes dicey to release it due to competition. They have to be extra-cautious about chosing the right date,” he says.

Battle of dates and screens

While content-driven films struggle to get the right release date, the fight for ample screens is another factor that adds to their woes. Says Panda, “One or two big films release almost every week. This comes in the way of getting a screen to release an indie . In addition to that, if there is a Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan film, then it is certain that filmmakers like us won’t land screens for three weeks at least. Plus, there are cricket tournaments during which the exhibitors do not screen films. Although, there is a growing audience for the kind of films we make, we don’t get enough screens to reach out to them. So, even before the release, you can sometimes judge that your film has failed.”

© Provided by MiD-DAYNila Madhab Panda, director, ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’

“I released my film along with ‘Phantom’ because only two Hindi films were releasing that week. However, out of nowhere three other smaller films released. Then there were already a few Hollywood films and a couple of Marathi films lined up. On top of that, the previous week’s spillovers were also running,” rues the filmmaker.

Several films releasing on the same day, affects the box-office collections. Then there is the issue of not getting favourable screen timings. “It’s a cycle. If you get screens, you do not bag favourable show timings; even if you get show timings, then the film’s posters are not displayed outside theatres since the exhibitors have already decided that it won’tbe a hit. If you give a particular film a 12 pm slot, do you think even those who want to watch the movie, will bunk college or office on a weekday for it?” asks Zeishan Quadri, director of ‘Meeruthiya Gangsters’.

A biased take?

Ask filmmakers if distributors and exhibitors are partial towards big-budget films, and a few are of the view that times are changing for the better. “Exhibitors are far more supportive today. In fact, they back small films with more gusto when they clash with big films as opposed to when two big films clash. There is a serious war for screen space,” says Gulzar.

© Provided by MiD-DAYMeghna Gulzar, director, ‘Talvar’

Quadri, on the other hand, feels that though audiences accept small films, it is still too early to comment on the preferences of distributors and exhibitors. However, he is hopeful. “There will come a time when exhibitors will continue playing good content-oriented films even if a big film releases the week after it. However, for now, I do understand that both, distributors and exhibitors see a lot of pressure from corporates; and they too are fighting their battles,” he says.

Trade talk

Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi opines that each film, whether high-on-content or an out-and-out commercial, has its own audience. However, if the clash of the two takes place more often, it will benefit distributors and exhibitors as they will be able to cater to every kind of audience. However, he also thinks that producers, distributors and exhibitors, need to work in tandem, which unfortunately is not happening at the moment. “The producers who make big-budget films obviously sell their films to distributors for large amounts. The distributors, in order to recover their money, sell it to the exhibitors at an even higher price. Hence, the exhibitors, in order to recover that amount, allot screen timings to such films accordingly, and this in turn adversely effects small-budget films. This needs to stop and the three sectors need to co-exist harmoniously,” says Rathi.

Anil Thadani, who has distributed several budget films, such as ‘Baahubali’, however, says that while coordination between the three sectors needs to be achieved, the problem lies with the screen constraint. “The number of screens needs to increase. One can’t blame the exhibitors because it’s a revenue-sharing model and it’s business. Also, it’s not only about two films on one day. What about the backlog of films, the English and regional ones?How can the exhibitor accommodate every film?” he asks.

“Also, when there’s so much disparity between the size of two films, how can there be a balance? I think if a film has to work, it will, no matter what time slot is allotted. But, if a film does not work, no one will run it and suffer losses. Also, the taste of the audience is different in different regions. What might work in Maharashtra may not work in Gujarat. There are only few films that work pan-India,” adds Thadani.

© Provided by MiD-DAYZeeshan Quadri, director, Meeruthiya Gangsters

While many agree that change in on its way, Ramesh Taurani, producer of successful commercial films, such as ‘Phata Poster Nikla Hero’, ‘Race’ and ‘Race 2’, and ‘Ramaiya Vastavaiya’, explains that competition is a misnomer; each film has its market and end up doing its own business at the box-office. “Both kinds are actually co-existing, not competing,” he concludes.

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It's small-budget films vs. blockbusters in Bollywood

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