Akshay Kumar’s BellBottom was the first major Hindi film to hit theaters in India post the pandemic-induced shutdown of movie halls. Despite the film performing below expectations; trade experts, as well as producers, have expressed happiness over the fact that Kumar took the risk and attracted certain groups of audiences to the movie halls after a long period of lull at the box office.
In India, BellBottom collected $2.5 million (Rs 18.75 crore) over the first week while it earned approximately $ 0.03 million in the US and Canada markets over the first weekend of its release.
Producer and Film Business Expert Girish Johar says that trade insiders expect a dip in collections after the first weekend but collections are likely to be stable over the coming days. He adds, “The main concern regarding BellBottom was to unlock the cinemas. BellBottom has done its bit, we expected a little more from the box office, but at least things started rolling, We need Maharashtra to open cinema halls for things to work properly.”
BellBottom: The trendsetter in Hindi cinema?
A few Indian states including Maharashtra, that forms a major chunk of Bollywood box office collections, are yet to open up movie halls. BellBottom has, therefore, not been able to meet expectations of trade experts. The industry experts, as well as producers are happy nonetheless. They believe that Akshay Kumar has helped cross the first barrier of “unlocking cinemas” in the country, with his film hitting theaters.
Sharing his insights on how BellBottom could not meet expectations, trade analyst Atul Mohan says, “To be honest, entire trade had its eyes glued on BellBottom opening and that was below expectations. When a big film delivers such low collections despite glowing reviews, it means things are not as rosy they seemed. The audience requires time to come back to the cinemas. Many producers adopted wait and watch policy and I think they will have to for some more time.”
“The cinemas in Maharashtra are yet to open and that is also one of the big factor. Perhaps, producers will shy away from releasing their films till Maharashtra opens up. Chehre is the next big film to hit theaters. I hope things pick-up soon,” he adds.
Johar adds, “For Hindi films to do better, Maharashtra needs to open up. And, Maharashtra is not just important for business but marketing and promotions as well.”
How soon will theatrical business in India be back to normal?
Many states in India have allowed cinema halls to function with fifty percent capacity. However, very few producers are taking the risk of going for theatrical releases. Given the kind of response that a big movie star like Kumar could manage, not many will be encouraged soon. However, trade experts hope things will improve around November when India gets into celebratory mood with festivals such as Dussehra and Diwali. “In my opinion I see around Diwali things to get better unless third wave plays a spoilsport, says Mohan.
Producer Jackky Bhagnani shares his views on the risks that they took when deciding to release BellBottom theatrically. “We were aware the biggest revenue giving state was shut , no night shows and theaters were running at a 50% capacity- As a production house we always believe in finding the silver lining. And that was to take the plunge. In Bollywood, it is the sentiment that comes before arithmetic and we hedged our bets on that and decided to release Bellbottom in theatres.”
“As a producer, the lockdown made us think long and hard about whether we were ever going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As storytellers, I think, it taught us that it was time to leave behind our comfort zone because as we found out in 2020, it doesn’t exist. Taking Bellbottom to the theaters came from this revised belief system. We knew the industry needs a kickstart but with theaters shut in Maharashtra and several other places, it was always going to be a huge risk. Pooja Entertainment decided that it would always be difficult but someone had to take the lead and so we did it.”
Bhagnani, however, adds that it was completely worth the risk. “Absolutely, someone had to start. it Was never going to be easy, but we hope we’ve injected some hope and optimism, and its time to bring the big business back to Bollywood.”