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Big box-office battles of 2018

If 2017 belonged to content-heavy, small-budget entertainers, the current year seems to be led by films heavy on star power and big budgets. With as many as 40 prominent films anticipating release in the remaining 11 months of 2018, Bollywood will witness a musical chair of sorts between various projects vying to find a suitable release window. After 'Padmaavat' announced its release date, Neeraj Pandey's 'Aiyaary', which was initially scheduled for a Republic Day release, pushed its opening to February 9. Akshay Kumar's 'Padman' also deferred its release to February 9, allowing Sanjay Leela Bhansali's visual extravaganza a clear two-week run. The films, while competing with one another, are also likely to face competition from 'Fifty Shades of Freed' if it opens in India on the same date.

Vivek Krishnani from Sony Pictures Entertainment, India, which backed 'Padman', says, "With 52 weeks and over 200 Hindi films lined up, it's not possible to get a clear window. While Hollywood cannot be compared with Bollywood because of the difference in the overall share in revenue, content is the king across industries. Last year proved that formula films won't work; we must also remember that the audience has diversified in terms of taste."

More big clashes in store Luv Ranjan's 'Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety', which now releases on February 23, will clash with 'Welcome To New York' and 'Hichki'. March 2 is likely to see a face-off between Anushka Sharma's 'Pari' and John Abraham's 'Parmanu'. Kangana Ranaut's 'Manikarnika — The Queen of Jhansi' and Tiger Shroff's 'Baaghi 2' were initially slated for April 27 release. While the latter will now release on March 30, there's no date announced for the period drama yet. April 27 also seems to be another Friday where fates will clash, with the release of Nikkhil Advani's 'Bazaar', Rajinikanth's '2.0' and 'Avengers: Infinity War'. Over the years, popular Hollywood franchises have begun to threaten Hindi releases. No wonder then that Ekta Kapoor, who had marked May 18 for 'Veere Di Wedding', moved it to June 1 to make way for 'Deadpool'. Another anticipated film of the year, Ranbir Kapoor's yet-untitled Dutt biopic, will take Diljit Dosanjh's 'Soorma' head on on June 29. Like every year, Salman Khan will have his big Eid release with 'Race 3'. This year, he will compete with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's 'Fanne Khan' and the next installment in the Incredibles series, unless one of them pushes their release date. On October 19, Ajay Devgn's next with Luv Ranjan is expected to clash with Vidyut Jammwal's 'Junglee', produced by Junglee Pictures. Another biggie of the year will be Shah Rukh Khan's 'Zero'. There's already a lot of buzz around the film, which, along with Sara Ali Khan's debut film, 'Kedarnath', is aiming for a December 21 release. Buzz is, Shah Rukh and Rohit Shetty's teams ensured that 'Zero' doesn't coincide with the Ranveer Singh-starrer, 'Simba'. There's an array of promising Hollywood content scheduled to open in India throughout the year, with or without a festive/holiday release window. Back home, for years, stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan Salman Khan have captured festive release windows like Diwali, Christmas and Eid, 12 to 18 months before release. Akshay Kumar is known to opt for national holidays like the Republic Day and Independence Day. Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan also prefer avoiding clashes, but don't usually back off in the face of competition.

Survival of the fittest

Kamal Gianchandani of a leading cinema chain believes that while clashes in certain periods of the year are inevitable, there's always room for two-three films to release on the same date. He explains, "Weekends are limited, and some are more important than the others. Clashes have become common because in a lot of cases, films feed off each other, which is a win-win situation for both. In other cases, the better content survives. As for the Hollywood fare, studios understand the dynamics of our business and are flexible now. If there's a big Bollywood release on some weekend, they either release a week early or a week late in India."

Stressing on the importance of selecting a release date way in advance, filmmaker Nikkhil Advani says, "When you make a film with a big star, freezing a release date in advance is important. There are many big films with big set-ups and so, clashes are inevitable. The only thing you can do is to ensure that your content is good, marketed well and enjoys great word-of-mouth publicity. Whether we have in-house competition or not, Hollywood has fast become a potential threat." Producer-director Aanand L Rai agrees. "If two films are from different genres, they won't eat into each other's business. On the contrary, they will feed off each other. The rest is a project's destiny." Finding truce

Given the importance attached to an extended weekend, every filmmaker eyes a prized Friday for his film's opening. Industry insiders point out that if multiple films decide to open simultaneously, it's the single screens that face a dilemma. Multiplexes split shows in a mutually acceptable ratio, but bagging the better shows is usually a fight.Independent distributor Amod Mehra believes that the division of screens tilts towards more commercial projects. "During most clashes, businesses individually get affected to the tune of 30 per cent. Besides, there's always a promising Hollywood film around the corner; their box office presence has increasingly become powerful."

Distributor Sunil Bansal, who operates from Rajasthan, believes that a clash is unfortunate for everyone. "A clash usually impacts 20-25 per cent of the ticket sales of films across the country, which is big," he says. Nitin Datar, the head of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, agrees, adding, "For the betterment of exhibitors, producers must find a way to co-exist because these days, every producer wants the lion's share of the prime shows." Where there is a will, there is hope

In the past, films like 'Dil' and 'Ghayal'', Raja Hindustani' and 'Ghatak', 'Lagaan' and 'Gadar: Ek Prem Katha', 'Veer-Zaara' and 'Aitraaz', 'Taare Zameen Par' and 'Welcome', 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' and 'Son of Sardaar', 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' and 'Shivaay', 'Raees' and 'Kaabil', 'Baadshaho' and 'Shubh Mangal Saavdhan', 'Golmaal Again' and 'Secret Superstar' have released together, with both the films raking in the moolah.

Manoj Desai, who runs single screen cinemas in Mumbai, says, "I wish the big films would come on separate weekends. It will benefit us and them. It's a tight-ropewalk for businesses like ours to provide room to all the players, without foul play and unnecessary hikes in ticket prices."

PV Sunil, the managing director of a leading cinema chain, points out that while clashes create options for cine lovers, cinema chains have to tackle advertisers, who are selective about the films they want to advertise with. "We have seen a situation like that with 'Bajirao Mastani' and 'Dilwale'. Cannibalisation is inevitable with so many films but with great content, we hope the audience will turn up across the next 48 weekends." * The release dates mentioned in this article have not been finalised and are subject to change.


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