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Size matters: What's ailing small budget films?

Notwithstanding their critical acclaim, small films are still struggling to find screen space. We takea look at factors that contribute to the failure of a good film that happens to lack star quotient

In comparison to the first quarter of last year, 2014’s first quarter has witnessed a sharp decline in profits at the box office. According to trade pundits, the loss ranges between Rs 175 crore to Rs 200 crore. Around 40 films released during this period and the biggest release, 'Jai Ho', raked in more than Rs 100 crore.

Miss Lovely finally released in January, after doing the rounds of the film fest circuit, to lukewarm response at the box-office
'Miss Lovely' finally released in January, after doing the rounds of the film fest circuit, to lukewarm response at the box-office

But given Salman Khan’s star power, this film was expected to do better. On the other hand, Vikas Bahl’s relatively humble project, 'Queen', cost Rs 12 crore to make and has already collected Rs 50 crore across the spectrum.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, Ankhon Dekhi (below) wasn’t allowed enough number of daily shows
Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, 'Ankhon Dekhi' wasn’t allowed enough number of daily shows

Between these two ends lies a bunch of small-budget films that saw a release but didn’t make any waves at the BO. Some of them earned accolades but that was about as far as it went; profits remained an illusion to their filmmakers. Like in every other industry, money ranks high on Bollywood’s priority list.

Last year, B.A. Pass was a surprise success story among small budget films. It costs around Rs 4 crore to make
Last year, 'B.A. Pass' was a surprise success story among small budget films. It costs around Rs 4 crore to make

Everything boils down to the same old question: did the small film breakeven, let alone make a considerable profit? Take for instance, Rajat Kapoor’s 'Ankhon Dekhi'. The film won critical acclaim with several publications raving about it.

Club 60 (2013) featured Farooque Shaikh and Sarika in the lead role and received very little encouragement at the box-office. Later, it featured in the top-10 list of DVDs sold in the first quarter of 2014
'Club 60' (2013) featured Farooque Shaikh and Sarika in the lead role and received very little encouragement at the box-office. Later, it featured in the top-10 list of DVDs sold in the first quarter of 2014

To add to it, social media was buzzing with praises for the film’s simple-yet-touching narrative. However, when the BO collection report trickled in, it was clear that the Rs 4 crore film had a long way to go.

Star power
Kapoor points out that it all about how the industry functions. “The problem lies in the whole set up of our industry. Bollywood is star-driven where nothing sells until and unless it has a known face endorsing it,” he says.

The filmmaker rues the lack of shows for small films, particularly time slots at multiplexes. “My film bagged barely one or two shows in a day, while 'Ragini MMS 2' was allotted a dozen,” says Kapoor.

It’s all about profit
Now this might seem unfair but in the world of commerce, it’s about supply meeting demand. Mumbai-based exhibitor Rajesh Thadani addresses the harsh reality of the economics involved.

“Profit is a rare phenomenon with small films because even if they were made with a shoestring budget, a huge amount of money is spent on publicity,” he says.

It may be pointed out here that from the multiplexes’ point of view, ticket and food counter sales reign supreme. Bigger films often ensure higher footfalls, and this in turn makes them slot more shows for such films.

Besides, audiences for small-budget films often belong to the ‘classes’ and not the masses. With multiplexes’ high ticket pricing for all films, masses prefer watching a potboiler to a film with a message.

Trade analyst Komal Nahta puts the onus on distributors. “You can’t release a low-budget film the way a Ram Leela or a Jai Ho is released.

Special films need a structured plan not only in terms of dates, but also the number of shows they are targetting. Besides, why would someone who doesn’t care for world cinema spend Rs 200 on a non-star film when he can watch his favourite star for the same amount of money?” he asks.

Kamal Gianchandani, president of PVR Pictures, seconds Nahta’s views by emphasising on the need to have ‘platform’ releases for smaller films.

“The one-size-fits-all mantra doesn’t work for movies that don’t have a huge star cast. In such cases, exhibitors look at their own interests and allot fewer shows to such films, at least in the beginning,” he argues.

More time to get noticed
In the first week of December last year, Sanjay Tripathy’s film, 'Club 60', hit the big screen. The film, which dealt with the subject of old age, won good reviews but it initially didn’t do well at the BO. Nevertheless, it completed 100 days at the marquee last week.

Made with just Rs 4 crore, this film thrived only due to positive word-of-mouth. “We love to declare a film a flop not because it’s a flop but because we are impatient. 'The Lunchbox' or 'Queen' wouldn’t have been worked if their makers didn’t believe in them,” says Tripathy.

Public takes the final call
Director Hansal Mehta, who had to struggle to ensure a release for his acclaimed film, 'Shahid', has an interesting take on the issue. “It just tells you about the terrible audience we have. We can’t always blame the filmmakers for churning out bad films. Audiences too are killing well-made small-budget films by not watching them at cinema halls. It’s in their hands,” shrugs Mehta.

Down under
Small films’ plight is not a phenomenon exclusive to Bollywood; this is evident in South film industry as well.

The story of Inam revolves around a group of teenagers in an orphanage set during the civil war in Sri Lanka
The story of Inam revolves around a group of teenagers in an orphanage set during the civil war in Sri Lanka

Santosh Sivan’s Tamil film, Inam, was voluntarily pulled out of cinema halls last week after objections were raised against the film’s political content. The film was made at an estimated budget of Rs 10 crore and it begs the question: would a ‘bigger’ film face a similar backlash?

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