How Bollywood braved the IPL storm

MUMBAI: For the last four years, Bollywood had kept its release windows shut during the Indian Premier League (IPL) period on the fear that their revenue opportunities would be badly mauled by cricket‘s overwhelming mass popularity across India. Even big studios kept their release pipeline choked and preferred to wait for box office exploitation after the theatrical drama of the T20 matches faded away.

Now the freezing period is over. Bollywood is breathing free once again and the 45 days of summer are returning to the box office map. That means less clutter and a wider room space for the 200-odd Hindi films a year to comfortably compete and tap the market.

"We have fought back and the IPL storm is waning. This has been an important year for us. Even the big-ticket movies have released and performed well. We will be more confident next year," says noted independent filmmaker Mukesh Bhatt.

The turning point for Bollywood has been this year. Eros, India‘s biggest pure movie company, has released two of its valuable products during the IPL window, while Reliance Big Entertainment, UTV, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Yash Raj Films, Nadiadwala Grandsons and Ram Gopal Varma‘s RGV Films have swung into action.

"It is a landmark year in that sense. I have always been a strong believer that the IPL can, in fact, be a lucrative window. We were the first ones to brave the IPL storm successfully in 2011 with Tanu weds Manu. The industry has reacted positively this year. The trend is here to stay," says Viacom18 Motion Pictures COO Vikram Malhotra.

Bollywood has learnt from the ‘Tanu weds Manu‘ experiment. Braving the IPL storm successfully this year have been four films - Housefull 2, Vicky Donor, Ishaqzaade and Jannat 2.

"Vicky Donor and Ishaqzaade, in fact, have been smart releases benefitting more because of their release during the IPL. They have earned far disproportionately to their size and expectations. It only reinforces my belief that you can win in the vacant windows if your content and marketing is right," avers Malhotra.

Housefull 2, a co-production between Eros and Sajid Nadiadwala, has destroyed another myth: that urban audiences stay away from cinema theatres to watch the IPL. Housefull 2, which released in the same week when IPL kicked off, mopped up Rs 455 million in its opening weekend run.

Bollywood is, indeed, having a fantastic outing. "The traditional lean patches are falling by the wayside. Bollywood is becoming a year-long activity," says Malhotra.

Take, for example, the myth of January being a soft spot for Bollywood releases. Karan Johar‘s Agneepath had a successful run that month and netted Rs 1.2 billion in five weeks.

Holi (festival of colours), another weak window, became a successful playtime for Bollywood with Viacom18 Motion Pictures‘ Kahaani. The suspense thriller collected Rs 600 million at the box office.

Bollywood has two lean release windows left to conquer: the Shraddh period (dedicated to rituals for dead ancestors) and monsoons.

"Intelligent studios are challenging these weak release zones. They can win this battle if they find the right content and back it up with smart marketing. Holi, for instance, can be a good release opportunity now as more people stay at home these days. The afternoons are also left open for entertainment viewing," says a trade analyst who tracks the box office revenues of Indian films.

Viacom18 Motion Pictures is going to take the plunge this year by releasing Oh My God during the Shraddh period. The satirical comedy has Akshay Kumar playing Lord Krishna.

"The film challenges the way Indians believe in God. We are releasing it on the start of Shraddh," says Malhotra.

Bollywood‘s new-found bravery saw the release of 24 films during the IPL this year, with Housefull 2 having the most successful ride. The film netted Rs 1.19 billion in eight weeks, while Jannat 2 collected Rs 459 million (4 weeks), YRF‘s Ishaqzaade Rs 458 million (3 weeks) and Vicky Donor Rs 404.5 million (6 weeks).

"Our continued investment in content has yielded what we believe is a strong movie slate for FY‘13 supported by the box office performance of Housefull 2 and Vicky Donor," says Eros International Media Ltd. managing director Sunil Lulla.

Tezz, Department and Life Ki Toh Lag Gayi are three of the top films that released during the IPL and failed miserably at the box office.

Says PVR Cinemas CEO Pramod Arora, "The IPL had no impact on the Bollywood releases this year. We witnessed 23 to 27 per cent growth in viewership compared to last year. Business was much better than the last four IPL seasons."

Bollywood, going through radical changes over the last few years led by the emergence of big studios under corporate control, is learning to have a year-round calendar for commercial exploitation at the box office.

(With inputs from Ashish Mitra)

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