The curious case of Tubelight, Jab Harry Met Sejal: What 2017 taught us about the box office

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This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series

A few years from now, when the year 2017 is looked back at, it will be recalled for films such as Anaarkali of Aarah, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Hindi Medium, Newton, Shubh Mangal Savdhan and Tumhari Sulu or actors like Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Bhumi Pednekar and perhaps Varun Dhawan, who had two Rs 100 crore plus blockbusters.

The list of the year’s top box office earners, if revisited, would feature tent pole films that were labeled flops. Despite being critically panned and shown little love by legions of fans, Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal feature in the list of the year’s biggest money spinners. Earlier in the year while speaking to a filmmaker who had a critically and commercial successful film in 2016, something struck this writer: the director felt that the term ‘hit’ could be interpreted in any number of ways but in the end, it is about ‘perception.’

Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal both earned much over Rs 100 crore, yet were labelled flops

Tubelight and Jab Harry Met Sejal both earned much over Rs 100 crore, yet were labelled flops

No recent Shah Rukh Khan film faced as much flak as Jab Harry Met Sejal. In fact, even before the first show had ended the reactions that were ‘live-tweeted’ had sealed the fate of the film, and despite Khan or Anushka Sharma and Imtiaz Ali the film was a washout. Khan’s Diwale too had faced a lukewarm response, but perhaps being ‘a Rohit Shetty film’ the criticism was not as much. Ali also went on to defend the film by saying that he never intended to make “an intellectual masterpiece”. The film’s box office collection is estimated to be Rs 150 crore (worldwide), of which about Rs 89 crore is said to its India gross. When juxtaposed against its supposed budget of Rs 80 crore, the film is nothing less than a debacle. A few days ago there was a report that Shah Rukh Khan had compensated about 30 percent of the losses to some distributors, which leaves no doubt about how the film fared.

If a ‘hit’ is a perception, then a ‘flop’ is a feeling. Before Jab Harry Met Sejal, the Kabir Khan-directed Salman Khan feature Tubelight too, faced a similar fate at the box office. Even after making a whopping Rs 100 crore in its first week, the film was declared a major flop and the poor word of mouth convinced the trade that be it Salman Khan’s hardcore fans or other audiences, no one was interested in Tubelight. Made on an estimated budget of  Rs 135 crore. Tubelight has managed to make about Rs 211 crore worldwide, which would be termed a disaster. It was Salman Khan who first compensated the distributors to the tune of almost Rs 30 crore, which was half of the total losses suffered by the distributors over Tubelight. Ironically enough, the same distributor, Shreyans Hirawat of NH Studioz would go on to lose nearly Rs 50 crore on Jab Harry Met Sejal.

The chances of a Tubelight of a Jab Harry Met Sejal being rediscovered a la Andaz Apna Apna or a Fight Club that were ‘flops’ when they first released, oscillate between low to none. Looking at the contradiction of films such as Jab Harry Met Sejal and Tubelight being flops and yet ending up amongst the top earners of the year one can’t help but wonder if box office collections even matter anymore?

Perhaps one needs to ask this question — what does box office collection even mean? In his book The Hollywood Economist 2.0: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies, Edward Jay Epstein — an investigative journalist with teaching experience at Harvard, UCLA, and MIT — notes that in 2007, the combined revenues of major Hollywood studios were around $42 billion, of which only one-tenth came from the theaters. In other words, the major chunk of the money came from the so-called backend that includes DVD sales, multi-picture output deals with foreign distributors, pay-TV, and network-television licensing and such. In Hindi films, too, the bigger the product, the higher the chance of making money even before the film releases. So, while the audience feels let down and the distributors burn their fingers, the stars (also the producers in most instances) still benefit as it’s all about perceptions!


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