Two of my desires while growing up were to watch all kinds of movies and visit new places. I wasn’t the nomadic types, but the urge to travel across the globe was quite consuming. Movies and globe trotting are passions that excite me even today. Luckily, I stepped into a profession that allowed me to be a part of film festivals, award functions and gala premieres and traveling to various cities became a necessity.
The two nations that I was keen to visit, but couldn’t, were Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan, because my mother was born near Lahore during the pre-partition days and it was meant to be an emotional journey, not a touristy one. Afghanistan, because the late Mukul S. Anand [director of Big B starrers HUM, AGNEEPATH and KHUDA GAWAH], a dear friend, often told me that the land was breathtakingly beautiful and the locals loved Hindi movies.
Although I haven’t visited Afghanistan, I could feel the fragrance of the beautiful land when I watched KABUL EXPRESS.
I seriously believe that Hindi cinema is truly evolving. A film like KABUL EXPRESS wouldn’t have found backers [producers] or takers [moviegoers] had it been attempted around ten years ago. But times are changing and irrespective of how KABUL EXPRESS fares at the box-office, you cannot deny that it’s truly qualitative cinema.
But KABUL EXPRESS isn’t the idea of everyone’s entertainment, at least in India. And realizing that it caters to a select movie-going audience, Yashraj, its producers and distributors, released the film at limited screens  across the nation. Unlike DHOOM 2 [1,000] and FANAA , which were released with massive prints, KABUL EXPRESS opened at 350 screens in the domestic and international markets, targeting the multiplexes and ‘A’ class single screens across the length and breadth of India.
The response was clearly divided. While the hi-gentry/elite/thinking viewer gave KABUL EXPRESS its mandate, the masses gave it a cold shoulder. While the opening at multiplexes was around 60%-70%, the business at several single screens was as low as 20%-25%. Besides its theme, the liberal usage of English and Afghani languages also went against the film at several stations.
The picture was pretty much the same in its opening weekend, with multiplexes behaving better, while single screens performing poorly. However, Monday onwards, the collections have dropped even at multiplexes since the film is devoid of entertainment value, a vital ingredient that lures the Indian audiences to cineplexes.
The silver lining is, KABUL EXPRESS would earn Yashraj good revenue from non-theatrical rights like DVDs and Satellite. The theatrical business is below the mark in several circuits and with BHAGAM BHAG arriving this Friday, KABUL EXPRESS will face the heat in the coming days.
‘ARYAN’: A NON-STARTER
Exactly a day before the release of his film ARYAN, actor turned director Abhishek Kapoor and I were involved in some serious conversation pertaining to the film. On being asked what I felt about its box-office prospects, I counter-questioned Abhishek: Let’s forget for a while that you’re the director of the film. As a viewer, will you spend Rs. 150 or Rs. 200 to watch a solo Sohail Khan starrer?
The audience today is very particular about the kind of movies they want to watch. And with ticket prices only going upwards, watching movies is an expensive proposition at several theatres of India. In a metro like Mumbai, it would cost a family of four anywhere between Rs. 900 to Rs. 1,200 to watch a movie of their choice, munch samosas and popcorn, sip cola and slurp on an ice-candy.
It’s getting increasingly difficult for small and medium-budget films to get playing time in theatres today. But what’s even more difficult for them is to sustain for an entire week at the ticket window. ARYAN suffered for three vital reasons: Lack of face-value, delayed release and the oppositions from DHOOM 2, VIVAH and to an extent, KABUL EXPRESS at select multiplexes.
The third release of the week, DIL SE POOCHH… KIDHAR JAANA HAI, despite merits, also couldn’t carve a niche for itself.
THIS WEEK IN 2005
[Weekend: December 16-18, 2005]
The opening of keenly anticipated BLUFFMASTER! came as a complete shocker. Barring the multiplexes of metros, the opening response to the film was below the mark almost everywhere. Ideally, with everything in its favor, the film should’ve embarked on a mighty 90% + start, but the 20% - 40% start just didn’t conform to the expectations.
One of the reasons being attributed to the dull opening was that the promos were too elitist, sending clear signals that it was a videshi film in a desi body. Besides, the heavy flow of biggies, week after week, took a toll. Let’s not forget that the common man does not have the time, money or inclination to watch seven biggies in three weeks.
Somewhere down the line, the business is bound to suffer with so many films hitting the marquee in rapid succession.
THIS WEEK IN 2004
[Weekend: December 17-19, 2004]
SRK’s uninterrupted run came to a screeching halt with SWADES. The film opened to a dismal response at several centres. The fact that Ashutosh Gowariker was in the director’s seat this time made no difference to the paying public.
What does one attribute the dull initial to? In the first place, the promos of the film were simply unexciting, very thanda. Around the same time, the promos of VEER-ZAARA, also starring SRK, were being aired and quite naturally, the promos of this film attracted more eyeballs.
Besides, the music of SWADES never caught on. Despite glowing reviews, the music sales weren’t too encouraging. In fact, the music company [T-Series] was expecting the music sales to show a jump after the film’s theatrical release.
The early trends of a dull start were visible when the advance booking counters opened. The management of practically every cinema hall that practices advance booking was shell-shocked when the ticket sales were alarmingly low. Even the weekend shows didn’t display the ‘H.F.’ [House Full] status as the release date drew nearer.
The opening ranged from 30%-50% at several screens; at some places it was slightly better [evening/night shows], at places lower. The film had not been liked, it looked more like a documentary, the masses -- who make or break a film -- were dissatisfied, the film lacked in entertainment value, the songs only added to the boredom...
The only factor that went in its favor was the 4-star ratings and glowing reviews. But these reviews didn’t help in boosting the ticket sales of this biggie.