Who says that the audience is unbiased? What else explains why certain deserving films are given the cold shoulder, and others are loved? Everything is not explained by “resonance” alone, which in box-office terms means value-for-money.
Reality Check: That vital pre-release ‘vibe’
The resonance is important too, but a pre-determined “vibe” is often a vital key, so if one satisfied viewer recommends a movie to 10 people, three of them might watch it. So it would need, in theory a 100 happy viewers to get 300 more people to spend money on a film! But what if only 10 people went to watch it?
Three films in particular suffered from this ‘vibe’ syndrome in the September to December phase—Section 375, Bypass Road and The Body. Very few wanted to watch these thrillers of diverse hues. Section 375 was raved about by those who did go and watch it, but many also felt that, for commercial purposes, the climax and conclusion should both have been different.
Bypass Road was a classic whodunit, but while awareness of this film was very low and the publicity worse than poor, the critics (it takes a different kind of sensibility to understand the difference between a good and a bad whodunit) killed it with their withering reviews. The clincher was the title, which simply did not excite any viewer, because it did not say anything about what the film was about!
No one thus went to watch this fast-paced, stylishly- shot thriller, and even the genuine thriller addicts stayed away after the negative reviews. Let us face it, reviews matter only when a viewer has no formed opinions. Otherwise, no one takes them seriously anyway!
The same fate befell another fine whodunit, The Body, ironically co-produced by Badla producer Sunil Khetarpal, and officially adapted from another Spanish classic by the same original writer-director, Oriol Paulo! Co-producers and distributors Viacom 18 sealed its fate by zilch publicity.
On the positive note, Mardaani 2 took off like a meteor, enthralling audiences and critics alike. Though illogical in parts, it proved that a crackerjack pace and a rousing script could make even a heroine-based action thriller score, and the publicity was limited yet judicious. That vibe again!
In Hindi cinema, any factor can influence a film’s fate—star presence, the genre, the budget and scale (for returns on investment), the track-record of the cast and director, the promotions, the trailer and more. But titles can be a killer when there is little comprehension and a lack of connect.
Why would anyone, for example, go to watch films named Prasthaanam, The Zoya Factor or even The Sky Is Pink, the last movie despite a Priyanka Chopra? None of these titles indicated anything about what these films were about, which is vital to create a desire to watch a film in the cinema hall. And nothing else in content or publicity motivated people to buy tickets!
The length of a film also mattered, and when we do not really have face-value or a filmmaker’s and hero’s ‘hit’ track-record, it can be fatal. This is what befell a well-made Panipat, and a youthful if mediocre opponent in the Pati Patni Aur Woh remake decimated it further when it pulled in audiences with its light, flippant fare.
Ice-cold vibes for Made In China and Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas were a foregone conclusion after the audience watched their trailers. And while trailers, like any one single factor, are not the only thing responsible for a film’s fate, word-of-mouth was so strongly negative after the consequent weak openings that nothing could save them.
A great exception here was Chhichhore, which started on a very lukewarm note—a Rs. 7 crore opening. The title’s meaning was barely known outside the Hindi-speaking belts, but word-of-mouth built up so rapidly that the wonderful film finally crossed the Rs. 150 crore mark! It was a (director) Nitesh Tiwari show all the way, not that of Shraddha Kapoor or Sushant Singh Rajput!
Star-driven anticipation (Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff), hype and high pricing in the initial admission rates ensured a terrific opening for War. Happily, the audience took to the film’s testosterone action and overlooked the inanities. The film managed to finally enter the 300-crore club.
Ayushmann Khurrana was one man whose track-record of five consecutive successes within three years (including this year’s Article 15) and the kind of films that he selects nowadays ensured an outstanding vibe to both Dreamgirl and Bala. The relatable, life-like characters and interesting small town-based plots scored further due to meticulous scripting and immaculate direction, turning these two films into qualified super-hits.
And speaking of Bala, the opposite fate befell Ujda Chaman, a film on the same issue of premature hair-loss, deliberately released to compete with the former. Its trailer may have been a tad more interesting than that of Bala, but vindicating our stance of a vibe, the film never went anywhere as it had neither Ayushmann Khurrana nor effective marketing.
Saand Ki Aankh was another example of cold vibes from the masses. The PR mechanism smartly eschewed producer Anurag Kashyap’s name from the publicity, because he is associated with films replete with abuse, gory violence and other factors not amenable to family entertainment. Despite sterling performances from both Taapsee and Bhumi Pednekar, the film just did not get the numbers. No one was interested in glam stars playing grandmothers in a village, that too in the festive Diwali season!
Marjaavaan was another film patronized only by lovers of old-fashioned Hindi potboilers. The clear-cut single-screen 1980s-1990s ambience kept others away, defining the limited numbers the unabashedly commercial film made at the b-o. A dated and inane feel from a proven maker of hit comedies—Anees Bazmee—saw Pagalpanti open poorly, and the fact that these first impressions were accurate finally proved lethal.
But perhaps the greatest example of positive vibes that ensured a great opening despite scathing reviews was Housefull 4. The brand was loved, the trailer was outstanding and the release timing perfect (who wants a serious film in Diwali?). Confounding all naysayers, the hugely entertaining film blitzed its way to big success. On a smaller scale, Commando 3 also opened well, denoting the pull of a franchise that, like Housefull but on a much smaller scale, had worked more than once earlier. But its final figures are not known.
The year ended with great news at the box-office in another Akshay Kumar film, Good Newwz. The strong blend of content and entertainment was crystal-clear from the trailer, and the film did not let audience down. Akshay Kumar got everything right this year, and the film’s superb biz also sent the message that films have evolved alongside a demanding audience.
And so the writing on the wall was clear to Salman Khan with the under-performing of Dabangg 3. The problem was the same: an audience that had moved away from the been-there-done-that terrain. Old school entertainers now needed something fresh to work. With Akshay breathing down his neck for the Numero Uno slot, Salman, 30 years down Maine Pyar Kiya, must do a major rethink on his choices, because this was, perhaps, the first Salman Khan in the decade that no one even wanted to watch after experiencing the trailer.
Yes, the first feel or vibe of a new movie is the unseen force that operates subliminally and majorly influences fortunes on any Friday. It decides the number of people who want to watch a film, who alone, if they like the movie, will ensure the positive word-of-mouth that is so essential for success.
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