A long lull, followed by a spurt of releases and then again a pall of uncertainty — this is how one can describe the Bollywood box office situation in the face of the pandemic. Even as the year began on a promise note with Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, Madam Chief Minister, Roohi, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Mumbai Saga and Saina making their way to cinemas, the second wave made it impossible to release any film post March, resulting in the first half of the year lack lacklustre.
As Bollywood continues to face the biggest box office test, will the second half prove any better?
Trade expert Taran Adarsh says he is “very optimistic” even though there’s talk of the third and fourth wave.
Asserting that reopening of cinemas is what can save the latter half of the year, he elaborates, “Until and unless, Mumbai circuit and Delhi cinemas don’t open up and big films don’t come in, business won’t be on track. In some parts, cinemas have reopened but the big pockets of business have to open. All producers are clueless because they cannot announce films. Even Bell Bottom that was to release on July 27, had to be pushed again.”
Echoing similar sentiment, producer Anand Pandit, who has Chehre ready for release and Thank God in production, is hopeful that with vaccination numbers going up and things stabilising a bit, the worst is behind us.
“Hopefully, in the second half of the year, we can see production work regaining some normalcy, theatres opening, big ticket films releasing and the industry finding its feet. It’s a good sign. It signals our collective confidence in the times ahead. It shows our belief that the producers, exhibitors and the audiences will connect once again to celebrate cinema like before,” he says, adding that despite all this, “we’ll have to take all possible precautions because we’re dealing with a global pandemic, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”
Even with things seemingly getting back to normalcy, there’s a constant fear amid filmmakers as well, and that’s the reason they’re yet to announce release dates, which leaves the second half looking rather pale.
“The situation is so bad. There’s so much uncertainty. How can we plan?” points filmmaker Anees Bazmee, adding, “ Also, we need audience, without them we can’t do anything. The theatres that reopened in some parts are running at minimum capacity and aren’t getting their return, so they aren’t keen about releasing new films also.”
Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President – Films & Events at Saregama India Ltd, notes that whatever sense of normalcy the industry registered at the beginning of 2021 was wiped off during the second wave of the pandemic. But the severity of the situation couldn’t be ignored and one had to course correct accordingly. However, as the country limps back to normalcy, one is hopeful for tides to turn.
“The calendar looks promising with mass entertainers like Sooryavanshi, 83, KGF 2 and Attack also queuing up for theatrical release later this year. I think the festive period of Diwali will be a turning point for Bollywood, with films likely to register business which is on par with the pre-pandemic era, provided we don’t see a third wave and the current pace of vaccination sustains,” he notes.
Some also believe that Hollywood films will act as a confidence booster for Hindi film industry, which is still waiting and figuring out release dates.
Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi adds, “Hollywood will show the way. There are whole lot of big ticket Hollywood films lined up for release. For them, India may be a small market but for Indian exhibitors films like F9, A Quiet Place II, etc are huge. So, I think it’ll take a couple of these Hollywood films to do the heavy lifting to get the ball rolling.”