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Box office stumbles in first half of 2023; movie collections down 23%

India’s 1.4-billion-strong population loves watching films, given that the country produces an estimated 1,500-2,000 films a year. But while the love for the movies hasn’t faded, consumer habits seem to be changing, going by box-office collections.

The first six months of CY2023 saw domestic box office business drop nearly  23% against net earnings for the same period last year.

Viewers want clear storylines, interesting characters and big-screen VFX and action, say experts. If films are not big, the content has to be compelling.

The January-June period last year had seen action entertainers such as ‘RRR’ and ‘KGF2’ at one end and compelling stories such as ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ and ‘The Kashmir Files at the other. There were also sleeper hits like ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’.

Those elements seem to be missing at the box office this year, according to conversations with trade analysts, distributors and exhibitors.

 While the 2023 calendar year started on a strong note with Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Pathaan’ delivering record numbers at the box office (Rs 525 crore in net Hindi collections), Kartik Aryan-starrer ‘Shehzada’, Akshay Kumar-starrer ‘Selfiee’ and Ajay Devgn-starrer ‘Bholaa’ underperformed at the box office.

Some of the other Hindi hits this year include ‘The Kerala Story’ (Rs 239 crore) and ‘Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar’ (Rs 147 crore). Vicky-Kaushal-starrer romantic comedy ‘Zara Hatke Zara Bachke’ was well received at the box office (nearing Rs 79-80 crore in collections). And Salman Khan-starrer ‘Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan’ which released on the occasion of Eid on April 21, mopped up Rs 111 crore.    

Box office collections so far this year are also 16% lower than the first six months of the pre-pandemic 2019. 

“The first half of 2023 has been mixed, with some Hindi and South films doing well. Hollywood has also contributed to the show,” says Devang Sampat, chief executive officer of multiplex chain Cinepolis India.

Trade expert Komal Nahta says movie-goers are becoming more discerning, which is reflected in the performance of films on the big screen. Films that are not up to the mark are quick to suffer a loss of business. A case in point is Prabhas-starrer ‘Adipurush’, a retelling of the Ramayana, which was released on June 16 after much hype, but crashed after the first weekend.

The movie’s collections so far stand at Rs 269 crore at the India box office, with the Hindi version delivering earnings of Rs 138 crore and the Telugu version taking home earnings of Rs 124 crore. The film has been made at an estimated budget of Rs 500 crore.

“Film buffs today are exposed to a lot of content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. For them to be excited to get into theatres, there has to be strong word-of-mouth, good teasers, trailers, and reviews of a film,” says Shyam Shroff, chairman, of Shringar Films, a Mumbai-based film distribution company.

That could explain why films headlined by big stars, especially in Bollywood, have underperformed at the box office. So far, 2023 has mirrored the trend seen in 2022 of movies with big stars coming a cropper. Distributors and exhibitors expect the second half of the year to be better than the first when the line-up of films is likely to be strong across languages. 

Leading Hollywood performers in the first half include Fast X (Rs 50 crore), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Rs 39 crore), Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Rs 33 crore) and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Rs 29 crore), said film experts.

While key South Indian films include Ponniyin Selvan II, which delivered net earnings of Rs 182 crore domestically. The Tamil version of this film (main language) saw earnings of Rs 144 crore, according to trade experts. While Varisu, starring Vijay and Rashmika Mandana, had collections of Rs 178 crore, of which the main language (Tamil) delivered earnings of Rs 149 crore.



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