Pathaan has not just revived the fortunes of Hindi cinema in the Hindi-speaking states. The south Indian states — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Karnataka — have responded to the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer in a way that they haven't to any other Bollywood superstar in a long time.
Last Updated: 04.25 PM, Feb 27, 2023
Tensions ran high when Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan's comeback movie Pathaan was getting ready to release in cinemas in January. The stakeholders across the country were sitting on the edge of their seats with bated breath to see how people would respond to Pathaan. Had it failed to rekindle people's interest to watch an original Hindi film in cinemas, it would have delivered a devastating blow to one of the country's biggest film industries.
All hope hinged on Pathaan. It was tasked with giving the embattled industry a much-needed boost to its morale and stemming its downward spiral. The first signs of victory appeared in the form of encouraging advance bookings. Soon, the national multiplex chains began to see record-breaking advance sales, allowing everyone in the value chain to heave a sigh of relief. As the release date came closer, judging from the advance bookings, it became clear that Pathaan was set to take a massive opening. Erring on the side of caution, the trade experts made a very conservative prediction that the film might rake in about Rs 35-40 crore on its opening day.
It's safe to assume that this prediction was purely based on the response that Pathaan might receive from the urban crowd. In the last few years, Hindi film has been experiencing some kind of disconnect with single-screen audiences. A film industry expert claims that 80 per cent of Bollywood income was generated in just 8-12 cities alienating the audiences in small towns and interiors of the Hindi heartland. The void left by Bollywood in the north was filled by the movies made in the south.
The term pan-India became a rage with the south Indian films dubbed in Hindi clicking with the audience in the north belt. Baahubali: The Conclusion, Pushpa: The Rise, KGF: Chapter 2 and RRR made record collections because they could connect with the masses and not just the niche urban crowds.
Pathaan succeeded where many Hindi films failed
The single screens came alive in all their glory for the brand Shah Rukh Khan exceeding all expectations. It became the first Hindi film to have earned over Rs 100 crore on its opening day. Pathaan has not just revived the fortunes of Hindi cinema in the Hindi-speaking states. The south Indian states — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Karnataka — have responded to the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer in a way that they haven't to any other Bollywood superstar in a long time.
"Compared to all Hindi movies that were released post-pandemic, Pathaan did well," said Tirupur Subramaniam, the president of the Tamil Nadu theatre owners and multiplex association. And it's no small feat knowing that the state of churn that Bollywood found itself in the southern markets.
In the last five years, there has been a tectonic shift in the movie-watching culture. Especially, the pandemic has made the audience very selective when it comes to picking a movie to watch at the cinemas. And Bollywood seemingly didn't have a response to the fast-evolving tastes of the audience. The Hindi market was ripe for south Indian movies to take over. The result: the highest-grossing film in the Hindi belt is a Hindi dubbed version of the Telugu film Baahubali 2. KGF 2 was a massive blockbuster selling over Rs 400 crore worth of tickets in the northern states taking a comfortable second place in the list of biggest earners in the north circuit. While southern films were growing at an exponential rate in the Hindi heartland, the growth of Hindi films in the southern markets was negative.
Ranbir Kapoor's superhero movie Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva was an exception as the film's Telugu version found a lot of takers in the Telugu states.
"We were not screening any of the Hindi films because of their very poor performance. So many Hindi films didn't even do a single show in Kerala," said Vijayakumar, the Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala president.
The dubbed versions (Tamil and Telugu) of Pathaan didn't do exceptional business in the southern states. But, the film's showing at the cinemas there was successful by any merits. As per an industry source, the dubbed versions grossed over Rs 20 crore. But, there is a good reason for that. Many prefer to consume Hindi films in their original version.
"The dubbed versions have done decent business. It has not gone into tire 3 and tire 4. Tire 1 is urban, which went directly to Hindi. Tire 2 and the upper level of tire 3 probably watched the dubbed versions. I think the second half of tire 3 and tire 4, did not respond to the dubbed versions," said film business expert and producer Girish Johar.
The audience in Tamil Nadu is historically a little hesitant when it comes to consuming films from other languages. It takes glowing reviews and fantastic word of mouth from the audience to draw them to theatres for non-Tamil movies. But, the audience was more warm and welcoming towards Pathaan compared to other Hindi films in recent years.
"Pathaan did a decent business for one week on single screens. After that, it was doing better in the multiplexes," said Rakesh Gowthaman, who manages Chennai's popular twin-screen theatre Vettri Theatres.
The performance of earlier Hindi films was so abysmal that Pathaan felt like a huge leap for Bollywood at the Tamil Nadu box office. "Nobody else could do what Shah Rukh Khan's Pathaan did. No other Khans or actors could do this. Compared to all the movies of big stars, Pathaan did a decent business only because of the brand Shah Rukh Khan," he remarked.
"For example, a Salman Khan movie or an Akshay Kumar movie won't run more than one show. Many theatres ran two shows of Pathaan consistently for one week and most theatres retained the film for the second week. The film also recorded better numbers than Michael. The business of Pathaan was decent but it didn't perform as well as Chennai Express (in Tamil Nadu)," he added.
The situation was not very different in Kerala. The movie opened in 125 theatres and completed 25 days in most of them. "It performed very well in Kerala. It grossed over Rs 20 crore here. I think this is the first Hindi film to have made this kind of gross collection in the state," observed Vijayakumar.
Within 33 days, Pathaan has earned over Rs 1000 crore from its worldwide ticket sales setting a new benchmark for Hindi films at the box office. "It has been embraced throughout the nation. I don't see one particular region that hasn't come on board. It has performed well all over India, including the south," noted Girish