Last Updated: 10.39 AM, May 20, 2023
Close on the heels of The Kashmir Files, a recent political drama The Kerala Story has set the cash registers ringing, having crossed the Rs. 170 crore mark at last count, not a feat managed by most Hindi films released in theatres lately. The film, which follows a woman from Kerala who converts to Islam and joins ISIS, has received political support with the Prime Minister and I&B minister lauding it and government officials holding screenings. These films which are easy to put together, inexpensive to produce and do not require stars, are helping the fortunes of theatres and their producers by resonating with certain sections of the audience. However, trade experts who are sure more such movies will now be made in order to cash in on public sentiment, remain doubtful of their viability given the failure of films like Ram Setu in the past and the fact that the themes could soon lose steam.
Last weekend, its second in theatres, the film made Rs. 54 crore across the country, higher than the Rs. 34 crore it had earned in its opening weekend. Taking its total to over Rs. 170 crore, the film produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah with barely any familiar faces, has easily beaten several star vehicles released over the past few months that failed to grab eyeballs.
“The presence of news channels and social media has meant that a lot of audiences who once perhaps weren’t as involved with political stories, are now invested in them. There is a strong resonance (in case of films with political themes) with the audience. There is a feeling of the truth being revealed and a curiosity to see what is controversial. It is driving people to the cinemas to see what the filmmakers are telling them, which could be a story that has been kept from them. Whether you agree with this premise or not, it’s compelling and driving people to these movies over standard fare,” said Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas. More such films are on the way as politics and nationalism are riding high at the moment and they will also be patronised, Puri added, calling it a positive thread for the industry at the moment.
“We were anticipating a sad state of affairs all of May, given that there are no big Hindi releases, so in that case, we’ve got an unexpected money-spinner. The controversies and bans around the film will only help footfalls and we see a lot more films, going forward that will push the envelope with sensationalist themes,” Vishek Chauhan, an independent Bihar-based exhibitor said.
Over the past few weeks, the Mamta Banerjee government has banned the film in West Bengal. Though not officially banned in Tamil Nadu, theatre owners have decided to not screen it, citing law and order concerns. Trade experts estimate that with a producer’s share of at least Rs. 50-60 crore, a substantial profit is on the cards given the movie’s budget of Rs. 15-20 crore, besides easy sale of satellite and digital rights.
The Kerala Story team did not respond to Mint’s queries on the viability of small-budget political films. However, in an earlier interview, Vivek Agnihotri, director of The Kashmir Files had said Indian films actually have a market of Rs. 1,000-1,500 crore. “The reason most end up with Rs. 200-300 crore is because they have nothing to do with real India or its people and issues,” he had said adding that he always knew The Kashmir Files had great potential and that every Indian would connect with it and want to watch it.
That said, several industry experts point out that patronage from the government gives these films an extra push and sets a narrative that may appeal to the common man. For instance, another small-budget film Afwaah, that released alongside The Kerala Story, was only allotted stray shows and odd timings, making access difficult from the very beginning. The latter, has also seen several instances of bulk booking on ground.
“Propaganda films are not really entertaining and certainly cannot afford large scale and budget because they are based on contemporary events. The government cannot try this with every film and even if the official green light works for a while, eventually the movie will have to find its own draw,” said senior journalist Ram Karan. If a lot more such films start to get made and begin focusing on obscure issues, the recall will be far less, he added. Plus, the traction for many of these are focused on specific locations, unlike big tentpole films that are pan-India hits.