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Post-pandemic box office recovery flops in smaller towns

Many single-screen owners say distributors are refusing to supply them with films, denting their business
Post-pandemic box office recovery flops in smaller towns
Hindi filmmakers have stopped making movies for families in small towns, said a 2-screen cinema owner in Muzaffarnagar. Mint
  • Lata Jha
  • LiveMint

Last Updated: 12.27 AM, Oct 27, 2022

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The post-pandemic box-office recovery hasn’t been as robust in India’s smaller towns as it has in big cities despite a handful of hits like Brahmastra, RRR and Gangubai Kathiawadi. Trade experts and theatre owners say these films touted to have managed significant revenues, benefited from high ticket prices in multiplexes, failing to find an audience in tier-two and tier-three cities. On the other hand, small towns continue to be deprived of commercial mass-market fare, with Bollywood’s most recent star vehicles, Vikram Vedha and Doctor G, failing. In fact, many single-screen owners say distributors are either refusing to supply them with films, denting their business further or killing their chances of playing multiple titles together by asking for maximum shows for their own film.

“It would be fair to say films are not breaking through in tier-two and tier-three towns yet, and the reception to recent titles hasn’t been up to the mark,” film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said. There was some traction for the superhero flick Brahmastra thanks to the scale of production and visual effects initially, but trade experts like Johar say it petered down.

Meanwhile, the other recent star vehicle Vikram Vedha starring Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan, an urban thriller, was also targeted at multiplex audiences and struggled to make it past the 70 crore mark despite big names.

To be sure, the potential of cinemas in small towns is often overlooked. For mass-market commercial films, small towns can contribute over 70% of overall collections.

Hindi filmmakers have stopped making movies for families in small towns, said Pranav Garg, the managing director of Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar. “We’re constantly getting queries for films to which people can bring their families, and we have little to offer them. Plus, everything is available on OTT within a few weeks of theatrical release at nominal rates when prices for films like Brahmastra, which also had a 3D version, were no less than 200,” Garg added. While audiences have begun to look forward to dubbed south Indian films lately, most were disappointed by the Hindi version of Mani Ratnam’s historical drama Ponniyin Selvan-1 that only made 22 crore in the northern belt on its late September release. Garg said even a film like Brahmastra benefited from the traction in urban multiplexes, and unlike Baahubali, another film with fantasy elements, there was no emotional connection for viewers in small towns.

Hollywood isn’t bringing enough returns either; Garg, who saw enthusiasm for superhero film Thor: Love and Thunder dip considerably after the first few days, didn’t even play recent American titles like Bullet Train and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, anticipating negligible draw for them.

Pravin Chalikwar, director of Priti Cinemas in Maharashtra’s Parbani, said nearly 80% of single screens in small towns haven’t been able to upgrade their infrastructure and facilities to lure audiences to these recent films even if they did manage to find some appeal.