Mumbai, June 4

What has happened to Hindi film production? Where are the new films awaiting release? There is not much screen occupancy to write home about since January this year. We have had one film, 'Pathaan', and another, 'The Kerala Story', besides 'Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar', that were on the positive side.

The industry churned out as many as 180 to 200 films a year not long ago and all of them for theatrical releases. There were no video, OTT or telefilms in those days. Even two top-draw stars did not mind their films releasing simultaneously and, usually, both did very well.

An undeclared understanding would be arrived at when two major films avoided clashing. Yet, there was rarely an occasion when a film enjoyed a solo release. The norm was one major film and anywhere between one to three or more other films per week. If the big film drew full houses, the other films benefited with what was called the overflow of that big film.

All films got equal playtime and, as a result, a small film stood as much a chance to score big as the major film of the week. The biggest example is that of 'Sholay' and 'Jai Santoshi Maa', both released on the same Friday -- August 15, 1975. (There are more, surely!)

Then, there was also about the thing about lucky cinemas and then the preferred cinema of a filmmaker. This referred to the 'main cinema', for a film used to be released at a prominent cinema in the main residential-cum-commercial area of a major city such as Mumbai or Delhi. These areas usually had a cluster of cinemas.

Manoj Kumar made films on a regular basis, apart from also acting in the films produced by other makers. His favourite cinema in Mumbai was the Opera House. It was conveniently close to a local railway station as well as on bus routes.

What was more, it was a smaller house with a seating capacity of just about 600+. That was the era of when a film's success used to be measured by the run it enjoyed -- Silver Jubilee (25 weeks) or Golden Jubilee (50 weeks), and so on. So, with that kind of seating capacity, it was easy to manage your jubilees.

The other favourite was the Roxy, also in the same area, about 1,500 feet from the Opera House. Shakti Samanta was another regular filmmaker who preferred one of these two screens. And these producers did not mind waiting for months for the cinemas to be available!

Things changed so dramatically after the arrival of multiplex properties. A film's release became like blanket bombing. Not to spare any screen in a city!

The pre- and post-Covid 19 era have changed movie economics to an extent that has never happened before in the history of cinema. Hit or flop, there are no films for release, and the few that released since the lockdown was lifted, could not pull the crowds, no matter who the star was or the face value of the film.

What has happened in the last couple of years is that the supply of films is dwindling. The makers of the few films that are ready and awaiting release seem reluctant to announce a release date. They probably are scared of the inevitable -- the lack of public interest and footfalls.

Since January this year, we have had numerous small films every week. But no footfalls. The cinemas are suffering because of this uncertain flow of films. What is more worrying is that the vacation period from April-end till mid-June looks wasted.

In April this year, we had 'Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan', which struggled to cross the Rs 100- crore box-office mark. The only saviour so far has been 'The Kerala Story' in May. Hopes now rest on the three films due in June -- 'Zara Hatke Zara Bachkke' (Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan; June 2); 'Adipurush' (Prabhas and Kriti Sanon; June 16); 'Satyaprem Ki Katha' (Katik Aaryan and Kiara Advani; June 30).

What has helped the cinemas sustain are Hollywood hits such as 'Ant Man And The Wasp', 'John Wick Chapter 4', 'Evil Dead Rise', 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3' and 'Fast X'. 'Puss In Boots', 'Shazam The Fury Of Gods', 'The Super Mario Bros' and 'The Pope's Exorcist' have contributed to some extent.

The summer vacations having been wasted, the flow of films does not hold much promise in the days to come either. From July till the end of the year, there is just one film slated for release per month.

At this rate, the cinemas would starve of content. For them, Hollywood films provide the breathing space. Hollywood films are generally doing well all over India with dubbed versions available and also because of better awareness, thanks to the reach of the media and Internet.

Considering that Hollywood is on the franchise trail, these films stand even better prospects in India as they do everywhere else. The year has quite a promising lineup from Hollywood. In the next two months Hollywood films will dominate the playtime with 'Transformers Rise Of The Beasts' (June 9); 'Extraction 2' (June 6); 'Elemental' (June 16); 'The Flash' (June 16); 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' (June 30); 'Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One' (July 14}; 'Barbie' (July 21); 'Oppenheimer' (July 21); 'The Marvels' (July 28).

They will help the multiplexes survive.

Hollywood films, however, are no good when it comes to many single-screen cinemas. They do not have the 2K projection facility, the least required to screen Hollywood films. It is a miracle that the cinema properties are still standing and in business.

OTT Platforms Warned

The Government, which seems to believe that only whatever is depicted on cinema screens influences viewers, has, at long last, come round to the view that even OTT features have the same potential to cause harm (according to me, more than the same potential).

The ministries of Health and Information and Broadcasting have mandated that the OTT features will have to carry anti-tobacco warnings. The ministries have said that they will "take strict action upon failure to comply with the rules".

What is strict action? Why is it not specified? Because, we are all about making rules but loosely implementing them. After all, who keeps a check?

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