Reality Check: 2016 Proved audience verdict really matters to box office collections

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As we had predicted nine months ago, the much-maligned audience that at the end of the day, just wants a buffet spread of diverse entertainment worth the time and money, turned ruthless, sending clear signals about what they wanted—and clearer signals on what they did not!

At no juncture in 2016 were these truisms clearer than in the September to November phase. Dear Zindagi claims a good opening, overseas and domestically, but this story of a confused girl who makes her audience go through an over-extended and preachy psychiatric session is set to plummet, despite the pulling power of Shah Rukh Khan and the growing chimera of Alia Bhatt. Yes, a comparatively reasonable cost may bail it out economically. May, we said.

The quarter began with Baar Baar Dekho, a cinematic calamity despite a couple of fleetingly popular tracks, which collected about Rs. 43 crore worldwide on a budget of about Rs. 46 crore. This means that with the kindest business deal, Rs 92 crore was needed to break even!

As November ends, we thus saw about 20 releases of some note and just two—you read that right!—two films that were hits: M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and Pink!

Correction: M.S. Dhoni was reportedly budgeted inordinately, thanks to the VFX (needed) and filming rights paid to the cricket ace. And so, with all revenue sources tallied against all costs, it probably just about broke even or made a threadbare to slim profit. In the technical meaning of the word “hit” (which in Indian film parlance means making a minimum 200 percent of investment, ideally from theatres but, practically speaking, from all revenue sources), the wonderfully-made-yet-tad-overlong biopic was no hit despite the domestic Rs. 140 crore collection!

And yet, the Dhoni biopic remains the last movie as of Nov. 28 to fully connect with the audience. A fortnight earlier, Pink had released, which cost less than Rs.30 crore but collected enough, in India and globally, to be called the only super-hit of the year after Neerja and Sultan. It also, in the best fashion of missionary movies like Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots, started small but significant movements socially, with Amitabh Bachchan’s line “No means ‘No’!” becoming a catchphrase of import!

Let us also be very clear about one more aspect that prevented even these two splendid films from more business: their music. M.S. Dhoni… might have had a few transiently hit numbers, but nothing to endure or ensure repeat viewing. Pink did not need music, but whatever there was did not make the grade, though Irshad Kamil’s title-song lyrics made a passing impact.