Bollywoodhungama not only provide the global figures for the weekend today, they also provided a handy comparison for Neerja against other films of the same type. No, not historical based on true story dramas, other female led pictures.
First, globally this weekend, Neerja continues to do great! Per screen average in the US is $3,200. In Canada, it is $3,995. In the UK, 1,742 Euros. In Australia, $5,343. New Zealand, $4,863. In Malaysia, 4341 MYR.
Now, the one thing Bollywoodhungama makes me do for myself is the exchange rate/average ticket price calculation. For instance, did you know that UK ticket prices are on average about half that of the US? I should move to England! I would save so much money! And Malaysia ticket prices are way way cheaper, but Malaysian MYRs are only about a quarter of the value of a dollar. Anyway, making all of these rough calculations in my head, it evens out to about $2,000 to $3,000 per screen in every location.
For some perspective, $2,000 per screen is considered good. That’s what you would expect maybe the second weekend of a hit film, or the first weekend of an okay film. Or the 5th weekend of a super hit. $3,000 or more per screen is what you would see opening weekend of a hit film. Neerja had an average of $7,000 per screen opening weekend in the US. For comparison, 3 Idiots, all time box office record breaker unprecedented super hit, with a massive promotional campaign and a major star, and a holiday weekend release, had an average of $16,000 per screen in the US.
Of course, Neerja still doesn’t have that many screens, so while it’s per screen average is excellent, it’s still not going to break any records. Or at least, it’s not going to break them fast. Last weekend, it had 73 screens in the US. This weekend, it has 120. If the box office and screen count holds steady, and nothing comes out to challenge it, Neerja is well on the way to breaking at least the female-star hits record. Slow and steady wins the race, in this case.
And actually, slow and steady usually wins the race with female lead pictures. Partly because they need word of mouth to build, but mostly because distributors tend not to give them a wide release the first weekend, and then they have to scramble to catch up. Which, Bollywoodhungama has also helpfully broken down in a list of opening weekends for all female lead hit films! Neerja only made 22 crore in India in its first weekend. Which is less than even Heroine (25 crore first weekend). However, Heroine released on over 2,000 screens in India alone, while Neerja was only on 700. And then the Heroine box office basically fell off a cliff the second weekend and never recovered.
The same pattern holds for the other female lead releases that beat it in opening weekend, Mary Kom came out on 1,400 screens (twice as many as Neerja) and made 30.6 crore rupees, Piku had 1,300 screens and made 25.22 crore, and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, at the top of the list, was on 2,2000 screens. The one exception to this is The Dirty Picture, which only released on 1,000 screens and managed to make 32.7 crore opening weekend.
So, what do we learn from all these numbers? Basically, Indian distributors are stupid! The give the big big opening weekend release to terrible female lead movies, and the tiny release to the really good ones. It shows a general misunderstanding of what the female audience, and the audience for female oriented pictures, is really looking for.
They put their faith in Heroine, because it had a big name lead and a big name director who had a National Award and a scandalous story with lots of highly promoted sex scenes. But they ignore the fact that it was not, in fact, a good movie. And that the kind of people who might be interested in a female lead film would be disappointed with a heroine who defined herself only in relation to the men in her life, who was constantly sexualized, who seemed to have no real inner life.
They only backed Tanu Weds Manu Returns because it was a sequel to a film that had already proven its success, and because it had a big(ish) name male lead involved. And it’s a romance, at heart. Women like romance, right?
Mary Kom got a fair amount of support thanks to the recognition factor for the real person, the distributors probably thought they could cash in on her real life popularity. But again, it just wasn’t a very good movie. It came out big, sure, people were curious. But it dropped off hard during the week and on the second weekend, partly due to bland word of mouth and partly due to competition from other films.
And then let’s look at the ones that succeeded despite the lack of faith. You have Piku, which even with Amitabh in it only opened on 1,300 screens. It has a great script, a talented cast, and most importantly, a central female character who is complicated and conflicted and about a lot more than just her romance. And you have The Dirty Picture, which has a powerhouse performance at the center, a woman who is apologetically sexual and self-interested and just plain fun! And you have Neerja, with the strongest character at the center, and the best story to tell, and a laserlike focus on the female experience (mothers, daughters, little girls, all of them get more focus then the men).
So, distributors, what should you learn from this? Well, maybe give female lead films a chance, but also know it’s not the same as the male star industry, where people will go just because they love the Star. People have to love the character as well. And maybe think about what kind of character you would like to imagine yourself as, not what kind of character you would like to imagine yourself married to.