Okay, are we all ready to set aside our expectations and our prejudices and look at raw figures? Are we excited? Do we have our calculators out and our common sense hats on? Are we ready to try to figure out a pun based on the title of this movie, because I couldn’t and I need help? (The best I could come up with was “Jab Harry Met Slow Business”, which isn’t great).
Thank you bollywoodhungama for putting these figures out a day earlier than usual! (full info available here)
And it’s an exciting week, because it’s a Khan release week! Which means we have to totally change our usual box office standards. Overseas per screen, $4,000-$6,000 per screen is “normal”. At home, 20 crore per day is “normal”. In India, that’s partly the massive push for opening night from the fan clubs, and the inflated ticket prices. Overseas, that’s just straight up excited audiences. Tickets are normal prices, we don’t have huge fan clubs buying out theaters, we just like our Khans.
So, how did we do? What does the Jab Harry Met Sejal report card say?
I’ll start at home, which means BAD NUMBERS. I am sure someone in India has good numbers for this film, probably somebody in Red Chillies corporate. But I have no faith that this mysterious person is sharing those solid figures with the press.
So, here’s the best I can do. I always get my Indian figures from Taran Adarsh. Who is probably about the same in accuracy as anywhere else. But, since I always get my numbers from him, I can at least know they are consistently inaccurate in the same way. Where you run into huge huge inaccuracies is if you look at Taran’s numbers for one film and compare it with, say, Box Office India numbers for another film. Because if Taran always tends to go low and BOI always tends to go high, you end up thinking one film is a lot better than the other just because of the difference in their calculation metrics.
Taran’s numbers are 15 crore Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Which is baaaaaaaaaaad. In two ways. First, Fan (that incredibly uncommercial film) made 19 crore opening day. That’s a measure of the power of the SRK fan clubs and the SRK name. Not the film itself. If Jab Harry Met Sejal has dropped 4 crore, that means SRK has dropped 4 crore in Box Office power.
Plus, it held steady over Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Which is also baaaaaaaaad. Figures should go up slightly over the weekend. Because of common sense, people work on Fridays. So more people can go to more shows on Saturday and Sunday because they have the whole day off. Standard box office is to go up 2-5 crore over those three days. And then drop on Monday when people go back to work.
Tubelight, for comparison, opened at 20 crore and stayed at 20 crore over the weekend. But that was Eid. So, actually, equally bad! Figure an extra 5 crore just because it was a holiday, it’s still way lower than it should have been. And held steady again, instead of going up as is normal just based on number of shows and stuff over the weekend.
What we are looking at here is a wide release, inflated tickets, and normal curiosity for a big highly promoted release. But not people actually liking the movie, talking it up to their friends, or wanting to go back for a second show. Probably means the box office is going to drop hard over the week, and even worse in the second weekend (which is what happened with Tubelight).
(It’s really not hard to follow this stuff, just let Madhuri teach you how to count)
Now, the second question is, did the distributors/producers expect this? Let’s go back to Tubelight and that post I did on risk/reward in Indian film. There is a big responsibility on the major Khan releases, they are supposed to carry everyone in the industry from studio owners on down to popcorn sellers for a whole quarter of profits. And Tubelight failed in that responsibility. It took the Eid release slot, possibly the biggest one of the year (Diwale is bigger within India, but Eid has the global reach), and it failed to capitalize on that. Worst of all, it scared away all the other films from releasing nearby, they were all worried about a Salman Eid release and no producers scheduled movies for around it. Not just for that weekend, but for the weekends before and after. Theaters were like ghost towns for weeks and weeks. And that’s on top of Ramadan.
The JHMS producers announced a few months back, they were moving off the holiday weekend, and moving so that there would be a moderate film right before (Mubarakan, which is doing okay still in week two), and a major film right after on the actual holiday (Toilet). This is ultimately the best thing they could have done. First, they got a bigger box office for themselves than they would have otherwise, benefited from that large number of screens/nothing else new playing little bump. But more importantly, this is super healthy for the industry! At all levels.
If I am running a movie theater, opening weekend of this film is probably good for me. Not great, but not a loss. It will drop off during the week (based on how figures are looking so far), but I’ve got Toilet coming out next week and two more semi-big films the week after, so this isn’t the horrible disaster it could have been. And if I am working from the production side of things, I could work on Mubarakan, Toilet, Qaidi Band, Bareilly Ki Barfi, A Gentleman, or any one of the many many other films coming out between now and Diwale, I don’t have to worry about having an empty resume because everyone is focused on one film. If the producers knew this was going to be a modest release, then they were very generous to move it to a date when it would have minimal negative impact.
In terms of profit, this is all talking about the theater’s side of things so far. Where they will probably be okay. Not as good as they were hoping, but they have Toilet coming up to save them. What about the producers?
I am guessing they are okay too? It’s hard to know, since budget figures are hard to find. But we are looking at a solid 40 crore at least just from opening weekend. Figuring that the whole budget was 100 crore (which seems pretty standard now), add in music sales and satellite rights, the projected box office is probably going to be enough to break even at least. For the producers.
(Remember, don’t stop counting!)
Let’s look at distributors! In the US, it was Yash Raj. I am guessing they are fine. Partly because they are too smart to overpay, but also because the US figures are solid. But what about in India? Hopefully, distributors were paying attention to the lackluster performance of the last few SRK films and didn’t overbuy. Because 15 crore every day for the first weekend is plenty of money to make a profit. If you expected about that much and didn’t overbid for the rights to begin with. If they did overbid, that’s also where Red Chillies/SRK himself is going to take a loss. Because standard procedure (as we learned when Dilwale did not do as well as expected) is for the star/production house to cover the distributors’ losses if there is a bad flop.
So, generally speaking, not great box office, would be a disaster if there weren’t other movies coming out over the next few weeks to balance the losses, but as it is the industry will recover okay. And if the distributors and production house were savvy about what to expect from it, they will be okay too. If they weren’t, well, then sucks to be them! But really, they should have been able to tell it wasn’t going to be great box office, clearly adult themes and stuff that cuts down on the all ages repeat viewing. And Imtiaz, who hasn’t had a big hit in 10 years.
All of that is India, let’s move on and look at global!!! Where the numbers are rock solid (thank goodness).
I’ll start with the US, $4,066 per screen on 254 screens. For comparison, going back to my own archives, Tubelight opened on over 300 screens and only did $2,214 per screen. That’s what a flop looks like. A flop, and a stupid release strategy. Why 300 screens? Dumb dumb dumb. And the rest of the industry is going to be paying for that, as all those theaters that don’t usually play Indian films and took a risk on Tubelight won’t be willing to risk again for months and months.
For another example, Badrinath Ki Dulhania only opened on about 150 screens, and did $4,100 per screen. That’s a smart release, if anything it was underscreened, and the per screen figures were solidly in the Major Hit category (well, major hit for a non-Khan release).
(Probably a terrible per screen if you compare it with the film this song originally came from. Tickets sold per film, “footfalls” in theaters, have been steadily dropping since the 80s)
For the most relevant example, Raees opened on 265 screens and made $5,000 per screen. So, ouch! This is a drop. Both in expectations (screen count is lower) and in audience interest (per screen is lower).
I’m just talking US numbers here, but it is pretty consistent in every market. A very large number of screens, if it weren’t a Khan release. And a very high per screen, if it weren’t a Khan release.
That consistency, that’s what I find interesting! Raees was very inconsistent market to market. Super good and few screens in Canada and Australia. Not so good and too many screens in the UK, for instance.
This time, a solidly low end box office (for a Khan film) and mid-range (for a Khan film) number of screens everywhere. Which I guess shows that Shahrukh the romantic lover is equally popular/unpopular everywhere in the world.
So, what does this mean for his career? The thing we all care about the most? It’s not great. But it’s not the end. His box office has been steadily slipping since Chennai Express. But so have his film qualities. At least, commercial quality. Not critical quality. Fan, brilliant. Dear Zindagi, wonderful. Raees, uneven but mostly good. And this film, which I liked in its own quiet way. But none of them were positioned to be massive all ages hits. And his last two massive hit type films, Dilwale and Happy New Year, just felt tired and lazy somehow.
If he manages to pull out of this slump, has one more massive record breaker hit, he will be back on top in no time. This isn’t unfixable. But the thing I am wondering more and more as I look at his list of recent and upcoming films is if he wants to “fix” it? He’s working with more and more kind of interesting directors who like to dig in to characters and pull out performances. He’s also working with more and more out there sort of scripts. And, most importantly, he is doing more films per year than he has in ages.
Since Dilwale, he’s gone film to film, all interesting smaller films with really creative directors and talented co-stars. In terms of the health of the industry, this might be a good thing? Both that more people are getting work, the film crews and the co-stars who wouldn’t make the cut for a really major film, and that more minor hit films are coming out per year.
If we look at the screen numbers, it feels like maybe this was never supposed to be a huge huge hit. A big film, sure, the kind of film that a theater will make a solid profit on. But not a record breaker, we aren’t looking at huge number of overseas screens.
Instead, we are looking at targeted screens. Angie in Italy got to see this in theaters (right? Correct me if I am wrong Angie), and Rentrack is showing a release on 53 screens in Germany, which is of course Shahrukh territory. So if Shahrukh is moving into a new phase of his career, this might look more like slightly targeted releases to an audience that will be interested in slightly more off beat films that still have his star power in them. And a box office that makes more money per year over all, but spread across multiple films instead of bundled in one.
Overall, what I am saying is that this is a healthy box office and release strategy for the industry as a whole and for Red Chillies. Unlike Tubelight, which made more money in round numbers but was much more damaging in its effects. But yes, it is also a signal that Shahrukh Khan no longer has the box office clout and/or ability and willingness to pick hit films that he once did. The slide continues and does not look likely to end any time soon.