Well, it has been officially confirmed for like 24 hours now that Padmavat is now releasing Republic Day, meaning a clash with Padman. And, like every other business decision related to this movie, I think this is idiotic and a sign that no one involved has a lick of common sense and is running their movie into the ground. And the rest of the Hindi film industry along with it.
There’s been a lot of talk about and around Padmavat and history, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, politics, religious extremism, violence, etc. etc. But one thing that has gotten lost a bit in all of this is Padmavat‘s place as a very small piece of a larger industry, and really a larger community.
I talked in my epic box office discussion post about how something that can get lost in the box office figures is that they aren’t just numbers tracking which film is “winning”, they are money that is putting food on the table for millions of people around the world. And when one of those numbers goes down, it doesn’t mean that someone is “losing” and someone is “winning”, it means that someone (like me, when I worked at the movie theater box office) is going to bed hungry that night. And, ultimately if the numbers go down far enough, it means that a lot of people might be out of work and permanently hungry. Not the big fancy movie stars and directors and glitzy people that the media covers, but the small theater owner, or the spot boy who works on set, or all the other people who get work so long as this industry keeps working.
(Just watch this song, and picture all these people going hungry the next time you cheer because your least favorite actor’s film flopped)
And somehow, that isn’t part of the Padmavat conversation. There’s a lot of righteous anger from both sides, and talk about high ideals and so on. But there isn’t much talk about the long term damage it is doing in a bunch of boring but very important ways to the film industry as a whole. Damage that is mostly coming, strangely, from inside the industry. Not outside. That is, from the filmmakers making Padmavat, not the politicians going berserker about it.
Padmavat stumbled right into controversy, right out of the gate. Easily avoidable controversy. As early as the first announcement of this film, I put up a post about it, and immediately got people in the comments saying “this topic makes me uncomfortable”. And that was back when I only had a few readers! If my sample size of a few dozen already had people saying “this makes me uncomfortable”, surely someone Bhansali knew, or someone working for one of the companies making the movie, someone somewhere must have said to them “Really guys? This orientalist fantasy story is what we are doing? Won’t this offend, like, EVERYONE?” I’m not saying they should have changed the film, I’m saying the should never have given it the greenlight, given Bhansali a blank check to do whatever he wanted. I know it’s his dream film, but some films just shouldn’t be made. Remember Manoj Kumar’s Clerk movie?
(This should not exist. Manoj was a brilliant director, but that doesn’t mean he should be able to do whatever he wanted)
And there’s the censor submission. Yes, it is common to submit last minute. But it is also STUPID. Unless you know your film has no controversies in it. Even something like Jab Harry Met Sejal, where they were just worried about sexuality not politics, they submitted well in advance in order to make sure there was time to appeal and get cuts figured out and so on. I suppose you could also submit last minute if you didn’t care about moving the release date. Like, Mohalla Assi, that film was apparently prepared to stay in court as long as it took to get things resolved. But if you are firm on your release date, you have a whole promotion strategy lined up and so on, then get it to the censors 6 weeks early, why not?
And finally, there is the release date. Which was always stupid, but now looks really really stupid. Filming has been delayed since the start, and Bhansali always runs long, with his obsession with sets and costumes and so on. And yet the release date has barely changed in all that time. It should have been moved to spring ages ago. What’s the harm in giving him a little longer to finalize the film, and freeing up some more time for the actors to be available to help promote it, and giving the censors a little longer to look at it, and just generally being less crazy hurried.
Here’s the other thing that I have been banging on about, if you aren’t sure you are going to release on time for whatever reason, you have to LET PEOPLE KNOW. Padmavat kept saying it would release on time, for sure, no matter what. And the rest of the calendar arranged itself around that. Secret Superstar and Golmaal Again split Diwali. Tumhari Sulu came out mid-November, because it would be a nice theater filler between two big releases. And Tiger Zinda Hai settled in all the way at the end of the month at Christmas.
(See? December 1)
And then Padmavat couldn’t release on time which, frankly, we all could have predicted one way or the other (controversy, filming delays, censors not ready, there was just a cluster of incompetence). But because the producers had sworn up and down it would come out on time, everyone planned on that, and it ended up ruining every other film for months before and after.
Just, for example, Secret Superstar could have taken the first weekend in December if it knew Padmavat wouldn’t be there. Which would give Golmaal Again even more theaters at Diwali (and it was a massive hit, could have easily filled more theaters). And would have given Secret Superstar a little more time to shine on its own. And then Tiger could come out on the 15th instead of the 22nd, giving it a little more time through the end of the year. And making space the first few weeks of January for Aiyaari to come out this Friday, the 12th, and then Padman Republic weekend all by itself. It’s only slight changes, nothing would have had to rush the editing or drastically change their promotional campaign, but it would lead to a good mix of big and small releases with everything have their own chance at a good run. If only they had known back in October that Padmavat wasn’t coming out on time.
(Would have been trouble for The Last Jedi on December 15th, which would then be competing directly with Tiger Zinda Hai. The Padmavat release-that-wasn’t gave it a nice open field. Come to think of it, Bajirao‘s release ended up easing the way for the last big Star Wars film, blunting the effect of the Dilwali release. Huh.)
But somehow, Padmavat and it’s filmmakers just don’t seem capable of seeing the big picture. They didn’t see the controversy coming, apparently, they didn’t see the censor scheduling issues, they didn’t see the problems with filming related to complicated star schedules and Bhansali’s style. And they can’t seem to see beyond their own film to what they are doing to the industry as a whole.
Scheduling is the most obvious issue, this total unwillingness to consider anyone’s convenience or interests beyond their own. But it’s more than that. This controversy, it reflects badly on the entire industry. I’m not saying the Padmavat folks are in the wrong, no, not at all, clearly it is the anti-Padmavat politicians who are the bad guys. But part of the reason stars and producers and directors and everyone is cautious about making the controversial film, taking a stand, is because they know they will be putting in danger not just themselves, but everyone around them. And if you are planning to take that stand, or get forced into taking it, you have to make sure the damage is as limited as possible. You try to avoid turning it into a massive film industry issue, you don’t court that. Look at Karan Johar and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. He took full responsibility himself, and he quietly asked the producers’ association to speak on his behalf to the chief minister and the police. He handled things and contained the damage so that it was only about his film and his issues, nothing else. His film might have taken some losses, but the bigger picture was more important, Raees was looking at the same problems in a few months and was a much bigger film with a lot more riding on it (not stupid things like Shahrukh “winning” the box office, but really important things like small struggling theaters who needed a hit film to stay open and were counting on Raees), and Karan handled his business so Raees could release without problems. And Karan also did whatever was necessary for his film to release on time, making sure there was a major Diwali release last year, even if it meant shooting what he himself called a “hostage video” to make it happen.
The industry was dragged into this issue for no good reason. A foolish film made by a foolish man, and they are all paying the price once it somehow turned into an art and free speech issue, instead of just about this one film. Which is perhaps why there was only limited industry support. There was a clear message against threats of violence and the religious extremists who had taken over the country. But there wasn’t a lot of “I will be there first day first show to see the film” or “I am heartbroken at how Bhansali is being treated”. And the legitimate industry groups were conspicuously silent.
There is one real serious group that generally represents the industry, the Film and Television Producers Association. It was headed by Mahesh Bhatt for years, he is the one who quietly met with ministers and applied pressure to make sure ADHM came out, as he had done for many other similar situations. It is now headed by Siddharth Roy Kapoor, husband of Vidya Balan. This group had nothing to say about the Padmavat issue.
(Siddharth and Shahid even ran into each other at the airport recently, no comment from Siddharth on the part of the FTPA related to Shahid’s film. Heck, even Shahid himself wasn’t terribly interested in sticking his neck out to defend it!)
No, instead we heard from the Indian Film and TV Director’s Association. Which I have never heard of before, and isn’t even legitimate enough to have a real website. That is the industry body willing to speak up. The industry did become involved in support of Deepika personally, the threats of violence against her were condemned by almost everyone. But they are not going to line up and throw themselves into battle for this film on its own. It’s not the responsible thing to do, there is no way to really “win” this battle, you are just going to drag everyone around you into a deeper and deeper quagmire.
Maybe I am being unfair, this is just my impression of what happened, that this film was released recklessly with no concern for innocent bystanders who would inevitably be drawn into the battle. But the latest news, that the new release date is January 25th, has confirmed for me that someone involved is very uninterested in the concerns of others, has no vision of the film industry as anything beyond their own interests. And I am also getting a strange sense of deja vu.
Back when Bajirao and Dilwali were announced as clashing, there was a lot of back and forth and finally they came out together. Dilwali did better than Bajirao, but not nearly as good as was anticipated, some distributors ended up taking a loss (which Shahrukh covered out of his own pocket, another moment of seeing the industry as a larger interconnected web, not you and your film against the world and out for whatever you can get). Bajirao got a much stronger start in some centers, and had a longer international run in a few other places, and ultimately did much better than anticipated.
The narrative that started to emerge after this was that Shahrukh/the old tired boring Hindi film industry was “afraid” of Bajirao, that Bajirao somehow “battled” Dilwali and won. That is the narrative that ignores the actual effects, the human cost of this competition. Great, Bajirao “won”. And the theater owners, the technicians, all the other people who were counting on a big Christmas weekend, lost because there was no way to schedule both films in order to make a profit in an individual level. And then, months later, there was a surprisingly revealing interview with Shahrukh, one of those interviews where it was the right time and the right mood and he said a lot of things maybe he shouldn’t have. And he talked about the clash.
I spoke to them 10 times to get the release date shifted. I spoke to Sanjay Leela Bhansali 10 times about the clash. I flew to Eros’ Los Angeles office to get things sorted. But their decision was taken. I then asked Rohit Shetty to shift our dates, but he was firm in his decision. We were always flexible but they assumed they had ‘announced’ it first. An announcement means nothing, yaar. You release a film when you want to. I asked them they can come a week earlier… whatever they wanted. I tried as hard as I possibly could. Then something strange happened. One of them told me that “Pandit-ji ne date fix ki hai (pandit-ji has decided a date for us).” Now, I didn’t really want to go to the point where I was fighting with a pandit [in this case, an astrologer] for a release date. The whole argument had reached a level where there was no logical conversation. It was faith over rationality. It reached a place where we couldn’t go through one chat without demeaning each other’s films. The end result was just unfortunate — we saved Dilwale with the skin of our teeth, thanks to our international business.
Padmavat is being distributed by a different group, not Eros but Viacom and so on, but it’s still Bhansali. And there is a disturbing pattern of this obsession with suicidal release dates and unwillingness to shift. First it was holding on to December 1 for Padmavat way longer than he should have, when it was clear that it would not be cleared and the controversy would not resolve in time. Now it is this rush to January 25.
And, the little bit of a comment that came out right after the announcement (before Padman got all its ducks in a row and settled on a message), sounds strangely similar to what Shahrukh described:
“This is madness!” expostulates a source very close to Pad Man. “Why January 25, for God’s sake? They (Padmavat) can come a week earlier or a week later when there are no significant releases. Why Republic Day?”
Apparently the Pad Man team has initiated an emergency meeting with the Padmavat producers to sort out the matter before Padmavat producers Viacom 18 Motion Pictures make their official announcement of their release date.
“We will try to reason with them, make them understand why it’s insane to pitch the two films on the same Friday. If they don’t listen we’ll still go ahead with our release on January 25,” says the Pad Man source.
Here’s another quote from a theater owner in the same article:
“We have no information on the release of Padmavat on January 25 as yet. We’re waiting for the official announcement,” leading personnel from a multiplex in Mumbai told this writer. “If this is really true, then we would have to re-structure the entire tentative screening schedule for Republic Day. Ideally, Padmavat would get all the 5000-odd screens. But now it will get approximately 2500 screens. Pad Man which would have otherwise got most of the screens has now to be content with only 2500 screens.”
And finally, there is a quote from that same interview with Shahrukh where he also talked about his decision to move Raees from Eid (the more natural fit), in order to give greater space to Salman’s Sultan:
There are only 3500 screens and that’s not enough for two big films. We don’t want any games from the backdoors; things are pretty transparent. I just finished a film for YRF. We are hugging and kissing each other and then I can’t just go and sneakily book a theatre in Meerut for my film. Ye nahi ho paata (I can’t do that). It becomes very awkward for me.
It’s just NOT DONE. Not like this. This is jumping off a cliff and dragging the rest of the industry with you, for NO GOOD REASON. Move the release a week in either direction, or all the way into February, what’s the harm? Two Republic Day releases, and then nothing else big in either direction for weeks on end, massive harm. Theaters closing, audiences drifting away, Hollywood moving in kind of harm. On top of all the harm already done, the empty theaters for weeks in early December, the dangerous precedent of films being shown to be a soft political target, the film industry being made to spend their goodwill bank on this controversy instead of another more worthwhile one, and the audience being that much more turned off by suddenly feeling like seeing a movie is a political statement instead of just for fun.
There’s been a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories about the whole Padmavat situation. Here’s a new one I just came up with: This is Paramount and Viacom’s plan to kill the Hindi film industry. Because that’s what they are doing right now. They are cutting of Hindi films at the knees just in time for Annihilation to come out on February 23rd, a nice spectacular film with adult content that would overlap with the Padmavat audience. And which also happens to be produced by Paramount. And now, instead of Padmavat coming out in mid-February, when there is nothing else to compete with in Hindi, it is rushing out in January, killing all the other January films just like it killed December, and leaving February nice and open for the white people to take.