I decided to try to get back to the clever titles. It’s my little writerly moment in these otherwise very dull number posts (as always, numbers come from bollywoodhungama)
I’m not terribly surprised by these figures. For one thing, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam was a Thursday or even Wednesday release depending on where you were in the world. But more importantly, when I went to see Sui Dhaaga on Friday, there were maybe 20 people in my theater, and the two screens that were showing Chekka and the one screen showing the Telugu dub Nawab were all sold out. So not a great shock to me that Chekka is doing far about around the world than Sui Dhaaga. Although, from what I can see, Sui Dhaaga is doing well back home in India.
In America, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam did $5,500 per screen on 95 screens. Sui Dhaaga did $2,800 per screen on 169 screens. Chekka didn’t release in Canada, but even so Sui Dhaaga lagged behind, coming in 3rd after two Punjabi films. But doing respectable even so, $4,000 per screen on 21 screens. The UK was the lowest per screen (as is usual), $1,100 on 79 screens. The screen count is very high though, especially considering Chekka was on a further 43. Chekka did better per screen although less over all, $1,500 per screen. In Australia, Chekka did a solid $10,000 per screen on 25 screens, while Sui Dhaaga lagged far behind with 36 screens and only $4,000 per screen. New Zealand was similar, Sui Dhaaga on 14 screens and only $2,800 per screen, while Chekka was on 6 screens and made $4,700 per screen.
So, what does this tell me? Well, a superficial (or “stupid”) analysis would say Sui Dhaaga lost the audience to Chekka. But that is obviously not the case once we look at the two films. Sui Dhaaga is an aggressively family film, avoids so much as an embrace between the hero and heroine and includes cute small children and lovable older folks. Chekka is aggressively “adult” in all ways, adult moral questions, adult way of dealing with sex, and very adult and explicit scenes of violence. You aren’t going to find the same people coming to the theater for these two different films.
(Also, kind of hilarious that the village set very swadeshi film is failing against the shockingly violent film on Gandhi Jayanti weekend)
And that’s setting aside the language issues. Neither Sui Dhaaga or Chekka are interested in being an all-India hit. They both use lots of slang versions of their two languages (Tamil or Telugu and Hindi) and they are both firmly based in their locations (Madras and the UP). And most importantly, they both have firmly north or south Indian casts. Prakash Raj and Aditi Rao Hydari have been in Hindi language films, I am sure some of the other members of the very large main cast of Chekka have as well. But they aren’t known to the Hindi audience, they weren’t cast to bring in that audience. And the main roles, Arvind Swamy and Jyothika and Vijay Sethupathi, those are all firmly southern actors, well-known and beloved of the southern audience and not outside of it. Sui Dhaaga, same thing, Anushka and Varun are very well known, but also firmly of the northern Hindi speaking regions. Anushka in particular, she is courting the northern audience co-starring with Diljit Dosanjh and otherwise identifying herself with her Punjabi roots. These are not films that will easily break out of their language groups.
So, where is the difference happening? Well, it’s that every single person who might possibly be considered a member of the Tamil audience is showing up for Chekka, and only a few of the Hindi/Northern audience are showing up for Sui Dhaaga. I was talking about this in the comments a few weeks ago, the simplest way to think about it is breaking the audience down into 4 groups:
- People who just like watching movies and will watch whatever they think they will enjoy that week.
- People who are devoted to a particular star/language and will show up for them alone.
- People who wait for the second week, for word of mouth, and then make the decision about whether it sounds like a movie they will like.
- People who only turn out for the major event can’t miss movies and otherwise wait for streaming or pirate films.
The vast majority of the audience is in that 4th group. The trick of it is, how do you convince them this is a major can’t miss movie? Stars used to be the way to do it. And to some degree that still works. The big name in the cast guarantees a big release and a big budget and all the other things that get people excited and talking and make you feel like you will be left out of the cultural conversation if you miss this film opening weekend.
The second group used to be far larger than it is now. For the languages, when it was rarer to get a Hindi film, and then later a Telugu or Tamil film, you would turn out to watch it just because it was there. Now, those films release in the major markets every week, and if you miss them in theaters you can always catch them streaming, it won’t be your only chance. And of course star power has declined as well, especially in the Hindi and Telugu markets. There isn’t anyone who can really guarantee a good opening any more, not in any language, not even Rajinikanth.
(Kaala, didn’t do that shockingly well)
The first group, that’s where you might find movement between languages. If you just like seeing movies, and you speak Hindi, you may pick a Punjabi film over a Hindi one this particular week just because you like the poster or the plot description. The same way you may pick between Tamil or Malayalam or Telugu (especially if the films are dubbed and cross released) based on what you think you might like. But this group, while solid, is fairly small. If I see a difference of a thousand per screen, that is this group moving back and forth. But this week, it is much much more than a thousand per screen and it is all over the world!
So, what this is telling me is that Sui Dhaaga managed to capture part of that group 1 (losing some others to Punjabi films especially in Canada), and probably also a few people from group 2 (those Anushka or Varun stalwarts, or the ones who just want to watch any Hindi film). But it completely missed the groups 3 and 4. The early buzz wasn’t enough to draw in folks through word of mouth, and it didn’t feel like an event film that could not be missed.
(This song says “nice movie” not “event movie”)
Meanwhile Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, in its own way, has done a clean sweep of the last 3 groups. The regular boring movie goers don’t really turn out for Tamil films, that’s why Tamil films have such a low overall market penetration compared to Telugu and Hindi. But on the other hand, when there is a big deal film, the Tamil audience comes out of the woodwork. Mersal and Vikram-Vedha both saw a similar boost.
Here’s what’s really interesting about CCV. So far as I can tell, what made it a major event movie, a can’t miss and can’t wait for streaming, a word of mouth buzz, the whole thing, wasn’t loyalty to a particular actor but rather to a director! Vijay Sethupathi and maybe Jyothika (based on what little I know) are maybe the most popular members of the cast. But they don’t have the largest role and weren’t particular emphasized in the promotions. It couldn’t be there names driving in this large audience. It was Mani Ratnam who was the star, whose name was emphasized in the posters and every where else. Even AR Rahman took second place this time, the soundtrack isn’t spectacular and isn’t meant to be, no big popular songs released in advance to sweep the nation and get people excited. It is just the idea of a Mani Ratnam crime film. And that alone is enough to bring in the crowds.
(This is my favorite song, and it didn’t even get a video release in advance of the film)