Come September, the cinematic calendar is overflowing. Eid-ul-Azha festivities ensure a few days’ holiday and movie producers are well aware of the lucrative potential of an off-duty, euphoric audience.
Even as the landscape fills up with braying cattle, cinemas are about to get crowded with a spate of much awaited-movies, offering ‘pre-booking’ and ‘booking’ options.
And you can bet on plenty of full focuses up ahead. After trundling through a milieu of desultory flops, cinema is suddenly looking interesting.
Jawad Bashir’s Teri Meri Love Story releases in early September and following it are a range of local big banners nudging against each other for ‘hit’ status during Eid: ARY Films’ Janaan, Urdu1’s Actor In Law and Geo Films’ Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay.
Also swooping in are heavy-duty contenders from Bollywood: Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Akira in early September; on the weekend before Eid, Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Freaky Ali and Baar Baar Dekho, featuring Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif and right after Eid, Amitabh Bachchan’s Pink.
Forget a meat-infested diet; cinema buffs may as well while away their entire holidays at the movies. They’ve suffered enough – winding their way through a Hotal, deciphering a Mah e Meer and hijrat-ing out of the cinemas during Hijrat. Now, they have a range of options available to them and so far, they all look promising. “It’s Eid, let’s enjoy it!” declares Mohsin Yaseen, General Manager Operations at Cinepax Cinemas.
Mohsin has reason to celebrate, with Cinepax owning two-screen and five-screen multiplexes as well as conventional single screen cinemas in multiple cities across the country. “We’re expecting 1950 shows to be seen nationwide from 9th till the 19th of September,” he predicts. “That’s an audience of more than 200,000 people and an attendance of at least 70%.”
But it is doubtful that movie producers will revel in the same kind of profits. Should one good movie have had released on Eid, audiences would have filtered in to see it repetitively.
Now, with so many options, only a limited number of screens will be allocated per movie, thereby restricting viewership. Revenues can hardly be expected to maximize, regardless of how good the movie is. It may still be a ‘hit’ – but it may not be able to bring in the box office revenue worthy of ‘super hits’.
Looking at the bigger picture, cinema is dependent on movies earning huge revenues and producers reinvesting this money to create more movies. Lower profits earned per movie doesn’t bode too well for an industry that has only just managed to get to its feet, ambling slowly on the uphill path to revival.
Devising dates carefully
Backtracking to the recent past, there have been times when filmmakers have postponed movie releases in order to avoid clashes with other local releases and capitalize on earnings. Last Eid-ul-Azha, director Asim Raza delayed the release of his Ho Mann Jahaan so that it would not come into cinemas at the same time as Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, also scheduled for that Eid.
“Film release dates need to be decided intelligently as it takes a lot of hard work and investment to put together a movie. It goes to waste if the film does not get enough screens to reach out to audiences,” explains Asim. “Also, we cannot afford to have too many flops on our hands at this point in time. Otherwise, the little bit of confidence that we have gained as an ‘industry’ will come down crashing and intelligent investors will run away.”
Similarly, Wajahat Rauf deliberately made sure that his cinematic directorial debut Karachi Se Lahore was not released on Eid last year. Instead, the movie premiered a few weeks later, happily enamoring audiences at a time when there were fewer options available to them.
“With about a dozen films released in a year, we sabotage each other’s business when we choose release dates that clash,” observes Wajahat. “Screens get divided and no one reaches the potential that they can. It is not imperative to release a movie during a festival. If the film is good, people will come to watch it regardless.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Humayun Saeed, producer of last year’s super-hit Jawani Phir Nahi Ani surmises that date clashes are bound to inevitably occur.
“Every producer would prefer a solo release but as the industry grows, it is unlikely that this will happen,” he says. “Also, just like every TV channel creates an Eid drama, production houses like to blow their trumpets with a well-publicized Eid movie release. That’s what’s happening this time, with all three local Eid releases emerging from different rival production houses. If all three movies are good, they will all do well although they may not earn as much as they could have with lesser competition.”
The bright side of the clash
How do the producers of this year’s Eid releases feel about the upcoming clash? They prefer to stay optimistic.
Fizza Ali Meerza, producer of the highly anticipated Actor In Law, released her last movie two years ago, also on Eid-ul-Azha; the very successful Na Maloom Afraad. Industry insiders claim that the filmmaker has since considered an Eid release her lucky charm. Fizza, though, says that once she commits to a release date, she adheres to it, regardless of competition.
“I announced Actor In Law’s release date nine months ago, before everyone else,” she explains. “I have commitments to my distributors, my cast and my crew and I can’t postpone dates at the nth hour. There is no doubt that business will suffer because of the date clash and it is bad for the industry, on the whole. We need to put aside egos and immediately set up a producers’ guild so that such problems don’t keep occurring.”
“It’s actually good for the audience that they will have three local movies to choose from this Eid,” Janaan’s producer Hareem Farooq points out. “The Pakistani audience is very loyal to local cinema and we have great faith in our movie. Hopefully, things will go well.”
Abdul Khaaliq Khan, the writer of Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay, looks on the bright side. “Releasing at the same time may actually end up benefiting all three movies. When people won’t be able to get tickets for one show, they’ll end up seeing the next movie available. In this way, we’ll all benefit from the footfall.”
This cinematic overflow phenomenon, therefore, may actually bring in business for the mediocre contenders in the race.
But faced with so many options which movie will haul in big business and which will fade out, despite the footfall? A Janaan with its young caste and heavy duty promotional activities? A Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay with its beautiful soundtrack and romantic plot? Or an Actor In Law with its take on social satire, boasting a cast that includes veteran Indian actor Om Puri?
Or will audiences just flock towards a Katrina Kaif in her ‘kaala chashma’? We have our nationalistic pride… but then there’s Katrina, flexing her newfound infamous abs. Perhaps, if nothing else, the release of Indian heavyweights should have been delayed to a later date.
The competition’s tough. Mohsin Yaseen argues, “In a multiplex, cinemas are smaller, with about 200 seats allotted to each screen. Everybody gets to go to the movies and business does well.”
But business could have certainly been better without this mammoth date clash. Movie producers, think it over next time.