No other week in 2024 so far has so badly affected the psyche of exhibitors as the Eid week. The disastrous performance of both the Eid releases — Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and Maidaan — has shaken exhibitors and chain holders all over India. Not only have both the films underperformed but even their starts were miserable. Usually, the festive occasion at least ensures footfalls for the new releases in the festival week, but this time, it was not so. The openings of both the star-cast films were so pathetic that a weak-hearted person associated with the films or an exhibitor could’ve suffered a heart attack after looking at the miserable collections.

The mood in the trade before the Muslim festival was upbeat as two big films with budgets upwards of Rs. 200 crore each were slated to hit the screens to make the cash registers jingle. Although the trailers of both the star-cast films weren’t exactly loved by the trade, everyone hoped that the two films would open handsomely or, at least, decently and then, hopefully, be appreciated by the public to sustain well through the week. The first shocker came in the form of dull advance bookings for the two films. The second and bigger shock came when Maidaan opened to a cold response on Wednesday in the paid preview shows after the sighting of the Eid moon on Wednesday (April 10). The third shock came in the form of the horrific initial of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan on Thursday (April 11) in spite of the Eid holiday. To top it all, the public reports of both the films were so below-the-mark that nobody could expect any improvement in collections after the festival holiday and the partial holiday on the following day (April 12, Friday) for Baasi Eid.

The excitement of the cinema wallahs before the festival in the hope that Eid would bode well for the trade gave way to a mood of despondency on Eid day itself. For one, the films had opened at levels which could be considered horrifyingly low at many places. Secondly, the public reports did not suggest that there would be much improvement in collections as the day — and the week — progressed. Shockingly, shows of both the films began to get cancelled from the third day itself due to insufficient audience or, sometimes, zero audience.

An exhibitor of a ‘C’ class centre of Rajasthan rued on Tuesday, “Yesterday (on Monday), a show of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan had to be cancelled at our cinema due to lack of public. But today, all the shows were cancelled!” The position of Maidaan was “even worse”. And then, he asked me a question which was expected but despite that, choked my voice (to match his while he put forth the query), “Should I shut down the cinema for a few months?” To my reply that he would have to exhibit courage — in the absence of worthwhile films to exhibit — he countered, “Kaise chalaayein cinema? Hum toh barbaad ho rahein hain. I’ve not seen such poor collections on Eid in my entire career of 40 years!”

Frankly, the same sentiments are being echoed by exhibitors of ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ class centres of every circuit. The common complaints of all the exhibitors are:
(i) both the Eid releases this year have broken their backs;
(ii) producers are making films to fill the pockets of A-list stars, not for cinemas to run;
(iii) stars are not bothered about the quality of films they sign;
(iv) the only thing stars seem to be concerned about are charging fat fees because they have no feelings for the film industry which has made them what they are;
(v) stars seem to be oblivious to their responsibility of ensuring at least a decent opening;
(vi) if the situation doesn’t improve, more cinemas will be forced to shut down for good.

There is another anomaly in the scenario. In a last-ditch effort to window-dress their box-office collections, producers often resort to purchasing tickets of their own films in bulk when they run to empty houses. The producers and/or stars of BMCM and Maidaan did exactly that. Since buying tickets of their own films is done mostly in the big cities and that too, mainly in cinemas of the national multiplex chains, single-screen cinemas as well as cinemas in cities and towns other than the big ones are not recipients of the ‘largesse’ of the producers and hence they feel the pinch of the flops even more. Meanwhile, the national multiplex chains are not complaining because even if a film is a debacle, they are assured of box-office returns through sale of tickets — never mind if the tickets are being bought by the producers or stars of the flop films to simply prop up the scene and massage their own egos.

I firmly believe that the entire system is grossly wrong. And no correction can come unless the system is overhauled. Cosmetic changes, lip sympathy about the pathetic state of affairs, comments in the media about how things must improve — all these are not going to change things. The industry will continue to make the majority of its constituents bleed unless drastic corrective measures are taken. The sooner, the better!