‘Sooryavanshi’ hits the screen: All’s well that ends well

The cinemas have opened up for business, in some states, without conditions save for Covid-19 protocols like sanitization etc, while in others they will have to function under restrictions in sitting capacity. There was a great sense of relief and a wave of joy when, finally, the Maharashtra government too agreed to lift the total lockdown.

Why won’t there be relief when after a year and half of uncertainties, total block on businesses activities and mounting losses, the things seem to be getting back to normal. The Corona pandemic had forced a lockdown on all activities, commercial, industrial besides affecting the personal lives of the people.

The occasion is auspicious being the Diwali week and one of the biggest films in recent times both, the star cast wise as well as in terms of investment, Sooryavanshi, was slated for Diwali release. The film has been long awaited and had to hold back the release plans twice because of two back to back lockdowns. Natural to expect that the combination of the occasion and the big bill film would bring the confidence back for both, the film trade as well as the audience.

Looks like it is not to be so. Though the occasion was auspicious, the beginning was not. The makers of Sooryavanshi and the cinema chains holders were at loggerheads over the terms of revenue sharing. The cinemas, led by top few multiplex chains, planned to cash in on the Diwali week bonanza all by themselves. The occasion of Diwali is among the top three or four festivals or occasions in India considered as the most lucrative for a film at the box office.

Yet, in normal circumstances, Sooryavanshi, could have released at any time of the year and still drawn the crowds, thanks to the names involved: Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh in the cast with Rohit Shetty as the director. But, the Corona pandemic lockdown forced it to hold on. Those involved with the film, after spending over 18 months waiting, would have thought that finally they were getting lucky that the cinemas were available all over at the right time, Diwali.

While the makers were counting their blessings on finally seeing the opening, the cinemas did not quite think that way. To them, it did not matter that they had the biggest film of recent times for Diwali release. The cinemas decided to divide the show times of their screens between Sooryavanshi and the Hollywood film, Eternals! So far so good.

But, the hitch came when they decided to divide playtime between these two films equally! Now, that is not playing fair and every filmmaker strives for a solo release, especially a big budget one for that gives better chances of a speedy recovery. Looks like the cinemas wanted to cash in on both and, rather than the film, either of them, enjoying a bumper week at the box office, the cinemas would be assured of near 100 per cent footfalls which a single release may not guarantee. Eternals, on its own, can’t serve that purpose while also limiting the box office prospects of a big film like Sooryavanshi.

In such a situation, the matters came to a head when the makers asked for 60 per cent of the first week revenue share as against 52.5 per cent which is the norm. Sooryavanshi had to make up whatever it could somehow and that was the makers’ contention since it was made to share 50 per cent playtime with a Hollywood film! And, after all, the cinemas had paid 60 per cent in the case of Akshay Kumar’s BellBottom just some weeks back!

Normally, the advance booking for a film like Sooryavanshi would open on a Sunday for its Friday release or, latest by Monday. But, in this case, the advance booking windows did not open at all even till Friday. No print media announcements were seen of the film’s release. As it happens generally, when such a tussle takes place between the cinema managements and the producers and finally both come to terms, the damage is done. This reflects on the collections and affects both, the cinemas as well as the film.

After all, they work on a revenue sharing model. The multiplex managements agreed to the terms demanded only on late Thursday night. They probably waited for the producer to buckle. But, the producers of Sooryavanshi were preparing to release the film at the single screens as scheduled, not wanting to miss the festival week.

To add to that, even the critics’ reviews about the Hollywood film in contention were not very encouraging. So, now, Sooryavanshi has made it to the cinemas after a long wait of over a year and a half due to Covid-19 lockdown and a last moment tussle with the cinema chains. The good news is that the film has opened reasonably well. The critics’ reviews are favourable and help bring the reluctant, Covid-19 wary audience to the cinemas in the days to follow.

(The views expressed are personal)