Industry experts agree that while traditionally, the blocking of release dates was limited to films with established stars like the three Khans, with changing times and evolving audience tastes, the director and cast determine the release window.
New Delhi: Even before the $1 billion plus worldwide earnings of its superhero flick Avengers: Infinity War, Disney had caught attention. Early in March, the studio made waves by announcing a movie slate that goes as far as February 2023, that is about five years from now.
Closer home in Bollywood, producers may not be announcing films that far in time yet, but the industry is inching closer to offering distant deadlines. Rakesh Roshan’s next instalment of the Krrish franchise was finalized for a Christmas 2020 release, nearly three years in advance. Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions also announced a Varun Dhawan film called Rannbhoomi to be directed by Shashank Khaitan of Badrinath Ki Dulhania fame, slated for a Diwali 2020 release. Other big-ticket films like Ashutosh Gowariker directed Panipat, Salman Khan-starrer Kick 2 and a dance film featuring Varun Dhawan and Katrina Kaif have been scheduled for the end of 2019, about one-and-a-half to two years in advance.
To be sure, what was traditionally a one-year advance date strategy is slowly extending into a longer plan for Bollywood with enough merit to back it. Apoorva Mehta, chief executive officer, Dharma Productions said the percentage of movies releasing in a year today has witnessed a manifold increase compared to five years ago. So, movie studios find it logical to let audiences know well in advance about their upcoming projects in order to create as much anticipation and conversation around them as possible.
“Planning the release strategy in advance and locking the date allows studios to pick the weekend that has the best potential of getting a healthy opening for the film,” said Vijay Singh, chief executive officer, Fox Star Studios. “The advance planning helps in setting a timeline for the completion of the film and also avoids a clash with other releases thus ensuring maximum audience.”
The opportunity in this scenario, Mehta said, is the producer’s ability to build the movie’s brand among the audience whose engagement with the film rises with time. There are challenges too though — one being the current attention span of the audience that makes it challenging to maintain engaging communication around the movie until its release day. Secondly, coordinating dates with actors during movie promotions becomes difficult since they are shooting all year round for other projects.
Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said Hollywood has provided enough inspiration by planning up to five years in advance whereas Bollywood is catching up with two and three-year strategies. In another five years perhaps, we could be talking about release dates set five years in advance. Plus what gives India an edge, is the higher number of festive weekends compared to the US which pretty much works with only Christmas and Independence Day holidays. India, on the other hand, has everything from Holi, Diwali, Eid and Christmas to Republic Day and Independence Day.
“There has been a realization that today, it’s all about cashing in on the opening weekend that can bring nearly 40-45% of a film’s lifetime earnings and how much extra potential a holiday weekend has,” Mohan said.
Industry experts agree that while traditionally, the blocking of release dates was limited to films with established stars like the three Khans, with changing times and evolving audience tastes, the director and cast (not limited to bigger actors) determine the release window. A Varun Dhawan film being slated for a Diwali release two years in advance may be a new phenomenon but indicative of more than just his growing popularity. “The big festival holiday weekends may still be the preferred time of the year for studios delivering movies with established stars, but young and fresh faces are also increasingly becoming bankable for releases during this period. It promotes more content-driven films to be made, and if these films get a good release window, it only adds to the overall business,” Mehta said.