Salman Khan’s films have been sure shot winners at the box office for years, irrespective of critics’ reviews. His films usually release around some festival or extended weekend, and cinemas look forward to earning extra profits. His last theatrical release, Dabangg 3, scored a total net gross of Rs 134.79 crore, opening in 4550 screens, according to Box Office India. While Bharat, that released in June 2019, garnered a total nett gross of Rs 197 crore after releasing in 4650 screens. His films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai are among the top-grossing Indian films of all time.
His ‘bankable star’ image relies solely on box office numbers. As Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai releases today on pay-per-view and DTH, for the first time in Salman Khan’s career, number of tickets sold by theatres will not be deciding the fate of his film. The actor himself has accepted that the revenue expected from theatres is almost zero. “We may get the lowest numbers with Radhe. It might not even cross 10-15 crores. We would lose money on Radhe and box office collections are going to be almost zero,” he has said.
Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai was planned as a hybrid release – streaming platform alongside a release in theatres wherever they are functional. But with more cinemas shutting temporarily during the second wave, there will be no big opening day number to look forward to.
“Very few theatres around the country, some in Gujarat and UP, are expected to be screening the film. The revenue generated will be negligible. Salman Khan’s films are critic-proof, a negative review has never affected his film. He knows he is an entertainer, and has to do films that appeal to the masses. He never bothered about what critics would say. Since OTT platforms do not reveal their viewership numbers, there is no way to say whether the film is a hit or a flop. After watching the film, one can do a comparative analysis of how much the film could have earned if it had a regular theatrical opening in pre-Covid times,” says trade analyst Atul Mohan.
For a theatrical release of any big star’s film, box office numbers are tracked from the opening day, to the opening weekend, and first week, right until it completes its run in cinema halls. But for Radhe, there will be no such parameter to assess the success of the film.
Film trade analyst Taran Adarsh says, “How do you gauge the success of a film that releases on an OTT platform? For box office collections, the numbers are out the very next day of the film’s release. But in case of an OTT release, no platform will tell you their viewership numbers. There might be claims that so-and-so film did very well, but no streaming service will confirm how many people exactly watched a particular film. Those claims are made to build a certain brand value of the star or the film, but you can never be sure.”
Salman Khan, also the producer of Radhe, has struck a multi-crore deal with Zee Studios for a multi-format release. “The film will earn money in the long run, through DTH and satellite channels of ZEE, and repeated viewership on OTT. It will surely attract a good amount of advertising revenue when it’s aired on TV. But the box office decision of a hit or a flop unfathomable at this point, and it’s highly unlikely that theatres will screen the film once they reopen,” Atul adds.
The domestic market, which makes for the lion’s share of a movie’s revenue, cannot be a deciding factor during a pandemic. The film is expected to do well in overseas markets though. “The domestic box office in India won’t generate a sufficient number to talk about. Overseas, specifically the Middle East market, it will be a good number, because it’s a Salman Khan film releasing after a long time. Some decent numbers from US, UK and other regions is also expected. Theatres, apart from the larger-than-life viewing experience, also provide validation to a star. It is much higher than what we get from an OTT release. Everyone involved in a film looks forward to that validation – how did our audience like the film? That is the charm of the theatres,” explains Girish Johar, producer and film business analyst.
OTT platforms have been an amazing leveler, where the only factor that matters is the quality of content. With the box office numbers out of the reckoning, it remains to be seen how the sense of validation is achieved with Radhe, and any subsequent films that might adopt a similar release model.