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Stumped Once Again

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There can be nothing more filmi than an ipl season. This year's IPL-4 opened on 7 April at Chennai with Shahrukh Khan gyrating to raunchy Tamil numbers. The closing ceremony of IPL-3 last year had Shahid Kapoor entertaining audiences and promoting his yet-to-be-launched Badmash Company. On the IPL-4 circuit, if Preity Zinta egged on her Punjab Kings XI from sidelines, Priyanka Chopra was not far behind in rooting for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). The Bollywood glitter is certainly lighting up cricket, but the irony is ‘cricketainment' is sapping a film industry already in the doldrums.

This year, the pain was longer, with the season meandering for about 15 weeks from 19 February — starting with ICC World Cup, then going on to IPL from 7 April to 28 May. But unlike previous years when producers held back their releases, a slew of films took on IPL this year. Most bombed; a few such as Vikram Bhatt's Haunted have done well. What has been the experience?

Over time, film producers and distributors have learnt their lessons the hard way. The first edition of the IPL, in 2008, saw quite a few releases during the 18 April-1 June season, but the only one that made any money was Jannat. If 2008 was bad, 2009's IPL season was a complete washout.

Click here to view enlarged imageAnticipating poor footfalls in theaters during IPL, producers took the chance of settling their simmering dispute with multiplex owners over the ratio of dividing box-office income. Demanding a higher share, producers stopped all launches from 4 April. The only film that saw the light of day during the season was Akshay Kumar's Tasveer 8X10. It sank miserably. A combination of recession, IPL and producers' strike proved to be a deadly cocktail. The industry actually shrank in size for the first time in decades. A Ficci-KPMG report on the entertainment industry estimates the degrowth from Rs 10,400 crore to Rs 8,930 crore.

By the time IPL-3 came around from 12 March to 25 April, Bollywood's shutdown got institutionalised. Warner Brothers released a couple — Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge and Hollywood film Clash Of The Titans on 2 April. But big banners shunned the IPL window and it was only the experimental film Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, that made an impact.

This year saw a more organised response to the double whammy — ICC World Cup and IPL-4 with over a dozen film launches. How did they fare? Surprisingly, the only film that was released bang in the middle of the ICC fever did well. The comedy Tanu Weds Manu, released by Viacom18 Motion Pictures on 25 February, did a good two-week run with a net box-office collection of around Rs 25 crore — a big deal for a film that had only Kangana Ranaut on its star list. "We knew there were no other movies, so we took the opportunity. It paid off," says Vikram Malhotra, COO of Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

A couple of movies timed themselves in the break between the two cricket sessions. Vashu Bhagnani's comedy Faltu and Abhishek Bachchan's Game released on 1 April, a day before the ICC finals. Both may not have calculated on seeing India in the finals and paid the price. Early IPL releases with big stars also did not do well. Akshay Kumar's comedy Thank You had a below-average opening with net weekend collections of Rs 18 crore, while Bachchan had to suffer a second disappointment with Dum Maaro Dum.

May saw a surprisingly large number of releases — as many as six on 2 May, including Chalo Dilli and Shor In The City, while there were another 3-4 over the next two weeks. Most were unqualified flops. The only one that bucked the trend was Haunted with a two-week run notching up net collections of Rs 40 crore.

Did the film industry have a game plan for these cricket releases? "Absolutely," says UTV Motion Pictures CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur. "For smaller movies without a big male lead, this is the best period to release as there is no big ticket competition, and a good movie has a chance to be appreciated." India winning the ICC World Cup also played its part. "Cricket mania had already peaked before IPL started. That helped the later releases," says Hiren Gada, director of Shemaroo Entertainment.

But those in the film business agree that mainstream cinema continued to give the cricket season a miss. "There is too much riding on big-budget movies to take chances. There is uncertainty in cricket, matches may take an unusual turn and the eyeballs could suddenly vanish for a new release," points out Gada.

Cricket Still Wins
The wariness of those who invest hundreds of crores in celluloid entertainment is justifiable when one sees the numbers cricketainment conjures up. The average reach for ICC World Cup matches this year was a humungous 180 million people and the average television rating point (TVR) — or the percentage of people watching the show in the television universe — was 3.32. To put it in perspective, a hugely popular Bigg Boss episode on channel Colors does not get that TVR in its one-hour session. Semi finals and finals, in both of which India figured, clocked mind-boggling TVRs of 12.7 and 23.2, respectively. With so many people glued to cricket on their television sets, theatre screens were obviously going a begging.

IPL viewership has never touched these highs, but audiences for the T-20 format have also been very large. Two semi finals in IPL-2008 scored TVRs of 6.7 and 7 respectively. These were more than the best performing soaps on our entertainment channels. The finals was a huge 11.7. IPL-2009 and IPL-2010 was not very different, with finals notching up TVRs of 10.7 and 12.85, on the Max channel.

This year, the story is slightly different with IPL-4 starting slowly and the last lap of the league table also showing some fatigue. This year's average TVR so far is at 3.84, a shade below the averages of previous years. But the final week's figures are yet to come, and it is unlikely that the story of a very high average viewership is likely to change.

Is There A Counter Strategy?

With IPL taking away nearly two months of showbiz time from the film calendar, have the industry pundits been able to work out a counter strategy? UTV's Roy Kapur says the results show that, "the good movies worked and the not-so-good movies did not — same as any other time of the year". Others acknowledge that bodies such as the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association had been seriously discussing a response, but it was ultimately the call of respective producers when to release films.

"There is low IPL viewership during the initial matches as well as towards the end of the league session before the final play-offs. The IPL window can thus be shortened to just two or three weeks," says Sanjay Gaikwad, executive director of digital film distributor UFO Moviez.

The industry shrank for the second straight year in 2010 dropping 6.7 per cent to Rs 8,330 crore from Rs 8,930 crore in the previous year, according to the Ficci-KPMG report. The irony is there is no dearth of demand for non-cricket entertainment. "It is a drought during IPL. People are desperate for entertainment. We have to find ways of releasing movies," remarked UFO Moviez's Gaikwad.