Summer without the summer blockbuster: Why was May such a dry spell at the movies? | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Summer without the summer blockbuster: Why was May such a dry spell at the movies?

ByDevansh Sharma
May 26, 2024 06:14 AM IST

The dry spell of big releases in May 2024 indicates Bollywood is still reeling under the effects of its April double whammy-Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and Maidaan.

It seems Bollywood had its reverse Barbenheimer moment last month. The double feature of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, starring Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff, and Maidaan, starring Ajay Devgn, on April 10-11 on the occasion of Eid seemed like it could end the industry's dry spell at the box office this year. But the outcome fell way short of the gigantic expectations riding on both films. And the effect of that major setback can be felt even throughout May, when the summer is scorching, and acutely devoid of the summer blockbuster. (Also Read – Crew, Laapataa Ladies: Why some women-led films work at the box office, while some have to wait for Netflix)

Rajkummar Rao's Srikanth and Manoj Bajpayee's Bhaiyya Ji seem to be the only moderate success in May 2024
Rajkummar Rao's Srikanth and Manoj Bajpayee's Bhaiyya Ji seem to be the only moderate success in May 2024

However, the lack of any exciting tentpole can't be attributed only to past failures. Nag Ashwin's sci-fi epic Kalki 2898 AD is eagerly awaited, but its release got pushed to June end, thanks to heavy post-production work. This gap between tentpoles also made way for mid-budget movies to get a place in the sun. Rajkummar Rao-starrer Srikanth, Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Bhaiyya Ji, Divya Khosla-starrer Savi, Chhota Bheem and the Curse of Damayan, and Rajkummar and Janhvi Kapoor-starrer Mr & Mrs Mahi got a fair chance to prove their worth at the box office, without competition from any big movie release.

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Summer vacation blues

While Srikanth and Bhaiyya Ji have emerged as moderate box office successes, their trajectory and penetration remain limited. Srikanth hasn't been able to cross even the 35 crore mark in the two weeks since its release. Bhaiyya Ji opened at above 1 crore, but its growth is concentrated in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, given Manoj Bajpayee's single-screen stronghold in those states. There hasn't been a pan-India success story this month, or for that matter, even last month. The last film that comes to mind which made at least some waves at the box office was Crew, starring Kareena Kapoor, Tabu, and Kriti Sanon, which released in March end.

Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, Kriti Sanon’s Crew released on March 29.
Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, Kriti Sanon’s Crew released on March 29.

No solid imports

At a time when the summer vacation in schools has kicked off, particularly in the Delhi-NCR area where holidays came early thanks to the heatwave, parents are looking for wholesome entertainers for family bonding in cinema halls. With Bollywood sitting out the summer, even the usual bank of Hollywood tentpoles remains amiss this season. The Fall Guy, Kingdom for Planet of the Apes, IF, and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga opened to largely positive reviews, but the footfalls don't match the summer blockbuster standard, especially after Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig's Barbie pushed the boundaries of what an event movie should be around the globe.

Summer in the South

Even the South industries – Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada – aren't doling out any big films either. The month began on a decent note for Kollywood when Sundar C's horror comedy Aranmanai 4, starring Tamannaah Bhatia, raked in some money. But the box office since then has been as dismal as Mollywood. After a string of impressive films, like Manjummel Boys and Aavesham, earlier this year, Malayalam cinema is back to tossing out big-budget duds like Mammootty's Turbo in May. Sandalwood and Tollywood aren't even trying, with no signature tentpoles in the pipeline this month.

Heatwave: Bane over boon

In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, veteran Telugu exhibitor Suresh Babu explained why he had to shut down his theatres in Telangana. “Usually, summers are a safe bet for producers and exhibitors since audiences walk into theatres and enjoy cool air conditioning to avoid the scorching heat outside, but this summer has been quite pathetic, and just four or five viewers are found in theatres,” he said. Clearly, viewers aren't falling for the air-conditioned distraction bait this summer. In fact, the heat wave is only preventing potential viewers from stepping outside their homes and travelling to even their nearest theatre – it's just not worth it.

Hollywood films like Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga are unable to recreate the summer blockbuster season in India
Hollywood films like Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga are unable to recreate the summer blockbuster season in India

Home-bound alternatives

If they're not making the trip to the theatres doesn't imply that they're not getting entertained. The theatre audience seems to have resorted to far more accessible and cost-effective options, from catching up on last couple of months' theatrical releases on OTT, lapping up long-awaited Netflix India Originals like Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, or even scrolling their Instagram feed for Reels. There are also a couple of seasonal distractions – the Indian Premier League takes up half of a regular viewer's day with two matches every day (including weekends). Then it also happens to be the election season, when political campaigns turn into carnivals, creating far more discourse in households, offices, and residential societies than movies do.

Desperate incentives like tickets worth 99 or buy-one-get-one-free offers may have been knee-jerk attempts to revive the theatrical footfall. Re-release of past blockbusters is also more of a corrective than a sustainable measure. Marketing tools like bottomless popcorn and unlimited cold drink helped PVR-INOX emerge as a food giant, with its F&B revenue surpassing its traditional mode of business – the theatrical revenue. While that may imply that people are coming to theatres to consume, let's admit that they may be doing so only out of captivity. There's no choice but to eat what PVR-INOX offers once you're inside a theatre. But whether to visit a theatre remains a choice, and a choice that's not being exercised this summer. With IPL and elections concluding in the next couple of weeks, and the heatwave hopefully receding, June-July may bring the box office showers that cinephiles yearn for eagerly.

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