HomeBollywoodBox Office Clash - Three Words That Terrify Bollywood. Here's A History

Box Office Clash – Three Words That Terrify Bollywood. Here’s A History

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A film still from Raees

The last couple of showbiz weeks have been about two box office clashes – one current, the other impending. Barbie vs Oppenheimer snowballed into ‘Barbenheimer’ and while the Margot Robbie-led Barbie has outperformed Oppenheimer(except in India where it’s the other way round), both films have been huge money-spinners. If there’s a lesson to be learnt, it is this, to use the famous line from Field Of Dreams: if you build it, they will come – make good films and movie-goers will watch. Barbie and the Christopher Nolan-directed Oppenheimer, the yin to each other’s yang tonally, both received good reviews and audiences worldwide have embraced the double feature instead of picking a side.   

In almost laughable contrast, Karan Johar had a meltdown on Threads over a box office clash that will only happen at the end of this year. He shared a post about another producer having booked the same release date as a Dharma film “without the courtesy of a phone call.” The films in question – he didn’t name either – are thought to be Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas, starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, and the KJo-produced Yodha, starring Sidharth Malhotra. Both will release on December 15 and this appears to have sent the Dharma boss into a tailspin.

Niceties of phone calls and suchlike aside, Bollywood’s baseline insecurity was laid bare in Karan Johar’s post – the fear, or perhaps the knowledge, that their own film would not survive competition and therefore must avoid it at any cost. Setting the box office on fire is a secondary consideration to the worry that one’s own film might go down in flames should it have to compete with another’s.

Scheduling a film release is almost a science in itself – there is any amount of calendar manipulation and shifting of dates. Festivals and holidays are premium occasions and for several years, the year’s most in-demand dates were reserved for the three Khans – a Salman film would release on Eid, a Shah Rukh offering around Diwali, and an Aamir movie at Christmas.

Not even the Khans are bulletproof in a box office clash. Aamir Khan told reporters last year that he was lucky to have been able to avoid meeting KGF: Chapter 2head-on. Laal Singh Chaddha was supposed to have released on the same day as Yash’s blockbuster. “Laal Singh Chaddha was supposed to release on that day. But fortunately for us, Red Chillies was taking a little time on the VFX so we got saved,” Aamir said in a press interaction.

Possibly no film better demonstrates the intricacies of avoiding box office clashes than Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees. In February 2015, the makers of Raees announced it would release on the Eid weekend of July 2016 – clashing with Salman Khan’s Sultan. Over a year later, Raees blinked first – “Eid belongs to Salman,” said Shah Rukh Khan; his film was pushed to January 26, 2017.

This caused surprise – the logical choice would have been to shift Raees to Diwali 2016, that being SRK’s preferred festival release. Trouble was, Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil had booked Diwali already and that was clearly a clash Raees wanted to swerve around, choosing instead to lock horns with two other films. Ajay Devgn’s Baadshaho and Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil were both lined up for Republic Day 2017. Baashaho rescheduled, Kaabil didn’t – and when it eventually did, Raees followed, prompting a cat and mouse game of date changes.  

Box office clashes, when they happen, seem to generate some amount of heartburn for the makers. Karan Johar may have avoided one Ae Dil Hai Mushkil clash but he couldn’t sidestep Ajay Devgn’s Shivaay, over which there was a public falling out. Ajay tweeted a recorded phone call between his producer and self-styled critic Kamaal R Khan who claimed to have been paid for favourably reviewing KJo’s film – he later said he had not actually been.

Lagaan vs Gadar, Om Shanti Om vs Saawariya, Bajirao Mastani vs Dilwale, Mohenjo Daro vs Rustom – sometimes, one triumphs over the other in ticket sales, at other times, there’s no clear result; but if there is ever a real winner, it’s the audience, even though its rarely the audience’s interest that film producers act in.
    

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