Bollywood Box Office Unplugged-I: Why the first day and first week is make or break

Once, the barometer of success for films was platinum, golden and silver jubilees. How times change. Today, its the first week that matters for box office success  

Online bookings of new releases open Wednesday. But savvy marketers ensure that the excitement starts building weeks and months before ticketing action as the movie stars are in your face promoting the movie. They are at the mall next door, the pub downtown, gate-crashing weddings (yes, 3 idiots did it) – even the most uninitiated can predict whose movie is releasing next at the box-office. Then there is the music video launch, Page3 plugs, YouTube clips, fun-bites on Facebook, Twitter teasers, online trailers, video games and more. The idiot box joins the frenzy with Amitabh Bachchan turning up as guest anchor, Akshay and Sonakshi getting face time at a cricket match, or reality shows of all hues being invaded by your favourite stars. From neighbouring auntyjee to officewale Sharmajee and your teenager’s “Chhamak chhalo” grooves, the idea is to get everybody caught up in the frenzy before cash registers start ringing on Friday.

A few discerning ones wait to read the reviews or sneak previews. Enter the analysts. Taran Adarsh, Rajeev Masand, Anupama Chopra, Raja Sen, and many more—the list is long. Reviews pouring in on Friday. Rajeev Masand’s review is Googled more than say, “home loans” in India. Taran Adarsh and Rajeev Masand have over 150,000 followers each including many opinion–makers themselves among their followers. Anupama is not far behind either.

Since movies get booked well in advance, bookings for much-hyped movies happen before getting feedback from your trusted social circle. You bank on the stars promoting it and on analysts. An exhortation by Amitabh or SRK carries trust. Film reviewers, the pied pipers of cinemagoers in a star-crazy nation, carries credibility. Tragedy strikes when movie after movie, hyped by stars and reviewers turns out to be a disaster. Millions of hours wasted. Crores of rupees down the drain or into undeserving pockets! You wish the stars and reviewers had not lied and you had not trusted their hype.

Movie business for you- Reincarnated
Now for the dynamics of how it works. There was a time, when movies released in theatres could run for years, secure in the knowledge that nobody would steal the reels. That’s because you had to go to a theatre and couldn’t view it on your cable, notebook computer or smart phone. The barometer of success was platinum, golden and silver jubilees.

How times change. Today, movie releases need to beat the pirates by simultaneous release in as many theatres as possible. Only the rupee matters and this can also come from music rights, overseas distribution, satellite rights or video/web/YouTube releases, in-film advertising, etc. But this analysis will focus only on the box office for 33 recent releases.

Industry rides on blockbusters
In terms of budget of box-office (BO) collections, the film industry works due to blockbusters. Much like the US pharma industry, which survives on blockbuster drugs like Viagra, the film industry needs a booster dose of some mega success stories, to feel secure.


This sets in motion a sequence of desirable and undesirable actions. A lavishly mounted movie also needs a lavish marketing budget in order to recover costs. Distributors demand item songs which make cash registers ring and every cog in the wheel from stars to cinema hall owners work at making it succeed; and the first week is make-or-break time. With stakes so high, it also needs friendly reviewers to tailor ratings to suit the industry rather than the cine-goer who forks out just Rs200 for a ticket.

The mantra is simple—after the shoot, take what you can in the first week and scoot before word-of-mouth reality sinks in.

So “Sheela ki jawani” seduces you to theatres and it’s a while before the public discovers that Tees Maar Khan is not even a makkhi-maar. Katrina’s gyrations to Farah Khan’s direction collected a cool Rs49 crore this time, out of the movie’s total business of Rs61 crore. What does that tell you? Similarly, RA-One slumped from Rs91 crore in the first week to Rs15 crore in the second. Dhobi Ghat dropped 89% after hype that ensured some first week bookings had vanished. Budhdha hoga Tera Baap, Mausam last year were among the others which went the same way.

Now look at performances in the first half of the current year.


The high first weekend collection is projected as validation of film’s BO superiority. This happens occasionally, like with 3 idiots, but in most cases, the hype about the opening weekend is entirely fake or good marketing. On the way out of the theatre, many people realize they have been had, but since it is all about entertainment, the reaction is amusement rather than outrage. The following two charts, based on BO collections, show how much is at stake. (Only Hindi movies released in first half of the year, between Jan-Jun 2012 and surviving at least a week at box-office are considered. There is a whole alternate business revenue stream of music rights, satellite rights, merchandizing agreements, in-film advertising is not the subject of this analysis.)
A week is a long time in Hindi films. Especially, if it is the first week. It is analyzed down to each day by film trade analysts and watched for its trending collections. We notice some very interesting insights and trends.

On an average, two-third of a movie’s BO collection is done before business before the second week begins. On an average, a movie’s BO collection drops to one third of the previous week, every week, till it disappears into oblivion—this is the one-third rule. The graph above shows aggregate week-wise collections post-release.  Movies that beat this rule are the winners. For instance, a dark horse like Vicky Donor could see collections drop just 5% less in week two. A movie whose BO collections drop 65%-70% in a week is primarily rejected by audience; that an Agneepath still earns Rs100 crore is due, in no small measure, to the inability to cancel bookings made before its Friday. They are still trade hits but not by popular choice.

Here is a plan that seems to work. If viewers are numbed by a blast of star power and publicity blitz to ensure that first week plans are full before reviews, social media feedback or word-of-mouth reach them, the producer can make a killing. This explains why they pull out all the stops and plan a release with such care. For a good movie, the progress path is altogether different—we will examine this in the next part.

I often wonder what is “the first day first show” business all about? Why are we willing to risk viewing a film without reading the reviews? Does the early bird catch the worm or is it that the early worm gets caught?

COMING NEXT: Releasing tomorrow is part II of this three-episode article. We analyse the BO performance of all Bollywood movies released in first half of 2012 to show which ones tricked you into buying a ticket with their marketing hype and which ones were genuine hits.

(Sandeep Khurana is the founder and principal consultant, QuantLeap Consulting services, based at Hyderabad. An ex-army officer, he is well-read and experienced in government and corporate sectors. Sandeep holds a management degree from Indian School of Business. He has interest in social media, analytics and operations. He likes to watch all good movies. He can be reached at [email protected] or his twitter id is @IQnEQ.)

1 decade ago
Dear Sandeepji...Its great analysis and a few words of caution for small time film makers..Creative people like me are very much enthusiastic about visual art but have no muscles to pull it off in the vast ocean..we will be torn to pieces bits by bits..In India , film making has no future as its totally controlled by a few like our stock market..Remakes and publicity is what has remained of filmmaking.. Its being run by MBA's and not creative people...These MBA's are not concerned about creativity but money..hence so much fuss, publicity stunts etc..What was an undisputable art of visual story telling has come down to an art of disrepute,controversies and almost porn material just to sell and make collections...!! Whatever good movies are being made is because of low budget and corporate help..
Sandeep Khurana
Replied to KAPIL B KHANNA comment 1 decade ago
Appreciate your feedback and fully empathize with your concerns. Please await a followup series with insights on how to think out of the box n take constructive steps. Slow change but it's happening already. Signs are positive. And good thing is good cinema is such a win-win for everybody-viewers, producers, distributors etc.
Replied to Sandeep Khurana comment 1 decade ago
Sure Sandeepji...If we give up who will encourage the others..?? I guess its our moral responsibility of writers and makers to keep up the hopes and keep the lights alive..People surely look upto us to deliver..If there will be no heroic stories of a maker there will be no makers at all..Thanks for your reply..Will surely look forward to your following insights..Have a great day..
1 decade ago
Firdaus Khan
1 decade ago
Great read & unequivocal analysis, esp. the chart about 2nd week collections in comparison to week 1. Should put an end to ridiculous claims about sub-standard movies being runaway hits of the year.....its rather insulting to India's sensitivity to & pride in cinema. Corporatization of Bollywood has ushered in spin masters that play the short term game of cashing in early. Tele rights, having lost their margin, could be another push factor.

Will be interesting to progress with your perspective (parts 2 & 3)to probably validate the truism that 'quality sells itself' (aka the new trend of independent cinema)

Timely analysis Mr. Khurana!

- Firdaus Khan
Faculty, ICBM-SBE, Hyd.
Sandeep Khurana
Replied to Firdaus Khan comment 1 decade ago
Thanks, Firdaus.
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