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Rewind 2019: Great year for the box office with over a billion tickets sold

The total amount realized also scaled a new high of close to Rs11,000 crore. Almost a third of the sales came from Hindi cinema, with Tamil and Telugu cinema accounting for another third.

Keyur Seta

Last year was indeed the best in recent times for Indian cinema as far as ticket sales go. According to data compiled and analyzed by consulting firm Ormax Media and reported by the Business Standard newspaper, over a billion movie tickets were sold across India for the first time in 2019 — 1.03 billion to be a little more precise — an increase of 11.6% over 2018, when 945 million tickets were sold countrywide.

The total amount realized from box-office sales last year was Rs10,948 crore, also an increase of more than Rs1,000 crore over 2018, when the total realization was Rs9,810 crore.

About a third of the tickets sold were for Hindi movies, 19% for Tamil cinema and 18% for Telugu. In fourth position was Hollywood, followed by Malayalam cinema.

Senior trade analyst Atul Mohan attributed the growth in ticket sales to the improving content in films. “The content last year was so impressive," Atul Mohan said. "Hence, so many films did well like Kabir Singh (2019), Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019), War (2019), Housefull 4 (2019), etc. Now only content-driven cinema will do well.”

Indeed, the stupendous success of the Shahid Kapoor-starrer Kabir Singh was a major surprise last year. The film finished with a total domestic collection of Rs276.34 crore nett. Interestingly, before this film, Shahid Kapoor did not have even a single Rs100 crore film to his credit as sole leading man.

Atul Mohan said Kabir Singh was expected to do well, but no one expected it to do so well as to come close to the Rs300 crore mark. “If a hit from the South is remade [Kabir Singh was a remake of Telugu cult favourite Arjun Reddy (2017)], it has a chance of doing well here,” he said. “Arjun Reddy did Rs150 crore in the Telugu market. After Baahubali (2015), this was the biggest thing to happen to Telugu cinema. But we all thought [Kabir Singh] would make around Rs100 crore. It had a bold subject so there was some uncertainty.”

A noteworthy part of the Ormax report highlighted by the newspaper was that ticket sales in the previous four years had been sliding or had remained stagnant at best, because of which collections were not growing even though ticket prices were rising. Of course, there was some increase in ticket rates, particularly by the leading multiplex chains, in 2019 as well, but that alone does not account for the total collection almost touching Rs11,000 crore.

More importantly, multilingual or dubbed films have played a major role in achieving this result. The Business Standard report quoted Shailesh Kapoor, chief executive officer of Ormax Media, as saying, “More than 60% of box-office revenues for Saaho [released in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu] came from Hindi. Part of the War business came from Telugu. We are getting into a scenario where many of the top 10 movies are multilingual.”

Atul Mohan agreed. “Saaho was released in three languages and it earned the best in Hindi,” he said.

This theory has proved successful for Hollywood films as well, which are now dubbed in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and other Indian languages. This is the reason why Avengers: Endgame (2019) finished as the highest grossing film of last year in the Indian market, with a total collection of Rs433 crore nett.

Highlighting this, Kapoor said around 45% of the revenue for Avengers: Endgame came from its Hindi, Tamil and Telugu versions. “This holds true for all franchise films and big releases, which on an average get around 35% from Indian languages,” said Kapoor, adding that non-masala or non-massy Hollywood films, like the recent Oscar-contender 1917 (2019), are released only in English.

The opening weekend of a film is considered very important in the industry as a major chunk of a film’s collections comes from these initial three days. However, interestingly, the Ormax study suggests that the dependency on the first weekend has also been reducing. This means films that are accepted by the audience are now able to sustain their run for a longer period at the box office.

This, in turn, means that content is becoming the primary driver once again. The presence of a big star in the cast alone is no longer working at the box office. The Business Standard report compared the performance of the Salman Khan-starrer Dabangg 3 (2019) with the Sushant Singh Rajput-led Chhichhore (2019) to make this point. Dabangg 3 made Rs23 crore nett on its opening day while Chhichhore opened with just Rs6.92 crore nett. Yet, Chhichhore ended up with Rs147 crore nett while Dabangg 3 closed at Rs134 crore nett.

A month and a half into the new year, can 2020 surpass 2019 in ticket sales? “If the content is good, it will surpass that number,” said Atul Mohan. “But so far the year has been mixed. January was good this year, but last year it was even better. Before the start of the year, a lot of films look good on paper. But you can’t say what happens with those films by the end of the year.”