Pathan has ticked all the right boxes. Shah Rukh Khan is a rare actor that can switch from romantic to action films, with equal ease and poise. The chemistry between the two leading stars sizzles to perfection, with crowds going all out for it. If a China release can be swung around, another few hundred crores can be added to its already thousand plus kitty.
It’s been a long drought for Hindi Cinema since the Covid lockdown 3 years ago. Granted there has been occasional hits like Bramhastra, Suryavanshi, Kashmir Files, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bhool Bhuliyaa, Drishyam but they have been sparse. So, the tremendous success of Pathan came as a big relief. Moreso because one of India’s biggest stars Shahrukh Khan had not had a big hit since 2017. Besides there was also the whole brouhaha about a boycott call by some rightwing fringe elements. YRF, the most successful studio, too had had a spate of average films. Pathan released amidst a lot of doom and gloom but ultimately fired up the Bollywood box office like never before. At last count the worldwide business is nearing Rs 1100 crore. If it manages to get a China release (China has a quota system for foreign films) Pathan will probably add a few hundred crores more to its kitty. It has just been released on the big screen and will follow on DTH and Satellite channels. Add a couple of hundred crore for this non-theatrical revenue and you are talking of a true Blockbuster. What made this possible?
Shahrukh Khan is arguably India’s biggest star in spite that he hasn’t been seen on screen for a long time. This is the first time he has featured in an all-out action film. Director Sidharth Anand is having a terrific run with his slick, stylish action films like Bang Bang (2014), War (2019) and, above all, YRF and Aditya Chopra have successfully created India’s first Spy Universe with hits like Tiger, War and now Pathan. For these world class action films, one needs a producer like Aditya Chopra who is willing to put his muscle and money in full measure to back his director’s vision. Pathan has been shot in a dozen countries with an international crew. With an emphasis on well-choreographed action sequences Pathan is a feast for the eyes with spectacular stunts and visual effects. Locations have been selected with care and the production design, make-up and costumes are of top order. The casting has been done again with a lot of care to find the right actors even for bit roles.
Shahrukh is one of the rare stars who has managed to switch from a romantic superstar to an action hero in films like Don and its sequel. The chemistry between Shahrukh and Deepika Padukone is sizzling. Both their toned bodies adding to the charm. The casting of John Abraham as the villain again works big time as does Dimple Kapadia as Shahrukh’s boss. While there are only three songs, they are catchy and picturized well. The screenplay by Sridhar Raghavan is fast paced and Abbas Tyrewala’s dialogue is pithy with a number of smart one-liners. A clever weaving of other super spies (Shahrukh, Salman, Hrithik, in a one overarching franchise has been managed well by Adi Chopra and his team. An undertone of nationalism also helps.
Unlike romantic films, a well-made action film with a little romance and drama attracts universal audience the world over. Pathan only reinforces this fact. Some people have overplayed the recent boycott threats to film stars and films. I think this is an overstated fear. If the film entertains, the audience turns up, boycott or no boycott. For a weak film everything from censorship, threats, social media criticism become an excuse for its failure. In fact, Pathan ticks all the right boxes.
As we have seen since the Covid lockdown, some films are being released directly on digital platforms. Of course, ultimately most films do get a delayed release on streaming platforms like Amazon, Netflix, Zee 5, Sony Liv and Voot. With only 9000 screens, India is a hugely under screened country-China has 60000 and US has 40000 screens. Logically not more than 6 films should be released every week in cinemas. We average about 15 a week. In my view every film doesn’t need a theatrical release. The larger-than-life cinema or the star-studded extravaganza both for commercial reasons and for all bells and whistles (like Atmos sound, Imax, 3D etc.) and a select few off-beat films for cinematic reason do need large screen viewing. The audience just doesn’t turn up in cinemas unless it’s a big entertainer with stars and hit music and power-packed promotion or it’s a spectacle. Now with streaming platforms and live sport attracting eyeballs big screen entertainment is reworking its contours. Let’s not forget an outing in a cinema with customary popcorn/cola/coffee costs about Rs 1500. Needless to say, frequency of cinema visits has come down.
The cinemas are however not going to shut down. People will still go to watch some films in a darkened auditorium. The number may be lesser than before. Most cinemas, especially the multiplexes, get a substantial part of their revenue from Food & Beverages (F&B) sales and in theatre advertising to subsidies their costs. Box office revenue minus GST is then shared between cinema owners and producers/distributors. In the next few weeks this saber rattling will give way to the same uneasy equilibrium as before. The top 100 films (in all languages) garner maximum eyeballs and revenue share out of which the top hundred get half the revenue. Another 200 odd films will get a patchy theatrical release, some films even getting as few as one or two shows a day. Multiplex owners actually need just the top 50 films to shore up their balance sheet. Let’s also remember Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Bangla and other language movies constitute more than half the box office. With recent successes of RRR, Kantara and KGF, all made in the South with main leads from Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada cinema, pan Indian cinema in no longer restricted to Hindi films.
Up till now the only possible choice for many producers was to try and sell to one of the satellite channels or one of the streaming platforms. Since one does not, thank God for small mercies, require a license to make a film, India has been overproducing movies. The market cannot support financially especially when there are other alternatives. Did you know that just 35% of available cinema seats are occupied each year.
Ultimately, the audience will decide what they want to watch in a cinema and what at home. In case of Pathan they have come in droves to watch it on the big screen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amit Khanna is author, thought leader, former film producer and former president, Film Producers Guild of India.