The Curious Case Of Paan Singh Tomar

A part of our work involves evaluating film campaigns against a set of consumer parameters. The three big parameters, that dominate all others, are: A big star, two hit songs, and a youth friendly genre (read comedy, college or romance).

As a thumb rule, if a film gets at least two ticks on the big three parameters, it is likely to open fairly well at the box office. Thereafter, a strong Word of Mouth (WOM) is required for the film to sustain. But that typically comes into play only Monday onwards. If the first weekend doesn’t deliver, it is almost certain that the film will die a natural death, no matter how respectable the WOM is. Band Baja Baaraat has been the only exception to this rule in the last two years.

Hence, the big three parameters become supremely important. Let’s apply them to the Paan Singh Tomar campaign. Big star? No tick. Two hit songs? Not even one, so no tick. A youth friendly genre? Far from it, no tick. Disastrous! What makes it worse is that the campaign didn’t even have reach to begin with. In the week of Feb 20-24, only 14% of regular cine-goers were even aware of a film called Paan Singh Tomar. The reach increased to 28% in the week of release (Feb 27-Mar 2), but was significantly lower than 72%, at which London Paris New York, the other release from the week, stood.

Producers UTV had probably done their own share of ticks and seemingly given up on the film. No wonder then that Paan Singh Tomar opened to near-empty houses on Friday morning, in a very limited release. That its shows were not canceled was itself an achievement.

Cut to Friday evening. Something unique and rare was beginning to happen. In a select but influential section of audiences in Mumbai & Delhi, an extremely positive WOM was beginning to spread. Occupancies picked up in the night shows, and the film closed the first day at a modest but more-than-expected Rs. 70 lakhs nett.

Come Saturday, the reviews (otherwise marginal to negligible in their impact) and the strong WOM were doing wonders in tandem. The limited released worked as a blessing in disguise. Because the shows were fewer in number, those who wanted to watch the film gravitated towards them, leading to some ‘housefull’ shows. Yes, that rare occurrence these days – a ‘housefull’ show!

Paan Singh Tomar closed its Saturday business at Rs. 130 lakhs, about 85% up from Friday. Sunday has only seen further growth, as the word continues to spread, this time to less influential (read more mass) sections of the audiences. Sunday business may cross Rs. 200 lakhs, meaning that the film has a chance of closing the weekend at Rs. 4 crore. That’s a number roughly in the same range as last week’s Jodi Breakers, which needed six weeks of incessant promotions to reach the 4cr mark, only to sink Monday onwards.

Paan Singh Tomar is unlikely to sink any time soon. Its momentum will take it to the next weekend for sure, where it will find another worthy competitor in Kahaani. Before that, there’s the mid-week holiday on account of Holi. Clearly, the journey has only started.

I like this ticking business. More often that not, it gives you a strong sense of what the fate of a film will be. But I like it even more when there comes a film once in a while, that manages to break the rules and challenge the norms. A film that reinforces our faith that in the mathematics of the box office, there is some space for good content after all. That you can make a good film that’s not a “project”, and still make money. That is, if you decide to release it after all.

More power to Tigmanshu Dhulia for making a film that is sure to become a case study in modern Bollywood business. More power to Irrfan Khan for sweeping us off our feet with an incredible performance. I know many of you feel UTV didn’t do justice to the film, but still, more power to them for daring to pick such a subject, and actually releasing the film. Imagine, it could have been much worse. The project may have never been green-lit to begin with. Or just premiered on television, with a dozen ad breaks.

The truth is that Paan Singh Tomar is running a real race at the movies this March. So be prepared for many medals!

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About Shailesh Kapoor

Founder & CEO - Ormax Media. Film Lover. Media Insights Detective. Budding Author. Lifelong Student.
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15 Responses to The Curious Case Of Paan Singh Tomar

  1. harsht says:

    Shailesh, I have many thoughts that are quite related to what you said in fact.
    First, is Paan Singh Tomar a ‘multiplex type’ (urban) film? If yes, then perhaps one can understand the positive role of “word of mouse” that accentuates the WOM ( it trended on twitter both “Friday night” and “saturday night”.

    Second, the three elements that you talked about – The lack of them implies a low budget most often. These films therfore (rightly so) are usually not heavily promoted. So the only way a movie would do well without them is “WOM”. Now a limited release ( I.e. small number of screens) is perhaps the right strategy, since WOM is unpredictable anyway. But WOM ( and more so in an online age) is an information cascade – it goes on for quite some time – perhaps til a new movie interferes with the choice set.

    Third, you raise an interesting point about sleepers being few and far between now a days. That is perhaps because how many “quality” films are there that lack all of the three elements you identify. In which case, the budgets are high. So is the marketing ( by consequence). So is the distribution.

    Perhaps, the question to ask is – what are the measures of quality and is there a way studios can assess those in advance – through previews, pretests – at least for films that lack those crowd pulling elements or insane marketing spends!

    • Agree with some parts, not with others.

      1. Not really urban, urban. Yes, it started online, but the content is fairly geography neutral. Its differentness gives it an edge in the metros, but its feel is very rustic, giving it a small town feel and edge. But yes, Mumbai and Delhi is where the wave started.

      2. Don’t agree with the point at all. Many films in recent times have ticked two things out of three despite low budget. Tanu Weds Manu – romantic comedy with a superhit song and 2-3 other decent hits. Faltu – youthful comedy with no starcast and one chartbuster and two more hits. Many more such examples, including Murder 2 (Hashmi doesn’t count as a big star). So, it is wrong to say that WOM will play a role for all low budget films. Enough cases where opening has crossed 8-10cr with no starcast, purely on music-genre combo.

      Rest of everything is related to point 2 above.

      • harsht says:

        I meant it the other way. If all these three ticks are absent – then budget is most likely low – where it is best to leave things to WOM, no? A wide release, in my opinion can hurt a Paan Singh Tomar type more than a small release and positive WOM can benefit.

        Interestingly even in Chicago it has had a very narrow release – 30 miles away, no car so cannot go 🙂

      • Sasha says:

        Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was good when it came out but TIMES CHANGE! London, Paris, New York is subtle and restialic in a way that people can relate and connect with the characters .It has an international touch to it, with a mild dose of bollywood (Music and songs that flow with the narrative) It isn’t SO bollywood that it can’t go beyond the Indian market, but it doesn’t completely ignore our own uniqueness in story telling either It’s balanced!

  2. with Irrfan Khan in the lead it HAD to become a success. He may not be a huge star, but he is a HUGE ACTOR! Anything he touches leaves a mark! 🙂

    I didn’t hear about this movie until a few days ago. I see it was filmed in 2010? it took so long for it to be released? why? anybody knows?

    • amritansh pandey says:

      the makers took it to many film festivals … it wasnt appreciated much … but irfan received standing ovation , now they hv released the film with new cut in India,probably the reason of success now … indeed curious case of PAAN SINGH TOMAR

    • Alianza says:

      this movies is very nice and good,songs are very soft cute and sweet, just liltte liltte things if make improve then this movies become more nice, first of all movie all most 95mints, if more evn at least115mints,story become more nice and clear,special whn ali runs stop2marry was very short scene,it should liltte more long,and adit wigs more nice,ali’s french cut beard should light, any way soft,cute,sweet movie.ali did nice acting,adita too,plz ali other movies make action,fighting movies

    • Santanu says:

      Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was good when it came out but TIMES CHANGE! London, Paris, New York is subtle and reaiistlc in a way that people can relate and connect with the characters .It has an international touch to it, with a mild dose of bollywood (Music and songs that flow with the narrative) It isn’t SO bollywood that it can’t go beyond the Indian market, but it doesn’t completely ignore our own uniqueness in story telling either It’s balanced!

  3. preetesh chouhan says:

    Shailesh Bhai…film release is becoming more of a science and soon we’ll have full time Phd’s analysts doing the model crucnhing.
    Agree with your model you suggested however content still plays a big role, I’ve huge respect for both Mr. Dhulia and Irrfan Khan and they do came complete on that expectation in PST.
    what is interesting to see is how these publicity models are breaking the many sterotypes approaches and creating newer avenues and challenges around.
    I’m personally seeing a huge transition down south too and all that is happening post ROBOT and specially ‘Kolavar Di’ where lot of this promotion modeling getting driven by ‘digital’ in a very sterotype and BIG STAR ONLY league. will be intesresting to see when STARDOM will clash with real time user feedbacks.

    how about your next post is on this topic 🙂

    • harsht says:

      Preetesh,
      Shailesh never implied that content is not important. The WOM he talks about is perhaps entirely based on content. The problem is nobody knows exactly how content translates into WOM
      .

  4. RebelRavi says:

    Well written and well intended article. There were many such examples in Tamil industry, when a film is completely written off and it went on to become monumental hit. Annakkili(75),MalayoorMambattiyan(83),Sethu(99) Subhramanyapuram,Myna,Mounaguru…recent times.
    Malayur Mambattiyan, which was later remade in Hindi as Gangvaa with Rajinikanth, Shabana comes very close to Paan Singh, but its reach was far wide. It was released with less than ten prints. but later ran for more than 200 days in several centres.
    First and foremost thing researchers should bear in mind is the fact that audiences are not mere numbers.They are thinking humans.Even when geniuses like Freud and Jung have failed to fathom the elusive human psyche, do you think our uneducated trade pundits could know it? But Paan is a real surprise. Probably, the generation that has some love for rebels like Che, may be taking a liking for this film on a real rebel. Anyhow its good news for good cinema lovers…

  5. Jayesh Sharma says:

    A heartwarming story about Bollywood box office analysis! Who knew?

    Am commenting without having seen the film (not playing in UAE). I wonder if it will be released if it goes on to become a sleeper hit. By the way, ehat figure do you think it needs to reach before it’s declared a hit?

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