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!