Bollywood movie Thugs of Hindostan, which features a stellar cast that includes Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif and Fatima Sana Shaikh, opened with a big bang during the Indian festival of Diwali last Thursday, but the momentum nose-dived over the weekend.
The film touted to be one of the most expensive Bollywood productions with a budget of $36 million opened across 7,000 screens globally - 5,000 in the domestic market and 2,000 overseas. It made $7.4 million on its opening day, but since then it's followed a steady decline thanks largely to poor reviews. The film made only an additional $11.5 million up until Tuesday.
Box Office India, a film trade magazine, says in an online report that "there's going to be a huge reduction of shows at multiplexes on Friday. The main single screens will keep the film, but that is mainly because there is no replacement."
The film set in 1795 against the backdrop of India's struggle for independence features the story of an Indian princess who seeks revenge on a British officer for the murder of her parents and the massacre of her kingdom. She does this with the help of a guardian played by Amitabh Bachchan. Aamir Khan's role as Firangi Mallah, casts him as a small-time informer to the British. Portions of the film were shot in Thailand and Malta.
"It was a horrendously written and horrendously made film," says Komal Nahta, editor of Mumbai trade publication Film Information. "I don't think the film will make even Rs. 155 crores or Rs. 160 crores ($22 million or $23 million), despite having no competition during Diwali or this week or the next week."
Trade analysts say that in spite of the poor showing, Mumbai producer Yash Raj Films would have recovered part of the cost even before the release of the film through the sale of satellite, digital and music rights. Satellite rights were sold to Sony Pictures Networks, and digital rights went to Amazon Prime for undisclosed sums, while Yash Raj Films retained the music and distribution rights. The sales of satellite, digital, dubbing and ancillary rights have become an important revenue stream for film producers.
"Satellite channels and digital platforms like Amazon or Netflix need good content and they are willing to pay the price to acquire content," says Rajkumar Akella, managing director of comScore India Theatrical, which tracks audiences, brands and consumer behavior. "Movie producers are also able to offset a portion of their production costs even before the release. This has been a long time coming in Indian cinema. Earlier, the bulk of the revenues would come directly from ticket sales."
Producers also try to arrange wide releases across thousands of screens in the opening week to recover their production costs as quickly as possible. The time window for making a profit has been getting narrower in recent years because the attention span of viewers is more limited. Audiences are now splitting their time between theaters, TV and digital media. Since Thugs of Hindostan opened on 7,000 screens, it netted nearly a fifth of its total budget on day one.
Meanwhile, Thugs of Hindostan's poor ticket sales will also come as a disappointment for production house Yash Raj Films, which had been responsible for churning out several hits like the Dhoom franchise; Tiger Zinda Hai and Sultan. Based in Mumbai, the company typically controls almost every part of the value chain from production to distribution and licensing.
The unfavorable reviews have come as an anomaly for a typical Aamir Khan movie. The star, who usually strikes profit-sharing agreements with his producers, has had a string of successes over the past decade, ranging from . His films have become raging hits in China as well - where he is popularly referred to as Uncle Aamir. Khan was ranked No. 4 on the Forbes list of the highest-paid Bollywood actors in 2017. His yearly earnings added up to $12.5 million.
Nahta believes the reaction to Thugs of Hindsotan is a reflection of the evolving tastes of consumers here. "Indian audiences will never be swayed by graphics or grandeur or big budgets or star cast. The story has to appeal to them," he says. "This is an emotional audience. Viewers don't just watch with their eyes. Their hearts need to be engaged. The film failed to do that."