Akshay Kumar’s ‘Bellbottom dashes revival hopes

Akshay Kumar starrer 'Bellbottom' has been rejected at the box office and, that is bad news for the cinema chains

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Akshay Kumar’s Bellbottom has been rejected at the box office. And, that is bad news for the cinema chains which were urging the authorities all over to ease the Covid-19 lockdown norms. During the relaxations at the end of the first wave, the cinemas got some breather as they were allowed to open up conditionally. But, this relaxation was not to last for long as the second wave of the pandemic soon followed and the lockdown was re-imposed.

In between the two lockdowns, there was not much happening to help the cause of the cinema chains. They were reduced to screening either repeat films or irrelevant films which, even during normal times, would not last a weekend at cinemas.

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After that kind of response, which one may call a trial run, it is surprising that the cinema managements continued asking for an early reopening or relaxing the curbs on cinema halls. Probably because earlier the cinemas knew they were the only choice for a filmgoer. But, their absence gave an open run to various OTT platforms. So much so that just like multiplex cinema properties mushroomed in the last 20 years, now launching an OTT platform seems to be the business to enter into — a new OTT platform springs up on regular basis.

May be the cinemas needed a major big star film to draw the viewer back to the cinema. They finally got one when the makers of Akshay Kumar film, Bellbottom, decided to go for theatrical release with the OTT release scheduled after a gap of four weeks, giving enough time for the film to enjoy and cash in on its box office potential.

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The producer did not have much option. Amazon Prime wanted that a film came to them post cinema release. And, the platform has a valid reason for that. The few of films aired on OTT recently have landed them in trouble with threats of court cases and personal harm. So much so that the personnel of a company had to go into hiding. These films, Pataal Lok, Tandav, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl created some unrest as feelings of some or the other group was hurt with the content.

Then, producer Vashu Bhagnani is known for his bravado. He is an adventurous man. Earlier, Vashu had made his first film, Coolie No 1, in league with Tips Music Company. He learnt the ropes of film production and was confident enough to branch out independently to successfully launch his next, Hero No 1. Now, a few days before the release of Bellbottom, Vashu took a planeload of film critics to Surat where he held a press screening. It was not called for at all since the definition of a film critic has long been obliterated and they tend to take to social media and run down a film or praise it depending on the maker. Negative updates on social media get more hits and likes. Also, film critics’ reviews are not taken seriously anymore. They bestow five stars on just about any and every film. It is only when it comes to a film by some small, unknown filmmaker that they are at their cruelest in panning the film. Not only the people’s reactions to the film but also the box office figures had a sad story to tell.

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Be it Salman Khan, Aamir Khan or any star, if the film is not drawing the first day crowd it is a poor sign. A film’s merit comes into reckoning only later. And, Akshay Kumar’s Bellbottom failed to draw that crowd.

Not wanting any future controversies, Amazon Prime seems to have decided to let a film release in cinemas first and sail through a controversial content, if any. That creates enough buffer for the platform. It is also good news for cinema managements. Anyway, hardly ever a does a film last for four weeks at cinemas who spread the release far and wide with 3,000 to 4,000 x five to six shows per day. The strategy consumes the audience within a couple of weeks.

This week, the cinemas released Chehre, an Amitabh Bachchan-Emraan Hashmi starrer. If Akshay’s Bellbottom could not draw audience, expectations from this film will be less. The Bellbottom theatrical release and the fate it met with has not only dashed the hopes of cinema chains of going ‘back to business’ as normal, it has also made those filmmakers wary whose films are ready for release. These makers won’t be releasing their films any time soon. Surprisingly, not even during Diwali, as all have decided to skip the festival with many opting for December release (hoping for things to normalise by then) while some have decided to wait it out till next year.

Sooryavanshi, Gangubai Kathiawadi, ’83 and Maidaan makers have refrained from committing any date. KGF and RRR have opted for April ’22. Laal Singh Chaddha and South biggie, Pushpa, will probably clash on Christmas this year.

With the knowledge that the film, in this case Bellbottom, will be available for viewing on OTT within four weeks, one may think it wise to wait it out and many people could be thinking on those lines as well.

–By Vinod Mirani

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