Box-Office Followers

“The sound and fury around Shah Rukh Khan’s superhero saga, Ra.One, reached a cacophonous climax last week. There was much debate, of course, on the quality of the film (it was largely panned by critics in India), but the real entertainment was in the breathless number-crunching. The question on everyone’s lips was: could Shah Rukh beat arch rival Salman Khan’s grosses? Would Shah Rukh’s relentless 10-month-long marketing campaign deliver a bigger opening day than Bodyguard’s Rs 20 crore Eid take?

As it turned out, Ra.One didn’t break Bodyguard’s opening day record, but it did set a new three-day benchmark, raking in Rs 60 crore in India. The heated speculation about whether the film was a hit or flop, how much it needed to make to qualify as the former, and how long it would take to get past the Rs 100 crore benchmark continued in the media, blogs and on Twitter well past the first few days. I felt like a participant in a spectator sport, and wondered, when did we become so box office-obsessed?

When I was a rookie reporter in the early 1990s, the vocabulary for viewers at least was restricted to ‘hit’ and ‘flop’. The ‘trade’, which sat in Mumbai’s Naaz building, discussed minimum guarantees, a film’s initial deficit and overflow. Ego-massaging ads that declared a film a ‘bumper-success’ routinely appeared in trade papers, but ads in mainstream media with box-office figures were unheard of (one reason might be the mafia threat that loomed over Bollywood from the late 1990s to mid 2000s—producers didn’t want to advertise how much money they had made for fear of extortion threats from the ‘Bhais’).”

“These days, trade news makes mainstream headlines. There is frequent talk of the ‘100 crore club’—films that have made more than Rs 100 crore. The first to break the barrier was Ghajini in 2008. This year has been especially bountiful with a slew of films like Ready, Singham and Bodyguard achieving this—in fact, Bodyguard set a new record by doing it in less than a week. Each milestone was duly celebrated with full-page ads in newspapers. And Kareena Kapoor was anointed the 100-crore heroine, having worked in three such films—3 Idiots, Golmaal 3 and Bodyguard. The fact that she was the decoration (at least in the latter two) was happily overlooked.”

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