“We have these holiday-period films, where the idea is to attract an audience from ages 7 to 10 and give them all a good time. Chennai Express falls into that genre,” says Shah Rukh Khan. “We want people to have a great laugh, witness great songs and to deliver great family entertainment.”
Eid has become a prime release date for Bollywood films. Last year, Ek Tha Tiger was released on Eid and the Salman Khan film became the second-highest grossing Indian film of all time, taking US$52 million (Dh191m) at the worldwide box office. So it is no surprise that everyone wants to open for Eid again. Earlier this year, both Chennai Express and the sequel Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara! declared their intention to open for Eid.
It was Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara! that blinked first, deciding to delay its release by a week. It was a decision that delighted the producer of Chennai Express, Siddharth Roy Kapur, who is also the head of UTV motion pictures. “When two films come out on the same day, there is always a chance of one eating into the other’s revenue,” says Kapur. “So of course it’s great for us to have a solo release.”
In Bollywood, there are constant rumours of stars and producers doing deals with each other behind closed doors to guarantee release dates. One rumour doing the rounds earlier this year was that Shah Rukh Khan had demanded his own film be moved from the Eid slot. Kapur says it’s inevitable that the battle to release on key dates will intensify.
“It’s a free market, anyone is entitled to come out on any day they want to,” he says. “We have seen clashes in the past where there have been two or more films coming out for Diwali, Christmas, Eid, Republic Day and even Independence Day. National holidays have always been big for releases and considering the number of films that come out every year, it’s inevitable that we will be vying with each other for one of those great dates. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Audiences are keen to watch three movies, or at least two during holidays.”
Khan is more used to seeing his films released on Diwali, a point noted by his co-star Deepika Padukone. “Om Shanti Om was a Diwali release and Shah Rukh in a sense has owned Diwali. As an actor, the date of release makes very little difference to the job that we do. Of course, I think from a producer’s point of view, these things make sense, so if you ask Shah Rukh or Siddharth, they will tell you that it’s important to have a holiday release.”
Since Disney bought UTV in 2006, there has been a noticeable shift in release strategies, as Indian companies increasingly copy the American model. Films are being packaged and designed to maximise audiences for specific events. Kapur says Chennai Express was attractive to release for Eid because “Shah Rukh Khan and the director Rohit Shetty are a combination who haven’t worked with each other before. Their audience is not mutually exclusive, but between them, they cover a big spectrum worldwide.”
If Chennai Express breaks records, expect the competition to open for Eid to be even fiercer next year.
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