Om Shanti Om vs. Saawariya – why it doesn’t matter

Lately it feels like the Indian airwaves are saturated with this cooked-up war between the 2 big movies hitting the marquee this weekend. Every 24 hour news channel appears to be asking the same questions – Which one are you going to? Which one will do well? Who will emerge a winner?


With my limited knowledge of the distribution economics and a bunch of crude assumptions( Hey! This is a blog, after all), I am going to attempt to prove that however much you, as the viewer, may be invested in it, to my local movie theater owner, it doesn’t matter at all.


First what we know. OSO apparently has 2000 prints out in worldwide release on Friday and distributors supposedly paid about 80 crores for the rights. Let’s say we translate that $20 million for 2000 prints or $10,000 per print. Say the distributor wants to make a 100% markup before he sells the print to the local theater which gets it for $20,000.


On opening night, the local theater is running 11 shows. Say the owner needs to buy 4 prints to keep the shows continuously running. (This may be anecdotal, but since the prints are still in the form of reels, there is a theory going around that it is actually just one print and the owner’s assistants are furiously running around moving the finished reel from one theater to another, sometimes to the viewer’s confusion! Which may explain why there is such strenuous resistance to going digital – though I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to pirate that too.) So the cost to him is $80,000.


Tickets are sold at an average of $8 per person and the capacity of a single theater in our multiplex is about 500, which works out to $4000 for a full house. Since online ticketing is available( at a premium of $1.50 per ticket, no less) I happen to know that opening weekend is likely to be completely sold out.( Half an hour before the show, a long snaking entry line starts forming outside the theater – only local food sales rules prevent someone from making a roaring business selling chai and samosas to the shivering ticket-holders!).


So on the first night itself, the owner has netted $44,000 for the 11 shows. Over the course of the 3-day weekend, he has made close to $140,000, handily recouping his investment. After that, it is all money for jam.


One could inject some more information into this hypothesis – possibly there are more middlemen, possibly there is a profit sharing arrangement between the local distributor and the theater owner. But then I haven’t included the roaring profits made from gallons and gallons of 2 dollar cups of chai and plates and plates of 3 dollar stale samosas. And given the filthy state of the seats and the bathrooms, I have to come to the conclusion that spending on maintenance is pretty small.


The mechanics of movie making are such that very, very few movies (regardless of whether they are termed hits or flops) actually lose money for the producers and distributors.  In a recent interview, Arjun Rampal ( who also got his moment in the sun thanks to his role in OSO) said that his production ‘I see you’ ( ‘who saw that’ anyway?) had recovered its costs. Even a bomb like Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav (about which I wrote an article in Water, No Ice) is still making money off residuals. I haven’t even factored in the music rights, the ringtones, the airline revenue..


It is not difficult to figure out that while us poor gullible viewers are being given the impression that our tickets, like our votes, are going to make or break some movie maker’s hopes and ambitions, everyone concerned behind the scenes is laughing all the way to the bank. If you don’t believe me, just give a thought to why certain flop actors continue to find work in Maya Nagri. It is a money making machine baby – you just have to be smart about it.


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