Clash of the Titans
With cinema halls reopening after seven long months just before the festive season, some important releases are lined up during Durga Puja with leading actors waiting to see if they can rake up the expected numbers. Anindita Acharya takes us through the dozen films clashing at the box office
When Swastika Mukherjee shot Indranil Ghosh's Bengali film Shironam five years ago along with Saswata Chatterjee and Jisshu Sengupta, she knew they were making a 'special film'. But then, just a few days ago, she learnt Shironam is releasing among a dozen other Bengali films during Durga Puja. "For the past five years, we kept on asking the producer when he would release Shironam.
And now, they are releasing it in this chaos," said Swastika, who has another film Guldasta up for release this Puja.
Now, a crowded Puja box office has become an annual ritual for the Bengali film industry. In 2019, there were four films, seven in 2018 and six in 2017. But amidst Covid, Tollywood has broken all records with more than a dozen films clashing at the box office. Also, let's not forget here the theatres and multiplexes have opened after seven months of shutdown with staggered shows and just 50 per cent seating capacity.
The Bengali films releasing on Durga Puja are Koel Mallick-starrer Rawkto Rawhoshyo, Mimi Chakraborty, Nusrat Jahan and Yash Chakraborty's SOS Kolkata, Anjan Dutt's Saheber Cutlet, Anirban Bhattacharya and Mimi's Dracula Sir, Swastika and Aprita Chatterjee-starrer Guldasta, Indranil Ghosh's Shironam, Arindam Ganguly's Cholo Potol Tuli, Ujjwal Basu's Doodh Pither Gachh, Rohan Sen's Ebhabei Golpo Hok and Rajiv Kumar's Love Story.
Then there are re-releases like Aritra Mukherjee's Brahma Jaanen Gopon Kommoti and Indrasish Acharya's Parcel, which were released before the Coronavirus hit the world.
Hit filmmaker Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay, who is the producer of Brahma Jaanen Gopon Kommoti, said films tend to fare well during Puja. "For seven months, the theatres were shut. Now, every producer wants to take a chance in case the lockdown is announced again," he said.
In Bengal, the producers face a lot of difficulties to secure proper theatres and show timings. It becomes tough if heavy-weight Hindi films release as they get the best slots. Here's the catch. 2020 Durga Puja offers the rarest opportunity as there is no new Bollywood or Hollywood release. Therefore, a lot of Bengali producers jumped onto the Puja bandwagon to mint some moolah.
Yash, Mimi and Nusrat shot for Anshuman Pratyush's second directorial SOS Kolkata during the pandemic. In fact, it was the first Bengali film to resume shooting during COVID-19. Yash knows that the box office is packed with films and the audience will have a hard time picking their favourite. But he has his reasons. "We had announced the release of SOS Kolkata on the day of the announcement of the film. At that time, we had no idea that more than a dozen films would fight it out at the box office. But SOS Kolkata is made for the masses with an appeal to the classes," he says.
Exhibitor and distributor Satadeep Saha, however, is of the different opinion. He said the lack of unity among Bengali producers will destroy the regional film industry. In fact, Saha called the release of over a dozen Bengali releases a "suicidal decision." Talking to Millennium Post, he said: "Whatever the dozen films will earn, it will be divided among them. But the same could have happened if just 3-4 films were released. That could have saved the industry, which has been in ventilation due to the pandemic."
However, some big-ticket releases like Srijit Mukherji's Kakababur Protyabortan and Arindam Sil's Maayakumari, which were scheduled for Puja, have been postponed. Saha appreciates the strategy of the producer.
Arjunn Dutta, whose second directorial Guldasta was supposed to release on April 24, said this is the best possible release for their film. "In April, we even started our promotions. At this time, we don't know if the situation will improve or worsen. We can only assume. What if the occupancy rate further decreases? People have liked the trailer and we hope they step into the theatres during Puja to watch it too," he adds.