Tamil Features

Mersal Box Office Collection: The Reality Behind The Phenomenal Numbers

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‘After a record breaking opening, Mersal is to soon join the Rs 200-crore club’. ‘Vivegam has broken the box office record of Bahubali 2’. ‘VIP 2 has had a grand opening and is set to dominate the long weekend’. ‘Thupparivaalan: Vishal’s best opening ever’.

You would have come across such grand pronouncements, either in advertisements or tweets. But, ever wondered who comes up with these statements? If there any official statement from the producers about the box office collection of a movie? If yes, how is it arrived at? When it comes to the Tamil film industry, box office numbers are a happy mix of fact, some fiction, and hope. Invariably, once these announcements are made, questions abound. Usually, there are no answers. We spoke to theatre owners, distributors and industry insiders, who say that there is no definite yardstick for determining the money made by a film. Collection reports are just publicity for a film; reality may be different, they say.

It is not possible to come out with box office collections soon after release, says Abirami Ramanathan, president, Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners and Distributors Association. He says, “I wonder who comes up with numbers running into these many crores, and on what basis do they arrive at these figures. Nobody knows the exact collection report except  the producer/s. In Hollywood, they have a proper system and are able to give exact numbers (for instance, comScore’s Box Office Essentials is a media measurement and analytics company in the US that also puts out accurate box office figures). Here, we don’t have such a system. Box office reports are purely used as a publicity tool here. If a film mints money or is said to have, it raises the curiosity of the audience, and people go to watch a film. That’s all there is to it. In reality, proper box office figures can be calculated by a producer only after a month of a film’s theatrical run. It cannot be evaluated in three days of a film’s release, as is being done now.”

There’s more to this issue than just exaggerated figures. What is usually publicised are gross figures; the net may be far lesser, says producer Satish of JSK films, “If box office reports are to be believed, we producers should have become millionaires by now. The truth is that none of us is. I won’t say box office numbers are fake; but they reflect the gross amount. The figures are bandied about to prove that a film is indeed a hit. The collection reports need not be actual numbers; they can just be approximate values.”  

Another veteran distributor and exhibitor, and President of West Zone Theatre Owners Association Tirupur M Subramaniam says that these multi-crore clubs are “just an illusion”. “Only the producer knows, because only he/she gets the details of collections across Tamil Nadu, India and abroad. Even a distributor or theatre owner can speak only for his/her respective area. And, till someone knows the overall collection, a comment must not be made. That said, you don’t have to agree with or deny such announcements; just ignore them.”

A senior film journalist says that like one would not take approximate figures quoted in the media (“lakhs visited the gardens this summer”, for instance, “Or, hundreds made a beeline to the sales counters) as sacrosanct, these numbers are meant to give an idea of a film’s popularity. “Be it Rs 100 crore or Rs 200 crore, it doesn’t matter. These numbers are just a ‘build up’ for a film. We don’t even know if they are for a particular market or consolidated figures. Frankly speaking, I don’t believe these numbers actually tempt the audience to go watch a film. All they want is a well-made film with good content. The box office collection is of little interest to anyone but the producer. You must remember that many films with inflated box office numbers actually flopped.”

But then, there are those who come out with correct figures to prove a point. At a time when  Dhanush-starrer VIP 2 was receiving poor reviews from critics, producer Kalaipuli S Thanu called for a press meet and released the box office report of the film, showing the film did make money.

“Only when producers come up with such official statements during the success meet of films can we know the actual box office collection,” says an industry insider.

But, there are plans to put in place a system to track collections. During the FEFSI strike, President of Tamil Film Producers Council and Nadigar Sangam general secretary Vishal had said that he would make box office collections transparent by tracking everyday collections. An official announcement on how he will go about that is yet to be made. But, if he makes that possible, then the way box office collections are viewed will undergo a sea change.

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