On May 10, five days after controversial film The Kerala Story and Sudhir Mishra’s dramatic thriller Afwaah were released on the same Friday, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap spoke out against the decision to ban the former, writing that the you can disagree with a film, find it “propaganda”, but stopping screening is a mistake. Instead, he asked people to watch Afwaah and make their voices “louder”. His statement was appreciated, his broader point understood, but there was a common complaint: How to watch the film, when it goes almost nowhere?
Friday, May 5, when the two polar opposite films were released, witnessed significant drama and disappointment. While The Kerala Story – declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh – dominated the news cycle over the weekend with its endless controversies and ever-growing box office collections, Afwaah battled silent heartbreak even as critics championed it as one of the year’s bravest films.
Rave review, unworthy exit and OTT
Director Sudhir Mishra, produced by Anubhav Sinha and Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series, opened on just 60 screens across India, a surprisingly low number for a film headlined by actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Bhumi Pednekar – popular names among multiplex and single-screen audiences. The Kerala Story, directed by the relatively lesser-known Adah Sharma, hit 1,276 screens and hit nearly 1,500 screens on Monday. The film found support from the BJP government, while Afwaah disappeared the same day it opened.
The film’s collections, according to trade sources seen by indianexpress.com, were negligible, if not even reported. The Kerala Story, meanwhile, is set to end its box office life with collections north of Rs 225 cr. According to a source familiar with the film, Afwaah got an “unworthy” release, having not even had a chance to fight back at the box office to translate its rave reviews into a respectable box office collection.
“The film didn’t get its due at all. I understand this is a niche movie, but opening it in less than 60 screens is just terrible. On top of that the show times were a joke – early morning, odd afternoon or late evening. The film must be available to the public in order for them to access it,” the source said.
When indianexpress.com contacted Sudhir Mishra over claims that Afwaah was given an unworthy release, the filmmaker said he also wished more people had access to the film on the big screen, but today the script is up. such as Small Movies will hit theaters only as a precursor to their OTT debut, where the makers hope their audiences will finally watch the film.
“Eventually it will come to OTT and smaller, more independent films will come out as precursors for anyone who wants to see it and some people might see it. The press can see it and that can create an environment for the film. Obviously I would love for more people to see it in theaters A lot of people have told me that and I keep seeing on my timeline people writing, “Where can I see it? I can’t stop to say, “On OTT,” Mishra said.
According to sources, the move to cinemas first is due to streaming platforms no longer buying movies directly over OTT, as was the case during the pandemic. A movie must now open on at least 25 screens to qualify for an OTT post-theater debut. Mishra said he was aware that a significant audience had missed watching Afwaah on the big screen, but post-pandemic theater is not an easy task to achieve.
“I know everyone likes to watch movies in the cinema, but the cinema is another monster all together… Because the real estate, the prices, the cost of release is really not in my hands at all”, he added.
A marketing source told indianexpress.com that OTT platforms are restructuring their strategy, realizing they can’t be a ‘dumpster’ for makers, who are sure their films won’t do box office magic. .
“OTT platforms are reluctant to buy films for direct release. We expect filmmakers to promote their films, to release them in theaters so that platforms can buy them. To make this possible, many filmmakers, who recently released small theatrical films, choose to show their films on around 100 screens all over India for more than a weekend. They then make publishing proposals to OTT platforms and a publishing plan is developed,” the source said.
While film strategy and post-release acquisition happens behind closed doors, those who end up facing the brunt of a flop are actors — and they’re not happy. According to sources, actors associated with Afwaah knew the film was in danger of having a muted release, which prompted them to refrain from putting their names and faces on the film’s promotions, because, “through no fault of their part”, the flop tag would come on them.
“There’s no doubt that they signed the film because it was good, because they believed in it. They did their job as actors; now shouldn’t the makers give it a believable version A dignified release is all that was needed.
Something similar was seen in Sinha’s Bheed promotional campaign, featuring Rajkummar Rao and Pednekar. After initial media tours, the actors were not seen promoting the film. “And they’re not wrong at all. The blame would fall on them. Some things need to be changed. Sure, small post-pandemic movies have been badly hit, but, again, give it a chance? Especially when you know you have a good movie in hand,” the source said.
Why blame the producer?
There might be internal discussions about the forced release of Afwaah, but business sources also note that a movie’s release plan is carefully crafted by the makers after researching the market. If Afwaah, a socio-political drama released in less than 60 screens, there was a good reason for it.
“It’s a clear case of demand and supply. The Kerala Story opened on 1200 screens, reached 1500 in four days. His number of screens in the second week is higher than in the first. It shows that there was an audience waiting for it, ready to pay and watch. The producers felt it, multiplied the shows. If Afwaah was so expected or genuinely had major interest in the field, her shows would have increased as well.
“A producer will try to minimize his losses. The only way to do that is to control the release, because a theatrical release is expensive. There’s no point in overexposing your film by giving it a wider output, which would weigh it down more,” a trade source said.
The next release after The Kerala Story and Afwaah was actor Vidyut Jammwal’s spy film IB 71. Neither a niche film like Afwaah, nor one with government support, IB 71 was released in around 800 to 1,000 screens and managed to put up a respectable figure of Rs 8.43 cr in four days.
movies of our time
In his tweet, Kashyap best described Afwaah as a film that “speaks against the misuse of social media and how inherent biases are weaponized to create hatred and unrest.” Contrary to this, The Kerala Story has been dubbed by many as hate speech disguised as a movie. The Kerala Story claimed to tell stories of over 32,000 women in Kerala who were allegedly radicalized by Islamic fundamentalists, only to later backtrack and change the number to “three” after backlash and claims of misinformation.
The Kerala story, like last year’s The Kashmir Files, received support from the ruling BJP government, with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi citing the film in his speech. While both films made it clear to the industry the numbers that can be achieved if the ruling government blesses a film – even without a top cast or acclaimed director – trade sources said it had to “wait and watch” to see how many such projects are funded.
But Mishra, whose Afwaah was a heavily political film, is at least happy to have been able to put together a film like this in the present day, despite its box office fate. “You will agree that I had a lot of balls making the film. Uske aage main kya kar sakta hun? In the time of this and that, I put my head into something and made a movie to prove to the younger kids too that you can do whatever you want to do. We all have to keep trying.
“We must stand up to be counted. We do that by making a movie. Our work reflects that, wherever they watch it now, in theaters or OTT. The film is a precursor to a debate, we can have conversations. Whether people like it or not, at least it will provoke people and start a conversation. To some extent, this is already the case,” he concluded.
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