Everyone who has been tweeting that Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad has been given a tight slap by the audience, are wrong. The Taapsee Pannu-starrer, made on a budget of approximately Rs 25 crore, has raked in Rs 30 crore at the domestic box office. Additionally, the film would have recovered part of its cost from the satellite and digital rights of the film.
Why ‘Thappad’ Got It Right
Often, audiences look at the box office numbers of films and if it hasn’t crossed the Rs 50 crore mark or the golden Rs 100-200 crore mark they think - ‘it’s not a hit film’. But the real success of a film actually comes down to how much money it made viz-a -viz the budget. And success also depends upon the context of the kind of content of the film.
Thappad is the third film this year, with a female protagonist after Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak and Kangana Ranaut’s Panga. Thappad may not have made the kind of money that some of Taapsee’s other films like Badla have, but for the kind subject that it dealt with, it was never really meant to be a crowd-pleaser. The film is however an engaging social drama about a woman who leaves her husband when he slaps her in a fit of rage.
The success of Thappad is primarily because of the controlled budget that the film was made in. A film like this isn’t going to be watched by everyone because it doesn’t have the quintessential commercial potboiler elements like the hero-heroine, song and dance sequences etc. That doesn’t mean it’s boring- it’s just not everyone’s cup of tea. The combination of a saleable star like Taapsee and a good script brought in the audience that appreciates a film of that kind.
Trade analyst Komal Nahta said, “Anubhav’s last film Article 15 did very well at the box office, and so Thappad was able to get a much better amount for its satellite and digital rights.”
What Went Wrong With ‘Chhapaak’ & ‘Panga’
Deepika’s Chhapaak, directed by Meghna Gulzar, made about Rs 58.48 crore in total, after selling the satellite and digital rights. According to a source, the budget of the film was approximately Rs 50 crore and after the money is split amongst the distributors, the film becomes a loss-making proposition for the producers.
Here’s why that happened. When you’re making a film about an acid-attack survivor, however well made that film might be it is undeniably uncomfortable to watch. That eliminates a number of people who watch it, because a lot of them are just looking for an escape, which is fine. What the film needed was a tighter budget. It was a brave attempt on the part of Deepika, who also co-produced the film, but it needed to be made on a smaller budget of Rs 20-25 crore. Films with serious subjects have always found it difficult to draw in large audiences, and over the last few months, specifically with whatever has been happening in the country, maybe people just want a sugar pill?Chhapaak is not the kind of experience you want to enjoy with your family, or one that warrants a repeat viewing because it was so much fun.
It’s not like films with women at the centre can’t make money. Meghna’s previous film Raazi, an espionage thriller starring Alia Bhatt, grossed over a hundred crores. The film had a certain patriotic fervour (not over the top) and was engaging, which is why it did the kind of business that it did. There are several other examples like Queen, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Piku that have done exceedingly well, but these were films with lighter subjects.
In 2015 Anushka Sharma’s NH10, made on a budget of 18 crore, raked in Rs 31 crore in India and a total of Rs 50 crore, including the international box office. It was a dark film, an uncomfortable watch with dollops of violence. But the moderate budget made it a success.
Nahta sums it up, “To put it simply, Chhapaak was a bad film. It was a sad film, and no one wants to pay money to be depressed. The budget of the film too was quite high and that went against its favour.”
One can understand the limited audience for Chhapaak because of the issue it deals with. But the underwhelming box office response for Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga is surprising. It was a light-hearted comedy-drama about a woman (played by Kangana Ranaut), a retired kabaddi champion, who returns to the sport. The film is a feel-good underdog story, one that you could take your family to watch. Kangana is a popular actor, and the reviews were positive and yet it wasn’t able to draw audiences into the theatres.
According to sources the film, produced by Fox Star Studios, was made on a budget of Rs 45 crore, made Rs 27 crore at the end of two weeks in India and Rs 41 crore, including the international collections. With the advent of streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, our cinema viewing tastes have probably changed. A theatrical experience either needs to be a high concept film or a larger-than-life story, a slice-of-film is maybe not enough to draw people to cinema halls. It has become an expensive proposition after all.
“The reason why Thappad succeeded was the novelty factor. Panga did not have that. It was a good film but not particularly new,” adds Nahta.
There’s also probably some fatigue from watching the lives of sports people on screen after films like Dangal, Mary Kom and recently even Saand Ki Aankh. These stories usually have a predictable trajectory, and the treatment has to be novel for it to really stand out.
With all these films, the bottomline is that the budget is undeniably key and that’s what translates into the real success of a film.