With Laal Singh Chaddha, Aamir Khan returned to the silver screen after almost four years. The scale of the film, its ₹180 crore budget and Aamir’s stardom meant much was expected of the film. But alas, it failed to deliver. As I write this, Laal Singh Chaddha has earned ₹49 crore in seven days across the country. To put that into perspective, the Hindi-dubbed version of KGF: Chapter 2 earned ₹54 crore on its opening day alone. To put it simply, Laal Singh Chaddha has been humbled. Also read: Anurag Kashyap says films aren’t working in South either, people have no money
But why has it happened? Granted that the Hindi film industry has not been in the best of health all through 2022, but this failure is jarring. Other than a few titles like The Kashmir Files, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, and Gangubai Kathiawadi, not many Hindi films have been hits this year. Stars like Akshay Kumar (Samrat Prithviraj), Kangana Ranaut (Dhaakad), and Ranveer Singh (Jayeshbhai Jordaar) have all fallen. Many had expected Aamir and Laal Singh Chaddha to ‘revive’ Bollywood. The film’s failure has largely been attributed to two causes–the content which the audience did not like, and a strong movement calling for the film’s boycott. Experts try and make sense of what actually sank Laal Singh Chaddha.
Exhibitors believe it was the film’s quality that was its undoing and not the boycott movement. An exhibitor from Delhi says, “I don’t think it was the boycott trend that had this much impact. Padmaavat also faced boycott calls and even saw protests but it still earned over ₹100 crore in its first weekend. With Laal Singh Chaddha, the audience just rejected the film. The filmmakers need to take into consideration the audience’s will here.”
However, the argument falters when one looks at some of the previous films whose content was also unfavourably received by critics. Some of Aamir Khan’s previous films like Thugs of Hindostan and Dhoom 3 were critically panned too. But they still managed good openings because of the hype around them. Dhoom 3 earned ₹36 crore on its opening day in 2013, while Thugs of Hindostan registered a then record opening of ₹51 crore in 2018. In comparison, Laal Singh Chaddha’s domestic opening day figure of ₹11.70 crore pales in comparison. Film trade analyst Ramesh Bala explains, “It was a combination of both the content and the boycott but primarily the boycott trend. The opening was low. Aamir’s last film Thugs of Hindostan did ₹50 crore on opening day. Even KGF 2 did 50 crore in the pandemic just in Hindi. So then, for Laal Singh Chaddha to just do ₹10-11 crore business on day one shows that people were not willing to come to the theatres. Reviews affect the earnings after the first day or even the first weekend. But low opening means the boycott trend affected it as well.”
However, other insiders say what worked against the film, as well as Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan which released on the same day, was the decision to release it on the festival of rakhi, an occasion not normally connected with movie outings. Film trade analyst Atul Mohan says, “The low opening wasn’t surprising. To anyone who knows Raksha Bandhan, it shouldn’t be. That is a festival where people spend time with family and stay indoors. Its’s not a day for going out to the movies like Eid is. So, the initial occupancy was expectedly low. Beyond that, the film’s ability to grow depends on reviews and word of mouth.” And of course, lukewarm reviews did not help beyond that. The film did not find support to grow through word of mouth.
Some experts say that the film’s genre and audience’s changed preferences in the post-pandemic era also hurt its chances. Since Covid-19 hit, the moviegoer has been more exposed to content on OTT and only prefers to step out of the house for certain kinds of films. “Laal Singh Chaddha was a clean family entertainer. The audience prefers these films on OTT instead of theatres now. People want to go to the theatres to be entertained now. They want grand entertainers that can convince them to go the cinema. Else, they can watch films on OTT. Even most theatrical releases come on OTT in 4-6 weeks now,” says Ramesh Bala. Also read: R Madhavan talks about the reason behind Laal Singh Chaddha’s box office failure
If the big-ticket film of one of the biggest stars struggles this badly, then maybe the industry isn’t able to gauge what the audience wants. At a recent event, actor R Madhavan addressed this trend. “You’re playing to a completely changed, highly educated audience, highly exposed to world cinema. They’re going to judge you with that sort of a yardstick. It is nobody’s fault. I think it is going to take us a little time to pull up our socks and make a screenplay that works very soon in theatres,” he said.
Whatever the case may be, but the failure of Laal Singh Chaddha should drive Bollywood to do some soul-searching. And hopefully, the film industry can take a lesson from it.