Bollywood’s dimming popularity is hurting India’s largest movie theater chain

·2-min read

Is Bollywood losing its charm? That’s the question raised by the latest financial results for India’s biggest movie theater chain, PVR-INOX. The company, formed by the merger of the country’s top two multiplex operators earlier this year, reported a loss of $40.7 million for the quarter ended March 31.

Hit by one-time impairment charges and expenses related to the planned shutdown of some cinemas, PVR-INOX is looking to close 50 of its screens in the next six months. The company said theaters that operate at a loss or are located in malls that have reached the end of their life cycle, with little possibility of rejuvenation, would be shut permanently.

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This slowdown is taking place in a country that has long loved Bollywood—the Indian film industry, based in Mumbai—with even politicians trying to cash in by inviting movie stars to campaign for them. So what’s stopping fans from visiting movie theaters?

The answer lies in PVR INOX’s latest quarterly results.

Volatility at the box office

Acknowledging “volatility” at the box office, the company said films that “resonated” with audiences did better than big-budget Bollywood movies. For example, during the first three months of 2023, star-studded Kuttey and Bacchan Pandey did poorly in comparison with Ranbir Kapoor’s romcom Tu Jhuthi Mai Makkar.

Bollywood hit Pathaan was among the few movies that brought in customers, while Hollywood films like Ant-Man and The Wasp–Quantamania and John Wick: Chapter 4 performed decently, noted PVR INOX, which owns some 1,650 screens across 350 properties in more than 100 Indian cities.

The company also blamed fewer Hollywood releases in the latest quarter for lower traffic at multiplexes.

Why are Indians falling out of love with Bollywood films?

While the release of Hindi films on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix remain a concern for theater owners, audiences’ decision to favor premium content over big-name movie stars is also hurting Bollywood.

“In the past, big stars have been able to attract audiences to theaters en masse, given their strong legacy,” says a 2022 report by Emkay Global, a market research firm. “However, changing preferences of audiences have now resulted in content being the primary focus. These highly touted superstars are no longer able to attract audiences based on just their brand names.”

Supporting that view are some recent Bollywood flops featuring A-list actors. For example, Akshay Kumar’s 2023 release Selfie tanked at the box office. Rising star Kartik Aryan has also struggled, with his latest film, Shehzada, underperforming in theaters.

Another challenge for Bollywood is the growing popularity of South Indian films. Movies like RRR, which won an Oscar for best original soundtrack, Pushpa, and KGF have grossed more revenue than their Bollywood counterparts released during the same months last year.

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