Here’s why 3 Idiots looks set to remain king of the box office for a while.
There's no doubt whatsoever that Aamir Khan's Dangal, the Bollywood version of the true-life story of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who mentored his two daughters Geeta and Babita to win medals in international events, is a big hit. The film has grossed over Rs 345 crore so far, topping the previous best grossers, PK, which reported a lifetime revenue of Rs 341 crore and Bajrangi Bhaijan (Rs 320 crore).
But, as usual, the raw numbers don't tell the whole story, and the eagerness of the media to create a new box office record when it is still to be really established, suggests that Bollywood's Khans are stoking this game of oneupmanship. Every time we see a blockbuster release by Aamir Khan, Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan, we see stories announcing a new box office record.
Pretty much the same things were said when Aamir Khan’s PK (read here) did exceedingly well, as was the case with Salman’s Sultan (here) and Bajrangi Bhaijan (here), and Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai Express (here). Insecurity at the top of Bollywood's male lead hierarchy probably makes such numbers vital for them, but the raw numbers need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Simple reason: we are comparing apples with oranges, without adjusting for inflation, and also the increasing size of the market addressed as the years roll by. The number of screens showing films simultaneously has increased and film producers have been expanding the number of prints released in order to maximise collections in the first few days of release. This is to beat piracy, and also to ensure that bad publicity in the early days of release does not kill its commercial potential.
Let’s take some simple numbers, to compare Dangal with Aamir’s own superhit of 2009, 3 Idiots. 3 Idiots grossed Rs 202.95 crore, against Dangal’s Rs 345.29 crore (thus far).
If we assume a conservative annual inflation rate of 5 per cent, 3 Idiots’ box office collections rise to Rs 285 crore (approximately) in today’s money when adjusted for inflation between 2009 and 2016 (seven years). But 3 Idiots was released only on 2,215 screens in India and abroad against Dangal’s 5,300. If we were to adjust 3 Idiots’ figures for 5,300 screens, its revenues would rise to Rs 683 crore at today’s ticket prices.
Dangal may yet outdo 3 Idiots, but it seems unlikely. There is a huge gap between Rs 345 crore and Rs 683 crore, and with Dangal now into its third week, it is unlikely to double its revenues during its effective lifecycle.
Or take another comparison. Between PK and Dangal. PK hit the screens in 2014, roughly two years ago, but the release totalled 5,200 prints in India, and over 800 abroad, for a total of 6,044.
Its collections of Rs 340.8 crore add up to Rs 375 crore in terms of today’s money, but given the larger numbers of screens it released in, Dangal would still beat it. Even adjusted for inflation, Dangal would beat all recent Salman and Shah Rukh starrers.
But two things are certain. Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots still takes some beating. And among the three Khans, he is probably a cut above in terms of box office material.
One unsung hero appears to be Hrithik Roshan, who has been grossing well on his superhero Krrish series. Krrish 3 grossed more than Chennai Express at Rs 244.92 (both released in the same year), but nowhere got the publicity of Chennai Express.
Given in the table below are key numbers collected from newspaper and other industry sources. Feel free to calculate the current value of the money earned by older movies, based on your own inflation estimate over the last few years and number of screens.
3 Idiots looks set to remain king of the box office for a while.