Akshay Kumar in 'Sooryanvanshi'
Akshay Kumar in 'Sooryanvanshi' Image Credit: Supplied

Just like ‘James Bond: No Time To Die’ was too big a film to take the straight-to-web platform release route, Bollywood’s star-studded cop drama ‘Sooryavanshi’, made on a stupendous scale, faced a similar predicament.

Despite endless delays due to the COVID-19, every stakeholder in this film, including its producers, UAE distributors, its lead stars Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, along with director Rohit Shetty, took a decisive call to wait it out.

But the waiting game – which comes to an end this Diwali on November 5 with its global theatrical release – was brutal and painful, claims its key players.

“This film was originally scheduled to release 20 months ago back in March 2020. We never thought we would continue to hold this film for so long. It has been a tough journey from every point of view — financially or commercially,” said Shibashish Sarkar, Chairman & CEO IMAC and former Group CEO Reliance Entertainment.

The company, along with Rohit Shetty Picturez, Dharma Productions and Kumar’s Cape of Good Films, have bankrolled this mammoth project. But the laborious waiting game was worth every minute of it, points out Sarkar.

“There are some films which are only meant for a theatrical experience and we were all ready to bend over backward and forward for the theatrical experience to gain fruition. Even from the Hindi film perspective, the entire industry is looking at this film to work at the box-office. We have not had a successful film box-office wise in Hindi in the last two years since ‘Baaghi 3’ and then COVID-19 hit us,” said Sarkar.

Akshay Kumar in 'Sooryavanshi'
Akshay Kumar in 'Sooryavanshi' Image Credit: Supplied

All eyes are definitely on ‘Sooryavanshi’ and its super-team of actors to lift box-office earnings to pre-pandemic levels. ‘Sooryavanshi’, directed by blockbuster maven Shetty, is the third instalment in his super cop franchise and boasts the biggest stars from Bollywood cinema in one film. Joining Kumar and Kaif are bankable actors Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh from director Shetty’s previous hits ‘Singham’ and ‘Simmba’. Think a Bollywood version of the highly-watchable ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ that takes pride in being bombastic and brilliant. It’s a typical song-dance-action spectacle that has a bit of everything in it.

Ranveer Singh, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar make a super team in 'Sooryavanshi'

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am subtly confident about ‘Sooryavashi’ … It’s a film that will never get dated … And, once the fear of the disease and vaccinations have happened, countries tend to go into ‘vengeance viewing’, ‘vengeance restaurant hopping’ and ‘vengeance shopping’. We are already seeing that phenomenon in China and North America and India will soon follow suit. I am super confident of our film and there’s not one element of confusion in our minds,” said Sarkar.

‘Sooryavanshi’s’ UAE display

Sarkar isn’t alone. Another principal stake holder Anish Wadhwa from Home Screen Entertainment, the joint distributor of ‘Sooryavanshi’ in the UAE along with Majid Al Futtaim (MAF). Wadhwa is equally confident about ‘Sooryavanshi’, a tale of super cops, led by Kumar as Anti Terrorism Squad, thwarting a lethal attack.

“It has the widest release in the UAE in terms of the number of big screens it’s playing on. A total of 70-plus screens will be showing this film in the theatres in this region. Even the advance bookings for this film is on par with what you see in Salman Khan’s Eid releases like ‘Radhe’ and that’s a great sign. All the signs up till this point have been encouraging,” said Wadhwa in a separate interview with Gulf News.

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While Wadhwa also admits that the wait of nearly two years was painful, it helped that everyone on this film was on the same page.

“Rohit Shetty’s ‘Simmba’ did phenomenal business in the UAE and beyond. We are hoping that ‘Sooryavanshi’ replicates that success. Also remember, Vijay Sethupathi and Vijay’s South Indian film ‘Master’ released in January 2021 did great box-office numbers even during the pandemic era. So we are very hopeful with ‘Sooryanvanshi’ doing the same kind of magic at the box-office. Plus, we couldn’t get a better release window than the festive period of Diwali,” said Wadhwa.

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Vijay Sethupathi in 'Master'

The adage ‘timing is everything’ is especially true for Bollywood releases. Every year, top actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, and Akshay Kumar with incredible box-office clout block the major festive periods such as Christmas, Diwali, and Eid much in advance. They famously bank on the holidays and the festive time where families are likely to head to the cinemas as a part of the revelry to boost their box-office earnings. But the COVID-19 restrictions and closure of cinemas for several months has upset those traditions with every actor and producer scrambling to release their much-delayed films.

“Yes, there’s no better date than a Diwali release in the Bollywood release calendar … Diwali is not just a day-long festival and lasts for seven to 10 days. So from that point, we have the best period in our hand to release ‘Sooryavanshi’. Also, the experience of seeing a spectacle film with 500 other people in a darkened cinema hall as the viewers clap and whistle can’t be replaced – no matter how big your TV screens in your living rooms are,” said Sarkar. In India alone, ‘Sooryavanshi’ will light up more than 1,200 screens. Even though this star-studded spectacle promising a colossal action-filled climax gets a mammoth display in India and globally, Sarkar is keenly aware of the risks involved. As of now, no industry insider has a pulse on the changing consumer habits in cinema viewing yet.

Director Rohit Shetty, Katrina Kaif, and Akshay Kumar promote 'Sooryavanshi'

“Every two or three months, we used to discuss this film’s release. It’s like you are holding a Rs2.5 billion/Rs2.75 billion flame in your hand … But what helped was that fortunately the producers, the actors, and the director took an unanimous decision to wait till the cinemas opened. The waiting game was not easy, but this should give us the results.”

COVID-19’s after effects

In the last few months, Bollywood industry pundits have rattled off obscene numbers and hefty deals rejected by ‘Sooryavanshi’ makers to attract them towards straight-to-digital release.

“I don’t know if by releasing this film theatrically whether we will make the kind of money we would have made if the film would have gone direct-to-digital … Before COVID-19, we were confident that we will do Rs2500 to Rs3000 million in Indian box-office and Rs1,000 million globally, but now we have to see how it all turns out … We are taking a leap of faith,” said Sarkar.

Shibashish Sarkar, Chairman & CEO, of IMAC & former Group CEO Reliance Entertainment
Shibashish Sarkar, Chairman & CEO, of IMAC & former Group CEO Reliance Entertainment Image Credit: Supplied

Every member of the film industry seems to be aware of how significant this Diwali release is to revive the Bollywood film industry which has taken a beating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even actor such as Kajol, who was in the UAE last week to attend the Filmfare Middle East Achievers Night, urged her army of fans to head to the cinemas again and watch their films on the big screens to help the ailing Hindi film industry to get back on its feet.

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Kajol at the Filmfare Middle East Achievers Night

The onus was on us Bollywood movie-mad fans, she pointed out. Her acceptance speech, laced with a request to promote theatrical viewing, was a telling one. Sarkar understand where Kajol is coming from and believes that only quality films with solid scripts will work in today’s times.

“No one is ready to consume anything average because they are now accustomed to such good quality content from across the globe like dramas and thrillers from Korea, South America, Chilean drama … To get our audiences back into cinemas, we have to come up with stupendous films … There’s no doubt that we all have to pull up our socks. Remember there’s no middle ground anymore,” said Sarkar

Image Credit: Supplied

Don’t Miss It!

‘Sooryavanshi’ is out in the UAE cinemas on November 5