Housefull 4 box office row! Lure of satellite, digital rights to blame for alleged fudged figures?

The lucrative satellite, digital contracts are only honoured fully upon a film achieving a minimum agreeable box office collection

By Mayur Lookhar

Housefull 4 (2019)

Diwali week release Housefull 4 (2019) has been facing the heat on social media for allegedly inflating its box office numbers. Housefull 4 has so far bagged Rs145.25 crore nett in domestic business, as reported by BoxofficeIndia.com.  Lead actor Akshay Kumar spoke to the media on Friday, 1 November urging everyone to not pay heed to the trolls and respect the collection that’s been put out by the producers, studio, distributor.

It’s unfair to have the lead actor speak on trade figures. The producers, distributors should have come clean here.  Given all that’s transpired over the last week, it would be wise to take all figures thrown at you with a pinch of salt.

The producers, trade pundits, experts, lead actor has spoken. Without questioning their word, and with all due respect to each one of them, the figure that we heard from a reliable source slightly varied from the one reported. As per BoxOfficeIndia.com, and concurred by Kumar, Housefull 4 made Rs137.25 crore nett in first week.  A source though pegged the actual figures to Rs125 crore nett in week one. BoxofficeIndia.com reported the day  8 figure to be Rs8 crore nett while the source pegged the day 8 figure to be Rs8.5 crore nett thus taking its box office collection so far to Rs133.50 crore nett.

 That’s a difference of about Rs11.75 crore nett less than the Rs145.25 crore nett reported by BoxOfficeIndia.com.  Now, we also heard an entirely different figure from another source who shared an [unverified] data that has Housefull 4’s 8-day collection to Rs98.45 crore nett.  Now that’s significantly different to what has been reported by BoxOfficeIndia.com.  

Earlier today, Fox Star Studios put all speculative figures to rest as it posted the 8-day collection to be Rs149.36 crore nett.

It would be unfair to single out Housefull 4 for it is not the first film to face such allegations.   “Look, since the last two -three years, virtually every film exaggerates its numbers by 10 %,” said an industry insider.

It must be noted that this alleged fudging of figures is a modern phenomena.   “Once Aamir Khan’s Ghajini (2008) became the first film to cross Rs100 crore. Thereafter there has been pressure to do better.  The pressure has only increased once the benchmark shifted from Rs 100 to Rs 200 and later to Rs 300 crore,” said the industry insider.

Over the last few years, Bollywood films that have been suspected of fudging box office figures have largely been produced by legacy studios.  A few of them were Diwali releases, one a Republic Day release, one released on Independence Day . “A pre Republic Day release made Rs115 crore nett, as claimed by the producers. However, its actual box office collection was about Rs 88 crore nett. Roughly, films have been exaggerated by Rs20-25 crore nett,” the industry insider claimed.

That leads to the all important question. What would compel a producer/ studio to inflate figures?

“Look none of our films ever had inflated figures. But to answer your question as to why would one resort to doing this? Well, this is all down to competition. We all want to prove a point as it becomes a prestige issue,” said producer Prernaa Arora.  The young producer has produced three films with Akshay Kumar – Rustom (2016), Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (2017) and Pad Man (2018).

A source though pinned the blame on the pressures of meeting satellite, digital rights contract demands. “There is huge potential revenue from satellite and digital rights. However, the box office collection is vital to producers for obtaining the full contract amount for digital or satellite rights agreements. Suppose a film’s digital rights is sold for Rs10 crore. The producer will get an initial Rs2 crore. But the film needs to achieve an agreeable box office collection for the producer to obtain the balance amount,” said the industry source. (We expect to get a word on the satellite, digital rights of Housefull 4 next week)

While producers may inflate their figures to obtain full amount for the ancillary rights, but wouldn’t a Netflix, Amazon conduct their own research to find out the actual box office figures? 

“Well, that is where your trade pundits come in.  I don’t think it’s possible for Netflix or others to conduct a research on their own. They get a figure from producers, and then would look into what’s been posted by the trade pundits.  They, too, are aware that the figures could be fudged by a few crores but that’s no deal breaker,” says the source.

Prernaa Arora though ruled out digital players buying into a trade pundit’s word.  Says she, “No it doesn’t work like that.  Netflix, Amazon are big international companies. They have watertight contracts. They verify the actual collection through documents – bank statements, distributor share. You can’t fudge these documents.”

One needs to be reminded that often the lucrative digital, satellite deals are pocketed by the big studios, producers, films that often feature super stars.   “The ancillary rights are pre-sold for all big films.   They are certain box office benchmarks that need to be crossed for the TV channels, digital players to pay the agreed upon amount to the producers. But there are a lot of small films who only get satellite, digital partners after the release.  So, there is no question of fudging figures by them since there are still looking for digital/satellite partners,” the Pad Man producer explained.

With potential lucrative ancillary rights deals on offer, it is all the more imperative that the filmmakers, producers harp on good content.  If your content is good, and the film has received positive reviews, then there seldom will be any question raised over box office figures.  The suspicion over Housefull 4 box office collection stems from its largely poor reviews, and the film not enjoying such a strong word of the mouth.  

With Kumar speaking on the issue, perhaps the debate over Housefull 4 box office figures might die down now.  But producer/ studios, trade pundits know that from now on, there will be greater scrutiny of the numbers that they post.

Made at an estimated budget of Rs125 crore, Housefull 4 had released in 3900 screens in India.

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