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Kabir Khan on ’83’ box office: Pandemic hit us hard, there was no chance to fight back

A little over two weeks after his much awaited film “83” released theatrically, filmmaker Kabir Khan describes his headspace as a “mixed bag”.

While he is happy that the cricket drama has received unprecedented love, the feeling is also punctured with the reality that the project’s box office prospects took a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by Ranveer Singh, the film chronicles India’s win under Kapil Dev’s captainship, when the team defeated the mighty West Indies in the final to clinch their first-ever World Cup trophy in 1983.

“83” was expected to script history at the box office upon its release — in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam — on December 24 but the big-scale multi-starrer failed to translate the glowing reviews into numbers the trade was betting the film to do.

The film has so far collected more than Rs 97 crore domestically, according to production house Reliance Entertainment.

In an interview with PTI, Khan called the film “a victim of the pandemic” and said “83” has put up the numbers despite battling COVID-19 restrictions, 50 per cent theatrical occupancy in key states and the complete closure of cinema halls in Delhi and Haryana.

“I feel exhilarated to have created this film which has received so much love but at the same time there is a disappointment that not everybody who wants to watch it can see it today because the pandemic is there with historic numbers. We nurtured the film for two years, waited for the correct time so that everybody gets to see it on the big screen.

“But with this pandemic, despite our best planning, one can never get it right. We did not know that the explosion (of cases) would literally take place on the day of our release. December 24 is when we (the country) hit 6,000 cases and in 10 days we crossed a lakh. It was just sad,” Khan said.

The director said 48 hours prior to the release, the team got an indication that things could go “spiralling out of control”, but it was too late for them to react, so they went ahead keeping their “fingers crossed”.

A day after the film opened, Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh announced a night curfew, which Khan said impacted the night shows of the film. Within four days, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal announced the closure of cinema halls.

States like Kerala, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh followed suit and capped the theatrical occupancy at 50 per cent.

Khan said the severity of COVID-19 kept the team on tenterhooks as they would wake up everyday and wonder, “Ok, now what has shut down?”

“So many people loved the film, so naturally one has to question what went wrong and what went wrong is the pandemic. There was no chance to fight back. The pandemic is not just about theatres shutting down but also this psyche… The mindset (of stepping out) can change overnight.”

While the audience reception to the film was overwhelmingly positive, Khan feels there was an “agenda” with which the trade reported figures of “83”, by completely eliminating the impact of the pandemic.

“The film is a victim of the pandemic. How can you report the figures without the context, that there is a raging pandemic out there?” the 53-year-old filmmaker asked.

“You are comparing us to other films which were released in non-COVID normal times, and this is a film that has been hit hard by COVID on a daily basis, because we are losing hundreds of theatres and screens. Despite that we have touched Rs 180 crore globally,” he pointed out.

While “83” has underperformed at the box office, the trade has hailed Allu Arjun-starrer “Pushpa: The Rise” as a bona fide blockbuster, with its Hindi version clocking more than Rs 74 crore at the box office.

The multilingual thriller opened a week before “83” and clashed with the Hollywood superhero film “Spider-Man: No Way Home”.

Khan said unlike “Pushpa” — which had collected Rs 26 crore from its Hindi version in the first week, when everything was functional — “83” didn’t even have the chance to enjoy a restriction-free run.

“Everyone now knows that December 26 is when it all came crashing down, when we realised we are in the middle of a third wave. What is the amount of money they (‘Pushpa’) made before that and what is the amount of money they made after that? Of course, they kept continuing but at levels much lower than us.

“Where did we even have the chance to fight that? To constantly say that, ‘Oh but that one made money…’ Yes, but look at the relative ratios. If it did Rs 26 crore in the first week, they added another Rs 50 and we did another 100. The thing is when you report numbers and do not choose to mention the pandemic at all, does that not sound completely weird? It was an erroneous reporting which is unforgivable. It smells of agenda and bad professionalism.”

Khan said the entire team is proud of the film and is confident that it will eventually get its due.

“The film is here to stay, it won’t ever be forgotten. Ten years from now if my filmography is spoken about, ’83’ will always be on the top. That’s something which gives me solace in the times we are living through,” he added.

Deepika Padukone, Pankaj Tripathi, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Jiiva, Saqib Saleem, Jatin Sarna, Chirag Patil, Dinker Sharma, Nishant Dahiya, Harrdy Sandhu, Sahil Khattar, Ammy Virk, Adinath Kothare, Dhairya Karwa and R Badree also round out the cast of the film.

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