Demolition Derby (noun): A race in which one car drives into another intentionally, with the winner being the last car still standing.
A game of Demolition Derby is being played out at the Bollywood box office this weekend as two of the year's biggest films - Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani - crash into the screens. And as film fans across the country wonder which biggie to watch first, it's a war out there: between brands Rohit Shetty and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, between stars Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone, between a film that boasts a tried-and-tested romantic couple, exotic locales and foot-tapping music and a historical that brings alive a less documented romance on screen.
Till Thursday night, Dilwale - powered by the might and marketing chutzpah of Shah Rukh the actor and producer - had the clear edge, with most advance booking of tickets being in favour of this Rohit Shetty action-romance that brings SRK and Kajol together after five years and the fresh young pairing of Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon.
"As far as buzz and bookings go, Dilwale has a headstart over Bajirao Mastani. The first shows of Dilwale on Friday in almost all our plexes are houseful everywhere. The trend in the bookings simply reiterate that Shah Rukh and Kajol as a romantic pair have massive pull and Varun Dhawan is the new god of the youth," said Subhasis Ganguli, regional director (east) of INOX.
At the city's PVR multiplexes, it is Shah Rukh all the way, with "45 to 50 per cent" of weekend tickets flying off the counters by Thursday evening. "The power of SRK the superstar and Dilwale the brand is what is drawing crowds to cinemas. Many will also watch Bajirao Mastani, but they all want to watch Dilwale first," said Swaraj Sadhukhan, regional general manager of PVR-Cinemax.
Bajirao Mastani, helmed by master storyteller Bhansali and starring Deepika, the current queen of the box office, opposite real-life beau Ranveer Singh, and with Priyanka Chopra bringing up the rear, seems like a winner on paper.
But the SRK-Rohit Shetty combo has ensured that Dilwale starts two steps ahead of Bajirao at the starting line on Friday. If for nothing else, with a simple marketing masterstroke, Dilwale cashed in on the first-mover advantage by selling tickets from Sunday. Bajirao's advance bookings opened as late as Wednesday. Also, at least in Calcutta, Dilwale has more shows than Bajirao at almost every multiplex and standalone theatre.
"Dilwale will release on a record 324 screens in Bengal, among the highest for a Hindi film. The shows in multiplexes are either houseful or fast filling and single screens are also doing brisk business. Paradise Cinema alone had notched up advance bookings worth Rs 6 lakh for the weekend by Thursday," said Debashish Dey of Aum Moviez, the regional distributors for Dilwale.
While business for Bajirao has been lukewarm at multiplexes, single-screen theatres have recorded encouraging bookings. "Shah Rukh Khan's box-office power is definitely bigger, but no one can write off Bajirao Mastani. We have had quite a few bookings for the weekend already and footfalls should be high Friday onwards," said Navin Chokhani of Navina Cinema on Prince Anwar Shah Road.
Shah Rukh - who has been the last man standing at many a box-office clash... Don vs Jaan-E-Mann in Diwali 2006 and Om Shanti Om vs Bhansali's Saawariya in Diwali 2007 - hasn't given an inch to Bajirao Mastani, with the face-off getting prickly every now and then. Eros International, the producers of Bajirao..., even dragged a few single-screen exhibitors to court on Thursday for screening Dilwale, despite signing a contract to release the 18th century epic romance.
They failed to make legal headway and issued a statement batting for "amicable" settlement of the matter. "We hope to settle amicably. We are getting very positive reactions for Bajirao Mastani from all over the world. We are confident our magnificent film will be a winner with the audiences," was the word from the Eros camp.
"The face-off between the two films has given rise to some bad blood and that isn't good for any film. We are hoping that both Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani have enough entertaining power to draw in crowds and both do good business," said a Mumbai-based trade analyst.
The clash has, in Bhansali's words, created "awkwardness" between him and his 'Devdas'. "Shah Rukh is a very close friend... we did Devdas together... I love him a lot and he loves me a lot... But what I don't like is that this clash has created awkwardness between Shah Rukh and me...," the film-maker told t2 recently.
There's also no missing a point-counterpoint between SRK and his Chennai Express co-star Deepika. "He (Bhansali) has his way of storytelling, but still makes it globally appealing," was Deepika's retort to her Om Shanti Om mentor calling Bajirao a "niche film".
The fate of these biggies will only be known by Monday, but for now it's the Bolly buff who is the biggest winner. "Both Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani have something to offer. Irrespective of which film races past the other at the box office, it's a guaranteed weekend of entertainment for the viewer," said trade analyst Kumar Mohan.
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