As theatres across the country march towards normalcy, two big releases, Thalaivii starring Kangana Ranaut and Laabam starring Vijay Sethupathi and Shruti Haasan, had a dull opening at the box office. Telugu film Seetimarr starring Gopichand and Tamannaah emerged as the clear winner and collected around Rs four crore, the highest any Indian film has earned on the first day of release, since theatres in the country reopened after the second wave of Covid-19, as per a Box Office India report.

According to the report, Thalaivii collected around Rs 80 lakhs in Tamil Nadu and approximately Rs 1.25 crore nationwide. The film, based on the life of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha, opted for a two-week screening window in theatres before an OTT release for its Hindi version, while the Tamil and Telugu version will run in theatres for four weeks before premiering on OTT.

Multiplexes like PVR and Inox refused to screen the Hindi version of the film and appealed to the makers to increase the theatrical window. However, the producers did not budge. As a result, Thalaivii, which would have normally released in around 40 cinemas in Delhi, released only in around 10 cinemas.

The film, although it had a dull opening, managed to score better than Laabam in some parts of Chennai, the report stated. It is to be noted that Labaam is the first Tamil film to opt for a big-screen release post reopening of theatres in Tamil Nadu with 50% capacity from August 23.

In Hyderabad and surrounding areas, meanwhile, both Thalaivii and Laabam were overshadowed by the Telugu film Seetimarr. “This film is also a mass entertainer amd will probably prove to be third sucessful in India after two Punjabi films,” read the Box Office India report.

“People from other states are not that familiar with Jayalalitha and may not be very keen on watching this biopic. While dubbed films of Suriya and other stars work well in other states due to their good content, Thalaivii‘s content might not be able to live up to a Telugu film like Seetimarr,” said Anupam Reddy, an executive committee member of the Telangana State Film Chamber of Commerce and owner of Sudha Multiplex in Hyderabad.

While Thalaivii‘s unsuccessful stint at the box office comes at a time when Maharastra theatres still remain shut, most theatre owners from Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu stated that both Thalaivii and Laabam were not ‘quality content’ that can bring the audience back to the theatres.

“Both the films are not performing well, since the content is not that good. Laabam’s first-day collection is very poor and even the occupancy rate is 3-5% only across Tamil Nadu,” said Srither S, joint secretary of Tamil Nadu Theatres Association.

Dilip Kumar of Malayandi Cinemas (a single screen with 456 seats) in Usilampatti, Madurai, who has not opened since April in hopes of the arrival of big-ticket Tamil films, screened Thalaivii on Friday to poor reception. He said that only four tickets were sold for the morning show, in a hall that can house 315 seats under half occupancy level.

“I did not screen Laabam because the theatre adjacent is running it. I heard that only about 9-10 tickets have been sold. Though it is a star film, people should be willing to come to theatres. Only when good films are releasing, will the family audience come back,” he said.

Ruban Mathivanan, managing partner of GK Cinemas in Chennai, while speaking about Thalaivii’s poor performance in single-screen theatres said “It is actually an upper-middle-class catering film which means the multiplexes will see more audience for it. As far as single screens go, it might not be able to pull too much crowd.”

According to theatre owners from Tamil Nadu, English films such as Fast and Furious 9, Conjuring 3 and Shang-Chi fared better at the box office.

“If there was exciting content, like for eg, Shang Chi, which no one knew about, but many kids and family audiences turned up to watch the film. The film did a good job, and the same applies to F9 as well,” said Rakesh Gowthaman of Vetri Cinemas in Chennai.

Theatre Owners Pin Hopes on Weekend & the Upcoming Line-Up

Theatre owners hope the performance of both Laabam and Thalaivii will improve over the coming days.

President of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners’ Association, Tiruppur Subramaniam, who is also the owner of the eight-screen stand-alone theatre Sree Shakthi Cinemas in Tiruppur, said, “As films keep coming, it will gradually pick up. As of now, the opening is just doing fine and it will only pick up later as many releases are yet to come. We cannot ascertain the average occupancy or turnout as of now since it may pick up during the weekends.”

“Had we had films like Maanadu, or Sarpatta Parambarai, we might have had a good opening,” said Rakesh of Vetri theatres.

“Content matters and for Ayudha Pooja, we have a great line-up with Enemy, Doctor, followed by Annaatthe. At the same time, it is not about the hero, the content matters a lot. But as of now we have got a decent booking and we can only judge in the coming days,” he added.

According to Rakesh, the footfall is expected to improve over the weekend.

Echoing his thoughts, Venkatesh, owner of Woodlands Cinemas, Chennai, which screened both Laabam and Thalaivii, said that the collections are improving on a daily basis, with the occupancy in night shows slowly picking up.

”About four films will be releasing per week from now, and that’s a great sign,” he exclaimed.