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Bollywood battles are fascinating. The ongoing tussle between two production houses – Yashraj Films (YRF) and Ajay Devgn Films (ADF) – on the number of single screens allotted to their upcoming Diwali releases Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ) and Son Of Sardar (SOS) respectively have reached courts.
After the Competition Commission of India (CCI) rejected ADF’s plea against YRF (which alleged that YRF used its dominant position in the industry to arm-twist exhibitors and distributors to release JTHJ in maximum number of single-screen theatres, Devgn has approached the Competition Apellate Tribunal against the order.
"We are shocked by the rejection of our legitimate case by the CCI,” a spokesperson from ADF films said in a statement.
Meanwhile, India’s foremost production house had earlier clarified that bookings for JTHJ were not monopolistic and did not disturb rules of competition. News agency IANS reported that officials at YRF were “shocked” over Devgn’s claims of manipulation.
"The case of ADF is that a producer/distributor/exhibitor cannot be allowed to enter into a tie-in arrangement which adversely affects competition. YRF has entered into a tie-in arrangement with the exhibitors in a manner that has made it compulsory for the exhibitors to exhibit the untitled movie of YRF on Diwali day and two weeks thereafter with all four shows," said an official statement from the lawyers of ADF.
YRF claims that it has booked only about 1,500 screens out of the 10,500-plus single screens available in India. (There are about 1,400 multiplex screens in the country.) And this arrangement was easy because of the “goodwill” they shared with distributors and exhibitors.
"All the exhibitors, when approached by us earlier this year for booking their theatres, were happy to play out Yashji's movie considering their long-standing and emotional relationship and goodwill with YRF of over 40 years. A Yash Chopra-Shah Rukh Khan movie, coming after a gap of eight long years, did not need any coercion for contractual screening,” a senior YRF official told the media.
Some sources in the film trade point out that screen bookings for JTHJ were completed in August as a part of a “package deal” with YRF’s Eid release Ek Tha Tiger (which went on to gross more than Rs 300 crore at the box office). Hence, when Devgn sought single screen exhibitors, most of them were already committed to JTHJ.
Such wars between big banners and stars are not uncommon in Bollywood. At a time when first-day box office collections nearly make or break a film, production houses try to ensure they have a smooth run at the theatres by clinically avoiding a release of their film with any other major release. And big banners leave no stone unturned to release their big-budget flicks as widely as possible, both in India and overseas. For instance, YRF's last flick ETT was released with nearly 5,000 prints across the globe.
Additionally, festivals are a major attraction for producers. They are money-minting seasons where box office collections reach their zenith. The Khans have almost become synonymous with their festival releases. Salman owns Eid, Shahrukh rules Diwali and Aamir feasts on Christmas.
Hence Devgn's dilemma lies in the fact that if he delays the release of SOS by a week or two, it clashes with another big banner's big film with big stars: Excel Entertainment's Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash is scheduled for release on November 30 and has already generated a lot of hype.
While sections of the media have made it out to be a war between two of Hindi cinema’s biggest and most bankable stars - Shah Rukh Khan and Devgn (who reportedly are not great friends), the latter insists that he’s being made out to be the villain.
"I had filed the complaint much before the demise of Yash Chopra. When this happened I was like people are going to target me and nobody is going to understand my point of view... I was a villain on both sides. I couldn't withdraw it (notice) from the Competition Commission... It is not a normal court,” the actor-producer told news agency PTI.
Yash Chopra, SRK and Diwali
While the legal battle between YRF and ADF reaches a crescendo, here’s a look at how Diwali has been integral to both Yash Chopra (whose demise just weeks before the film’s release has added to the buzz surrounding JTHJ) and SRK (who thrives on the festival of lights).
JTHJ is Chopra’s and SRK’s third Diwali release together after Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Veer-Zaara (2004) which set multiple records at the box office. Meanwhile, SRK’s other Diwali releases (two of them with YRF) include Baazigar (1993), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Mohabbatein (2000), Don (2006), Om Shanti Om (2007) and Ra.One (2011). All these films have gone on to rewrite box office history and set benchmarks of various kinds. Without these Diwali successes, perhaps superstar SRK would never have been.
Only time will tell whether JTHJ will be an addition to this illustrious list. But for Devgn, whose last year's Diwali release Golmaal 3 rocked the box-office, there's a lot of legal 'golmaal' likely to ensue.