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Aligarh hopes to follow in Neerja’s footsteps

Like Neerja, Hansal Mehta's Aligarh, hopes to start promisingly enough from the 400-450 cinemas it is being released in and gain traction through word of mouth

Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘Aligarh’<br />
Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘Aligarh’

New Delhi: Director Hansal Mehta’s critically acclaimed biographical drama Aligarh has found hope in the success of last Friday’s release Neerja. The high-on-content Sonam Kapoor-starrer that was released in limited shows in around 700 theatres has set the cash registers ringing with opening weekend collections of 22 crore. Mehta’s small-budget content-driven film also hopes to start promisingly enough from the 400-450 cinemas it is being released in and gain traction through word of mouth.

“We’re definitely going pan-India and targeting the metros and several tier-2 cities," said Nandu Ahuja, senior vice-president (India theatrical) at Eros International, co-producers of the film, adding that Neerja is a good example of a film that managed to create waves despite limited release. “But we’re looking at limited shows, slots only beyond a particular time of the day and no back-to-back shows. We want to give the film breathing time and space and strategize smartly to grow gradually in case we decide to increase shows in the subsequent weeks," said Ahuja.

Eros also seeks confidence from the robust box office performances in the past of its other small-budget films—Varun Dhawan’s revenge saga Badlapur and Anushka Sharma-starrer NH10. Both benefited from limited releases last year and notched up collections of 50 crore and 32 crore, respectively, according to movie website Bollywood Hungama.

Manoj Bajpayee (right) and Rajkummar Rao in a still from Aligarh

Aligarh, which has Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao in lead roles, has already received rave reviews at international film festivals at Busan, London and Miami. Based on the life of Aligarh Muslim University professor Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras who was suspended from his job on grounds of sexual orientation and died under mysterious circumstances, the film has recently been in the news for a battle with the censor board for cuts demanded in the narrative and an adult-rated trailer that restricted its promotional opportunities on television.

Technical hurdles notwithstanding, the film seems promising for exhibitors.

“I think these controversies only helped the film," said Rajendar Singh, vice-president, programming and distribution, INOX Leisure Ltd. He added that the remarkable success of offbeat films like Masaan and Titli last year, which made over 3 crore and 1 crore, respectively, and especially crime-drama Talvar, which crossed 30 crore, has shown the way forward.

“Of course, it ultimately depends on the content of the individual movie but the collections of these films have helped other niche films," Singh said.

Eros too has reposed faith in the increasing number of multiplexes that allow such cinema to be made, besides discerning audiences who are likely to opt for a small, well-made film over a meaningless big-ticket commercial entertainer.

“Good films always discover their own audience," said Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive officer, PVR Pictures. “And while there are few of these tightly-budgeted, high-on-content films that receive both critical and commercial appreciation, I think Aligarh is heading that way."

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