MUMBAI (Reuters) - Once a pipe dream for most filmmakers, a billion-rupee haul at the box-office is slowly becoming the norm for Bollywood films, thanks to the rising number of screens and a focus on smaller towns.
Four films -- "Ready", "Singham", "Bodyguard" and "Ra.One" -- crossed the billion-rupee (100 crore rupees) benchmark in 2011 while Karan Malhotra's "Agneepath" achieved the milestone this week.
"There are a lot more theatres than there were before and also, the strategy now is to flood the market with as many prints as possible," says trade analyst Amod Mehra.
"Now, if a big-ticket masala film doesn't make 100 crores, it will be treated as an aberration."
Industry estimates put the number of screens where new films release at nearly 4,000, a number that has grown exponentially in the last couple of years.
A PWC report in 2011 estimated that the number of multiplex screens, around 1000 last year, would double in the next five years.
"Not only has the number of screens increased, but there has been increasing digitisation of single-screens even in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, which means that people now watch movies a lot more often that they used to," says Sunil Punjabi, CEO of the Cinemax multiplex chain.
Big-ticket films would now most likely target returns of 1.5 billion (150 crore) rupees as the previous benchmark is no longer deemed unreachable, says Punjabi.
"To my mind, this year there are at least two films which will target 1.5 billion rupees -- Aamir Khan's ‘Talaash' because it is releasing after the IPL … and Yash Chopra's film, with Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif, because it has all the ingredients of a Diwali blockbuster."
The increasing focus on small towns has also meant there is more revenue coming in from tier-2 and tier-3 cities.
"For a movie to make that kind of money, it has to have a pan-India appeal," says Apoorva Mehta of Dharma Productions, which produced "Agneepath."
"Given that the shelf life of a film is very limited these days, we have to make sure that it reaches as many people as it can on the first weekend itself."
And with movie budgets soaring in the last few years, even a billion rupees may not be enough for some films.
Because of its budget, "Ra.One" wasn't considered a hit despite crossing the billion-rupee benchmark in domestic box-office collections.
"Whether a film crossed a benchmark figure or not, as long as it is budgeted well and is economically viable, it shouldn't really matter," Mehra said.