FOR AN INDUSTRY PEDDLING TRADITION, this is a new script. There are no big banner releases lined up this Diwali—Action Replayy and Golmaal 3 are by smaller banners. Till now the festival was considered a good way to set off fireworks at the box office. Film industry analyst Komal Nahta says a Diwali release ensured 20% higher ticket collections than any other time of year. So, if it fell on a Tuesday, the films would be released the previous Friday, and the bigger production houses would use their muscle to release films exactly on Diwali if the festival fell mid-week. Now, however, with India Inc. hiking advertising spends for Diwali, big studios find themselves outgunned (smaller ones still rely on the festival since it offers them some buffer even if their releases flop). Industries such as consumer durables spend about 30% of their annual advertising budget during Diwali. “With so much media clutter, it’s difficult to get noticed,” says Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO, UTV Motion Pictures. Other producers complain they need to spend at least 15% more on marketing to stand out during the festival.

Bollywood’s biggest stars, too, have abandoned Diwali. Take Shah Rukh Khan. Historically, his biggest hits were all Diwali releases (see timeline). But his new films, Ra.One and Don 2—The Chase Continues, will release, respectively, in April and December next year. Nahta says Salman Khan is now launching his films around Eid, and Aamir Khan over Christmas. Then there’s the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Guza­arish, produced by UTV on a budget of Rs 50 crore, which will release some two weeks after Diwali this year. Director Madhur Bhandarkar says producers need to be smart about a Diwali launch. “My film Fashion (released in Diwali 2008) worked because it was of a different genre and generated a lot of curiosity.” Bollywood can no longer bet on lights alone.

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