The Kashmir Files, directed by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, which caused a furore globally when released in February 2022, is back this week all over the country—back in the theatres, even though it has also streamed since on ZEE5. The reason for its release is because it observes the 33rd anniversary (which fell January 19) of the horrendous planned massacre and displacing of Kashmiri Pandits.
Made at a budget of reportedly around Rs. 20 crore (Rs. 0.2 billion), it raked in over 17 times that figure globally in cinemas alsone. In India, in 2022, it was the biggest hit of 2022 in terms of return on investment (RoI), though Brahmastra: Part One—Shiva did do higher figures, but on a far-higher budget, as did the Kannada film, KGF 2.
Hits are designated usually by any one or more of three parameters—the highest footfalls (which is another story!), the maximum theatrical revenues earned (also in terms of inflation-adjustment, if employed—and accurate!) and the highest return (revenues collected) on investment (that is costs of acquisition by distributors plus publicity and advertising, which is termed as cost of production).
And The Kashmir Files is therefore one of the five biggest hits in the history of Indian cinema in terms of the last category.
Here, for the record, are the other four.
Hindi cinema’s first lost-and-found drama with crime as a major angle, the film was, for those times, not exactly a ‘smallie’. It was directed for Bombay Talkies by Gyan Mukherjee and starred the then top-name Ashok Kumar with Mumtaz Shanti. The hit music was by Anil Biswas with lyrics by Kavi Pradeep, and the film was a blockbuster, even running for 150 weeks in Kolkata. Part of the huge business was also due to the patriotic song Aaj Himalay ki choti se, which was welcomed by Indians under British rule and was the first to face censor flak. Made on a budget of Rs. 200,000, it made 50 times that money!
This film was made on a budget of Rs. 75,000 only, despite having top composer Naushad and frontline lyricist D.N. Madhok. And it raked in almost one crore! Directed by M. Sadiq (later of Chaudhvin Ka Chand fame) and produced by big-name studio owner Abdul Rashid (A.R.) Kardar, it starred Swaranlata, Karan Dewan and Wasti, not exactly big names. The highlight of this social drama of childhood lovers was its music, which had viewers pouring in even for a repeat watch of this star-less film. The chartbusters were led by Zohrabai Ambalewali’s Ankhiyaan milaake jiya bharmake and Ameerbai Karnataki’s Milke bichhad gayi ankhiyaan.
Jai Santoshi Maa (1975)
The film spurred an epidemic of devotional movies and was released in the year of Sholay. No one mentions that it surpassed that bigger film in RoI, as its budget, even in the 1970s, was around Rs. 25 lakh. And it made over Rs. 5 crore in India and some more outside. Directed by Vijay Sharma and produced by Satnam Vohra, it featured non-stars Asis Kumar and Kanan Kaushal with Anita Guha as Santoshi Maa. The hit music was by C. Arjun, and very interestingly, the lyrics were by Kismet’s Kavi Pradeep again, who later went on to win the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke honor.
URI—The Surgical Strike (2019)
Made on a budget of Rs. 25 crore, the movie made over Rs 350 crore. It starred Vicky Kaushal, Yammi Gautam (who later married its debutant director, Aditya Dhar) and Kirti Kulhari. The film was produced by Ronnie Screwvala. Like with The Kashmir Files, it depicted reality—of how India retaliated with a beautifully coordinated surgical strike after Pakistan attacked sleeping Indian armed forces at Uri in 2016 and massacred 19 soldiers.