It is not uncommon for hit films these days to cross marks like 300 crore and 400 crore. Every once in a while, blockbusters even breach the 1000-crore mark, which had seemed impossible just a decade ago. But it wasn’t always such a windfall for Indian cinema. In fact, up until the late 90s, most films did not even cross Rs 50 crore, let alone a hundred. A number of factors have contributed to this, largely the increase in number of screens in India, wider overseas releases, and of course, rise in ticket prices due to inflation.
So, how does one compare the hits of the past with the blockbusters of this era? The easiest way to do that is to adjust earnings of all films released in past years to one common year, which in this exercise is 2022. Let’s have a look at the highest-grossing Indian films ever, when adjusted for inflation.
The highest-grossing Indian film adjusted for inflation is…
The unsurprising answer is Mughal-e-Azam. K Asif’s magnum opus took over a decade in the making and broke all box office records when it released in 1960. It earned Rs 11 crore globally back then. Adjusting for inflation, Mughal-e-Azam’s worldwide gross comes out to a whopping Rs 3650 crore. Considering it was released in 150 cinemas across India (Pathaan released in 5500 screens in India), that is a massive, almost unbelievable number. But it isn’t surprising considering that the demand for tickets was so high back then that some were sold in black for as high as Rs 100 (almost Rs 4000 today).
Top 10 highest-grossing Indian films adjusted for inflation
The top 10 of Indian films when their earning is adjusted for inflation exclusively consists of all-time blockbusters. Mughal-e-Azam is followed by Ramesh Sippy’s curry western Sholay with an adjusted gross of Rs 2800 crore. Aamir Khan-starrer sports drama Dangal with adjusted earnings of Rs 2650 crore rounds off the top three. Four other films notionally cross the 2000-crore mark when their earnings are adjusted for inflation – Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (Rs 2170 crore), Mother India (Rs 2120 crore), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (Rs 2100 crore), and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge (Rs 2000 crore).
The last three films in the list are all that minted money overseas – Awara (Rs 1940 crore), Disco Dancer (Rs 1650 crore), and Bobby (Rs 1550 crore). All these films were massive successes in the Soviet Union and Mithun’s Disco Dancer even became the first Indian film to gross Rs 100 crore worldwide (Rs 94 crore of those came from Russia).
How did we arrive at these figures?
This article uses multiple sources, namely past reports from business publications like Forbes, The Hindu, Mint, and Business Standard. It also takes into account inflation and exchange rate changes of major currencies like dollar, pound, rouble, euro and yuan (territories where Indian films have historically done very well). It also references peer-reviewed articles from University of British Columbia that charted historical exchange rates and inflation.
All this gives an estimate of how much a film’s earnings are likely to increase by. For instance, a film released in 1960 will see its earnings increased by 300-350 times by 2022, but for a film releasing in the mid-90s, the increase would be 8-10 times.
Will any Indian film ever cross Mughal-e-Azam?
With the increase in screen count and wider global releases, as well as rise of pan-India films, one would assume it would be easy for most big films to outdo past hits. But very few films have come close to the mark of footfalls set by hits like Mughal-e-Azam and Sholay. The chief reason is that more films are produced today and hence, films stay in theatres for shorter durations. The definition of silver jubilee has changed from 25 weeks to 25 days. Hence, it is difficult – but not impossible to beat this mark. Dangal and Baahubali 2 both came close. Now, if a film can combine what worked for both these releases – pan-India success and bumper earnings from China – it may just topple the classics from their perch. What remains to be seen is whether such a film will ever be made.