In the ’90s, Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997), and then The Matrix (1999) redefined entertainment. And our hunger for good entertainment has only increased since then. Despite great openings and collections of Hindi and regional language movies in India, English titles have witnessed robust growth over the last couple of years. In 2016, gross box office collection of English films grew by 10% compared to 2015, as per the FICCI-KPMG Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2017. The Jungle Book (2016) became the highest grossing Hollywood film in India collecting around `250 crore. This year saw films like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Beauty and the Beast, Fate of the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dunkirk and Wonder Woman do well at the home box office. But compared to previous years, 2017 was not a great year for Hollywood movies. “While last year was exceptional, this year we are still waiting for that one universal hit that will define 2017,” notes Amrita Pandey, vice president — studios, Disney India.
Indian audiences are increasingly lining up for Hollywood movies, overlooking the cultural and language differences due to the variety in the content that the films offer — fantasy, superhero, science fiction, horror, etc. This has encouraged local and international studios to dub these universally appealing stories in local languages, and release them in smaller cities and towns to reach a wider audience base. With that as the context, how viable is the Indian market for Hollywood titles?
Reel to real
“With the right content, localisation, distribution, marketing and promotional push, Hollywood films can reach far and wide,” muses Pandey. With nearly 40% of English releases being dubbed in at least one regional language, Rakesh Jariwala, partner, media and entertainment, EY India goes on to highlight that with the rising trend of Bollywood actors such as Irrfan Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone acting in Hollywood movies, the uptake is high. He says, “India and China are very important markets for Hollywood due to the sheer number of movie goers. One strategy that producers adopt is to shoot a part of the movie in India.” Some films that have featured Indian landscapes, even when it wasn’t really necessary for the story, include The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Supremacy and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol while in some other cases, India was an integral part of the story.
In terms of distribution, besides effective use of social media, the attempt is also to get a Hollywood actor for promotion in India and align with English TV film channels to showcase prequels or movies of the star/director to add to the appeal of the release. For instance, Tom Cruise, Neel Sethi and Vin Diesel have visited India to connect with their fans; or consider how before the release of Beauty and the Beast, lead actor Emma Watson sent out a special Holi message to the Indian audience. Also, over time, brands across categories have realised the potential of cinema as a medium to not only reach their consumers but also drive engagement and affinity. Hollywood franchises bring in that sheen of ‘global’ to both international as well as local brands. For instance, Oppo India collaborated with Thor Ragnarok to launch its new smartphone, Oppo F5.
The handset company believes that associating with brands like Marvel and Disney will help in reaching out to a larger base of young Indian audiences. With every box checked, issues still exist when it comes to releasing a film here. For instance, producers struggle to find release dates which are not crowded — festive weekends are typically monopolised by big Bollywood releases, which means 10% of the calendar is off limits. “Getting the day and date is very critical as we are able to capitalise on the buzz emanating from the international markets. One of the most important aspects of a film release is to get the date right, especially in a country like ours which is very busy as far as regional films are concerned,” points out Vivek Krishnani, managing director, Sony Pictures Entertainment India.
Frame by frame marketing
Content consumption has grown not just in tier I cities but also tier II and III centres with the increased penetration of 3D-enabled screens and multiplexes. Earlier, Hollywood films were more targeted and metro-focussed, but today, the promotion of a Hollywood film is no different when compared to a big-ticket Hindi movie. Ground promotions in big and small markets, television integrations and use of regional publications form a crucial part of the media strategy today. Also, with increasing multiplexes in India, audiences are willing to experience and pay more for watching films in a 3D-enabled theatre or a screen with Atmos sound and IMAX, thereby increasing the acceptability and demand for Hollywood films.
“The bitter truth also has been that Hindi films have not managed to offer technologically advanced cinematic experiences,” says Rudrarup Datta, head of marketing, Viacom18 Motion Pictures. So much so that in 2016, supernatural horror film The Conjuring 2 grossed `5.25 crore on its opening day while the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Te3n only netted `2.61 crore, as per reports. However, many believe that instances like these are just cases in point, and both — Hollywood and Bollywood — can continue to grow together given the growing demand. Even exhibitors have upgraded their facilities; a large number of E screen cinemas have converted to D screen cinemas in tier II and III cities, giving more avenues to Hollywood films to reach unexplored territories.
“For a brand like ours, Hollywood films work well,” says Kamal Gianchandani, chief of strategy, PVR while adding that they contribute close to 30% to the revenue, thanks to the more expensive tickets that some of these films demand. Another factor that is acting as a boon for internationals films is over-the-top (OTT) services. While it may seem as a threat, audiences are now open to a wider array of stories and experiences; which means that more than ever, they want to go to the theatre for a cinematic experience which is often a mainstay of Hollywood spectacles.
DTH service providers too have grabbed on to this mania and launched special channels for English films, at a premium. For instance, in 2015, Videocon d2h launched a new active HD Channel — Active HD Hollywood Channel services for its subscribers with Skoda roped in as channel partner. This, according to various studios, helps in increasing the reach of Hollywood films. “Most being franchise films, it only helps in building the market for the film next in line of the franchise,” says Datta. In short, if one looks at just the list of the top 15 Hollywood movies in terms of the Indian box office apart from the tent-pole franchises — like the success of Baby Driver to The Angry Birds Movie, Don’t Breathe, Suicide Squad and Dunkirk — it showcases the diversity and richness of content: an indicator that an average Indian moviegoer is evolving.