Let us start this week’s note by testing your knowledge of trade trivia.
Question: What did the 55th highest (if you can call it that!) grosser from the 226 Hindi films that released in India in 2016 have in common with 9 of the Top 10, and 17 of the Top 20 films at the North America box office? Answer: A 3D format release.
But that, pretty much, is where the similarity ends. While the two Hindi language 3D releases last year – Motu Patlu: King Of Kings and Chaar Sahibzaade – Rise Of Banda Singh Bahadur – together mustered collections of barely Rs 5 crore at the domestic box office, the performance of the
chart-topping 3D releases in North America was substantially better – ranging from USD 144 million (around Rs 922 crore) for the 20th ranked film, Kung Fu Panda 3, to more than USD 486 million (Rs 3,110 crore) for the top-ranked Finding Dory.
Quite clearly, when it comes to fully exploiting the 3D format, the North American and Indian film markets are operating in different dimensions, quite literally. That is also apparent from the output in that format in the two territories, as below:
*Excludes Hindi dubbed versions of international/regional films
As we can see, last year saw as many as 52 3D releases in North America, virtually one for each week of the year. In contrast, we had one for each half of the year with a mere two releases! And the trends would suggest that the gap between the two markets is likely to get even wider, what with 3D releases in US/Canada on an upward trajectory while we are not even keeping up with the meager numbers we mustered 3-4 years ago.
The low traction for 3D films in India can partly be attributed to infrastructural issues. Less than 850 properties across India – or just about 10 per cent of Indian theatres – are technically equipped to play out 3D content. In contrast, almost 40 per cent of North America’s 43,000+ screens are capable of doing so.
The high degree of 3D-readiness observed in North America is by no means a unique phenomenon. In fact, other markets boast of even more impressive numbers – 43 per cent of all screens in Latin America, 44 per cent of screens in Europe and the Middle East and an eye-popping 71 per cent of screens in the Asia Pacific region are capable of supporting that format.
With digital 3D projection technology being in the advanced state that it is, the cost of increasing such screens in India wouldn’t by itself be exorbitant. The moot point, obviously, is the certainty and quantum of the pay-off that would accrue from this expenditure.
That leads us to what really lies at the heart of the Hindi film industry’s yet tentative relationship with 3D. The reason why so few exhibitors have invested in technology to enable 3D playout is because few Hindi films are made in the format, and that, in turn, stems from the uneven track record of desi 3D releases at the box office.
Stray hits like Chota Chetan, Dhoom: 3, Haunted, Raaz 3 and ABCD 2 notwithstanding, we are yet to see a monster hit whose success is attributable solely, or at least predominantly, to the fact that it was in 3D. Consequently, the format has never really gained any sort of momentum. Indeed, as we pointed out earlier, it is on a downward trajectory.
Our reluctance to truly embrace 3D is unfortunate for a number of reasons. For one, it is an innovation and a value-add for which the consumer is willing to pay a premium, leading to potentially higher collections. Further, and most importantly, it is a format that is tailor-made for the big-screen, in-theatre experience that distinguishes films from any other form of entertainment. The thrill of sitting in a darkened auditorium and instinctively ducking a projectile seemingly headed in your direction is one that cannot be replicated on a computer or mobile phone screen, making 3D films less susceptible to the ravages of piracy than regular films are.
It is in our own best interest, therefore, to not get disheartened by the failures of the past and make a far better stab at realising the potential of this format. The key to that, as with almost everything in our business, is to get the content right.
Not every movie is going to benefit from being in 3D. There is little that the format has to offer for a film like Dangal or the recent Hindi Medium, for example. On the other hand, a visual extravaganza like Baahubali can quite easily and organically elevate the viewer experience (and admission fee!) with a 3D release.
To conclude, as the Indian audience’s patronage of Hollywood 3D tent poles proves, our lack of success with 3D has more to do with our understanding of – and catering to – the strengths of the format rather than some bizarre aversion to 3D in our national DNA. And that is something that needs an in-‘depth’ correction… pun fully intended!