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Desi Chart Versus American Pie

For quite some time now, Hollywood has been catering to, and banking on, pretty much the entire world rather just its home market. Case in point, more than two-thirds of the revenues for recent blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom accrued from territories other than North America. Indeed, many domestic underperformers like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and The Mummy escaped financial disaster only thanks to their international revenues.

In contrast, the Indian film industry remains largely an Indian enterprise, not only in terms of its content but also the demographic it serves. Our films may have registered an exponential growth in their overseas collections in recent years and occasionally we do see a homegrown product genuinely crossing over to a foreign audience – Dangal’s stupendous performance in China, for example – but the fact remains that we are massively dependent on the Indian diaspora spread all across the world to generate our international ticket sales.

In that regard, we are twice blessed with quantity as well as quality – the 2018 UN World Migration Report declared the Indian diaspora as the world’s largest, with almost 16 million Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) residing abroad and, typically, this group tends to be not only more affluent than the average income levels of their adopted homelands but also maintains strong cultural ties with its Indian roots.

However, while the desi immigrants in New York may be positively predisposed to watch the latest Hindi release, how similar – or different – are their film preferences when compared with those of the movie-goers in New Delhi?

That is the question we are seeking to address this week and to do so, we are comparing the 20 highest grossing Hindi films at the Indian box office with those that topped the charts in North America (i.e. USA and Canada) to examine the degree to which they overlap. As below:

It is a very simple table to read yet it holds many interesting insights, both in terms of where both charts converge and where they differ.

At first glance, the two listings display a pretty high degree of correlation with 15 films featuring on both charts. However, with only four films (Baahubali: The Conclusion, PK, Bajrangi Bahijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo) maintaining the exact same ranking in both geographies, there are subtle but significant variations observable in the two markets’ preferences. Tiger Zinda Hai, for example, weighs in at number three in India but is ranked lower (12th) on the North American charts. Bajirao Mastani, in contrast, substantially improves its 19th position at the Indian box office to take number nine in North America.   

These dissimilarities are accentuated by those titles – five on each chart – that made it to the Top 20 in one market but not the other.

From the Indian chart, Kick, Golmaal Again!!!, Krrish 3, Ek Tha Tiger and Race 3 are the films that do not feature in the North America Top 20. A simplistic interpretation of this could be that massy, ‘commercial’ entertainers do not get as much traction abroad, or at least in the American market, as they do at home.

On the other hand, Monsoon Wedding, Dilwale, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, The Lunchbox and My Name Is Khan find themselves among the American toppers without replicating the feat back home. In fact, The Lunchbox ranks outside the Top 500 earners in India and Monsoon Wedding doesn’t even make it to the Top 1000. One would hypothesize that this points to a number of things – an affinity for films with Shah Rukh Khan as leading man as also the so-called ‘NRI-friendly’ cinema, besides a higher degree of receptiveness to unconventional content than the India market.

To conclude, the Hindi film preferences of the Indian immigrant settled in Chicago or Calgary are not vastly different from the movie-goer in Chandigarh but they are not identical either – in a hat tip perhaps to the blander palates of their adopted homelands, our distant brethren tend to go easy on the masala!

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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