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The Diverse States Of Two Diverse Unions

Whenever India is mentioned in conjunction with some other country or geographical grouping, chances are that the first name to crop up would be that of Pakistan, what with the substantial and ongoing baggage of history and acrimony shared by the two countries.

Add the variables of population size and rapid economic growth to that mix of geographical proximity and occasional animosity, and China instantly springs to mind. If the discussion has a historical context, Great Britain would be top-of-the-mind as India’s colonial ruler. Similarly, any debate on the concept of democracy would invariably cite both the US and India as the world’s oldest and largest democracies, respectively.

As opposed to the foregoing examples, the continent of Europe is not obviously, nor frequently, linked with India. Though, when you really think about it, there are some pretty strong associations that can be made.

History, for starters.

After all, it was not just the British who were drawn to the land of spices, indigo and other wealth. Indeed, the British presence in India was predated by more than a century-and-a-half of the arrival of the Portuguese Vasco Da Gama in Calicut in 1498. And neither Portugal nor Mr Da Gama would have laid claim to that record if the Italian Christopher Columbus had access to Google Maps to take him to his intended destination, instead of losing his way to discover America! Add to that list the French colony of Pondicherry, the Dutch control over the Coromandel Coast and the Danish outposts in modern-day South India and the Nicobar Islands. Technically, even Spain briefly had claim over India by divine right, quite literally, thanks to a papal decree. To digress: England, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands, France, Denmark and Spain – not a bad roster at all for a high quality football tournament, UEFA please note!

Besides the pages of history, the Indo-Europe connection also exists in a complex and very significant socio-political experiment that started at round about the same time in both regions.

The India that was born on August 15, 1947 was an amalgamation of not only the territory under British rule but also literally hundreds of independent and semi-independent princely states. A bewildering diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages came together under a common flag and constitution to forge a federation that, almost miraculously, has not only survived but also made significant progress over the last seventy years.

Parallely, there was a strong desire in post-World War II Europe to forge strong alliances and ties to prevent future confrontations. A process that began in 1951 led to the modern day European Union in which, without outright surrendering their sovereignty, 28 member states work closely together under a common flag and parliament (in addition to their individual ones) as also, for the vast majority, a common currency – the Euro. While Great Britain’s decision to opt out (Brexit) may have taken some of the sheen off, the fact remains that, like India, the European Union is an experiment that has largely worked.

Having established that there is much more that India has in common with Europe than is obviously apparent, let’s put our film trade caps back on and see how the two compare as film markets.   

Recently (June 19-22), the cinema exhibition community of Europe held its annual convention, CineEurope, in Barcelona. In the lead-up to the event, the Union Internationale des Cinemas (UNIC) – the umbrella organisation for national exhibitors’ associations across the continent – released a report highlighting the state of Europe’s box office in 2016. Based on the findings of that study, let us see how the two regions stack up.

The table is easy to read and self-explanatory. Except for the fact that India is substantially more populous than the entire continent of Europe, we lag behind on every parameter. Nor are we close runners-up, with the gap being in multiples in every comparison.

However, one area where India’s inferior numbers in relation to Europe are not really undesirable is in the extent of dominance of Hollywood in each market. Though growing substantially, Hollywood films still account for just about one-tenth of our overall collections, while holding sway over more than two-thirds of the European box office.

That, though, is the only bright spark in a pretty lop-sided comparison that underlines the fact that despite our recent economic strides, India is still a developing country whereas Europe is home to some of the most advanced economies in the world.

But maybe another factor too has contributed to the substantial difference in the two market sizes, and it is something we had pointed out in a recent note, (Be Careful What You Wish For, issue dated June 17, 2017). This being the first Box Office India edition in India’s GST era, reprinting a table that featured in that note becomes doubly relevant.

Well, let’s just say that for the Indian film industry, the EU model has been replaced by the FU principle!

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