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Firangi Frontier

Amrita Pandey, Senior Vice President – International Distribution and Syndication, Motion Pictures – UTV

For the Hindi film industry to leave a firm global footprint, there are challenges to overcome and lessons to learn

Bucking the trend for the first time in years, the third highest-grossing Indian movie at the UK box office in 2010 is a female-lead movie – We Are Family, with a gross of GBP 711,077, only behind the Khan starrers My Name Is Khan and Dabangg.

Ranbir Kapoor has made his debut in the coveted top grosses list in 2010 in the US for an Indian movie – with Raajneeti crossing the $1.5-million mark.

Ranbir Kapoor in Raajneeti and Imran Khan in I Hate Luv Storys both had their highest UK grossers in 2010, each movie crossing the impressive GBP 500,000 mark. Raajneeti grossing close to GBP 100,000 more than Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani shows that the UK audience prefers different genres and are receptive to fresh marketing campaigns.

With an upward swing in the performance of new and unconventional genres and high concept movies, there is still a downside. Fewer Indian movies are crossing the evasive $2,000,000-mark at the US box office.

In 2006 (the dream year for Indian movies), six movies KANK, Dhoom 2, Don, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Rang De Basanti and Fanaa crossed the 2-million mark; in 2008 there were four movies; and in 2009 and 2010 only one movie each crossed this mark. The cumulative US box office for Hindi movies is on a gradual decline, and this can be easily attributed to Internet piracy.

The highest-grossing overseas markets for our movies are the US, UK, Middle East, Pakistan and Australia. It is interesting to note that some of the markets, which have a high population of overseas Indians don’t feature as our highest-grossing markets. Saudi Arabia (1.78 million Indians compared to 2.2 million in the US) is one such market, where there is no culture of cinemas and movie-going audience.

South Africa has 1.2 million Indians but the average ticket price is just $2. Hence, even with high admissions for a few movies, the theatrical gross is not comparable to Australia (445,000 Indians). Malaysia has 2 million Indians but many of these are Tamil movie audience and the theatre-going culture is dwindling in Malaysia.

Pakistani cinemas have an average ticket price of $3 against the Australia average ticket price of $8. Evaluating the theatrical grosses, clearly Pakistan has higher theatrical admissions than Australia does for most big Indian movies.

A lesser-known, buoyant trend in the Middle East, Indian movies are major contributors to its overall box office. MNIK and 3 Idiots, the highest-grossing Indian movies, have each reportedly crossed the $2.5-million mark, closely behind Hollywood blockbuster Dark Knight, which crossed $3.6 million. No other overseas market sees this close a gap between a Hollywood tentpole and a big Indian movie release.

A few markets which tracked consistently well in the past years, like Mauritius and Malaysia are now on a sharp decline, so also Indonesia television sales. These were all major revenue earners till 2006. Pakistan has grown to be a good theatrical market for Indian movies, with Race as the highest-grossing Indian movie at the box office of $800,000. This is higher than most Hollywood releases in the country.

Some markets like Fiji and Pakistan have a prohibitive double taxation on theatrical revenues – an import duty (26 per cent in Fiji) as well as VAT (12.5 per cent for Fiji). Pakistan levies an import duty.
Classification rating and censorship is critical to the overseas theatrical grosses. Countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand have well-defined classification norms. Movies with adult themes, explicit language or violence and drug usage are rated higher. So even if the movie has an A certificate in India, it may carry a 12 A certificate in these countries that is not restrictive. A higher rating will restrict the family audience and the young crowd to watch the movie thereby, affecting the BO of the movie.

In the case of Islamic countries, provocative topics or religious overtones become impediments in the censorship of the movie. Even Hollywood movies like Bruce Almighty, where divine form has been given an identity, was banned in a few Islamic nations. Therefore, it becomes imperative to proactively identify and address risky content and be prepared to modify the movie so long as it does not damage its essence.

Movies like Raajneeti and No One Killed Jessica were released with an international modified cut with non-restrictive censor ratings, which clearly reflect in the box-office numbers compared to other similar movies. Family co-viewing of movies goes down drastically with higher ratings.

Even the marketing materials need to be geared towards the specific audience that is being targeted. For instance, PEEPLI [Live] was marketed overseas with an international trailer, which was created specifically to give the right background and connection to an overseas audience, which may not get the cultural references movie in the same way as a domestic audience would. The same holds true for other marketing materials including television promos and in-theatre collateral.

Interaction with stars and the audience is a key aspect of overseas promotion and it helps to engage with the audience directly in those markets in innovative ways. For PEEPLI [Live], Aamir Khan attended special preview screenings of the movie and conducted Q&As with the audience overseas leading to a significant box office gross. In North America it was $770,000, making it the first new cast specialty Indian movie to achieve this gross.

Similarly, Akshay Kumar, Farah Khan and Katrina Kaif opened the advance ticketing for Tees Maar Khan in London at the largest grossing theatre for Hindi movies leading to the third highest paid preview grosses in UK for Indian movies.

Social media outlets like Youtube and Facebook are increasingly important platforms to reach out and engage with remote and fragmented audience overseas. The song Sheila ki jawani has got over 6.6 million views on youtube compared to the Inception trailer, which was viewed over 10 million times on the same platform.

Facebook and other social networking sites are great tools for disseminating information and marketing materials of movies as each fan effectively ‘advertises’ the movie to their personal network each time they engage with any of the content online.

Specialty genres call for appropriate changes in locations and cinemas in the release plan. An upper middle-brow Central London theatre featured in the top 3 performing sites on opening weekend for different genre movies like Dhobi Ghat and No One Killed Jessica (also a female lead movie). Shifting the focus from traditional Bollywood sites to these carefully selected central London sites was an experiment backed by conviction which paid off.

Inroads in New Markets
Estonia, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, France, Spain, Korea, China, Taiwan are just some of the new markets, which have seen or will soon see Indian movies like Taare Zameen Par, My Name Is Khan, Guzaarish and Black in a theatre near them or in their local language on prime time television slots.
Terrestrial television in most cases or in home viewing on VOD is an easier first step into a new market, be it Spain, Italy, Turkey, Korea, China. Emergence of these markets recognise the interest in our movies among the non-South Asian audience.

With a surge in international audience, distributor, exhibitor and broadcaster interest in Indian movies, the global footprint of our movies is set to soar in the next two years!

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