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‘Never ignore your core audience’ is the lesson filmmakers should learn from Kites, a film that was billed to soar but crash-landed with Indian movie-goers

Thanks to superstar Hrithik Roshan, Indians are being persuaded to eat pasta, not biryani! At least that’s what the actor said while promoting Kites and jocularly suggested that the audience try a new flavour.

Despite his good humour, the actor’s recent brush with the Spanish culture, his culinary suggestions and the film were not readily digested by the poor, biryani-eating audience. So who’s to blame? Should we applaud the Roshans for serving up a new dish and boo the Indian audience for preferring to stick with their staple diet?

Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed watching James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar. I wondered why the talented director, who had once helmed a magnum opus like Titanic which was appreciated globally, chose an Indian name for his next film. (The word ‘Avatar’ has its origin in Sanskrit which is related to Hindu mythology.) The reason we could relate to the title made us proud and helped fetch the highest-ever collection for an English film in India.

This is a paradox when compared to our Indian filmmakers who choose English titles such as Page 3, Partner, All The Best, Rock On and now Kites. Whether it’s a Hindi film with an English title or a Hollywood film with an Indian name, both industries have a common goal – to woo a new market. While, they know how to make hay while the sun shines, we are only making a dent in our growing popularity.

Also, Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Walt Disney have invested around $1.5 million in the Indian entertainment industry, Indian companies like Reliance BIG Pictures are collaborating with directors like Steven Spielberg to churn out films.
Yes, Indian film budgets may not be as large as that of Hollywood films but that hasn’t stopped the Indian film industry from attracting not just the NRI population but also the foreign audience. Perhaps this has prompted Indian filmmakers to use English titles.

Indian filmmakers mistakenly assume that the major chunk of cine-goers comprises the youth and hence use English titles to lure them. In fact, last year, there were 58 films with English titles.
Ever since Hollywood showed an interest in Indian cinema, Indian films have been aimed at a wider and more diverse market. Some examples are My Name Is Khan, Chandani Chowk To China and now, Kites. But the question is: In this crazy bid to explore newer territories, aren’t Indian filmmakers completely ignoring Indian audiences?

When filmmakers focus on the ‘multiplex’ audience’ and now the ‘international market’, they tend to give the mass audience is miss – an audience that forms the backbone of Hindi cinema. No wonder the economics of the Indian film industry has been dwindling over the last few years.
In this headlong rush for profits, directors and producers keep their eye on maximum profits earned within the first three days of a film’s release at the multiplex. These filmmakers seem to forget that it’s not just actors but a good storyline that the audience truly seeks.

Isn’t that why the same audience applauded the ‘prince’ of Hindi films Hrithik Roshan’s performance in films like Jodha Akbar, Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish but failed to display the similar adulation for Kites?
That is why the publicity, number of shows across the globe, a foreign lead actress, a whopping budget of Rs 150 crore and the presence of a mega star like Hrithik couldn’t salvage the situation.
The international storyline is what really buried the film. Almost 60 per cent of the film is in Spanish and English. And the Hindi subtitles don’t help as illiteracy is high in most B and C centres. Hence the common man cannot relate to the film. In fact, the distributor of the film in the Bihar territory is now suing the producers for “selling a Hindi film which in actually in English”.

The second reason could be the values portrayed in the film. Both Hrithik’s and Barbara’s characters share love for money. They even pretend to fall in love with each other due to the same greed. This may not have gone down well with a conservative Indian audience who doubts the sanctity of a relationship based on greed and selfishness.

This is the same audience that earlier appreciated Shah Rukh Khan’s films which were all about Indian values and the purity of love stories. Action films like Gadar also managed to rake in huge sums at the box office merely because true love was the crux of the film. We are a society that has been fed on classic love tales like Heer Ranjha and Sohni mahiwal. Maybe the audience failed to see this truthfulness in Kites.

The film suggests that in spite of the lead actor being a thief, their love story has to be untainted. This is where Kites lacks appeal. This is why everyone could relate to Raj and Simran from DDLJ but not J and Linda of Kites. So it’s not just the language barrier which kept the common man at bay, the youth too (for whom these films are made) was tepid about the film.

Kites is a lesson for our industry. Regardless of how large the market has grown, we need a strong spine – the masses always look for a strong storyline in their language and complete entertainment. This is precisely why dubbed versions of Hollywood films like Spiderman, Superman, Jurrasic Park and 2012 garner huge profits in India.

Kites would have fared much better had Barbara Mori learnt Hindi instead of those tedious Spanish lessons that Hrithik spoke in this film. This despite the fact that the Indian film market is much larger than the industry Mori hails from.

Remember, Kamal Haasan only speaking in a South Indian language in Ek Duje Ke Liye in the initial half of the film? Our moviegoers still lapped up the film. So what if he’s was not speaking Hindi, he was still speaking in an Indian tongue.
Here’s a tip for Hrithik Roshan. Next time you invite guests over for dinner, serve biryani instead!

(Parag Chhapekar is Editor Entertainment, LIVE India and Mee Marathi) 

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