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Hollywood films are helping the market grow

Vivek Krishnani, Managing Director – Sony Pictures India, speaks to Rohini Nag about the steadily growing market share of Hollywood films in India, and how he plans to integrate this reality while marketing English films in a country as diverse as ours

How has the response been at the box office with The Angry Birds release?

The movie was hugely anticipated, particularly one that is not a sequel, thanks to the fact that the awareness of the franchise in India is 98 per cent amongst the target audience and, that we have promoted it as an event film that cannot be missed.

While it’s still too early and the numbers are coming in, it looks like we are on track to post the highest opening day figures for an animated movie in India. This follows super openings globally from territories such as US, China, Latin America and a host of European countries and the film has collected over US$ 155 million in 10 days, which is great for an original animated film.

Hollywood films have started giving Bollywood releases tough competition to almost every week. With your upcoming slate of Hollywood releases, how do you plan to market your films?

We welcome the fact that Hollywood films are resulting in overall market growth, and this growth can be attributed to an increase in multiplexes and 3D screens as well as a widening of audience preferences. We’ve always believed that there’s an audience for all kinds of films in
India; it’s just a matter of getting space in this overcrowded and under-screened market.

We have great hopes for The Angry Birds movie, which just released on May 27. We marketed the film the way we have always – with a heavy local flavour. The costumed characters toured the country and participated in local cultural pastimes, whether it was visiting the iconic Café Yezdan in Pune or a dandiyanight in Ahmedabad or riding the metro in Delhi to catching a train in Mumbai.

Moreover, with creative integrations, we are taking the film closer to the people. We have an integration with popular Hindi kids’ show Baal Veer on SAB TV, whereThe Angry Birds characters are being integrated into the plot, and characters are engaging with Sunil Gavaskar and Navjot Singh Sidhu on IPL Extraaa Innings. We are also sending them to various celebrities, to give ‘Angry Awards’ to people who are angry for a just cause, such as Sonakshi Sinha who is angry at cyber bullying, Neha Dhupia who is angry at lack of freedom of speech, or RJ Malishka, who is angry at indifference in civic issues. So TV, cricket, Bollywood – these are India’s passions and that is where we are.

Your upcoming slate of films is a mix of genres. How do you decide which film should be dubbed and which film should be marketed in what manner?

The films that generally work in the dubbed versions tend to be big-budget films, high on special effects, horror films, franchise films, and now increasingly, animated films. They have to have playability and aspects that would appeal to the regional audience. In terms of marketing,
The Angry Birds movie is a prime example of a global brand that has become local. It can be seen at almost every traffic light. The brand has an extremely high awareness in India. Even though it is a relatively new brand launched in 2009, it is known across all age groups.

Also, unlike live action films, animated characters tend to be less culturally identifiable. All these are reasons the movie has been marketed in a very local manner – right from the tour we mentioned, to scripting by Bollywood scriptwriter Mayur Puri, who has written scripts for blockbusters like Om Shanti Om and Happy New Year. He has given the characters local flavour suited to the respective language market.

Do you think the increase in multiplexes and technology (3D) could be the reasons why Hollywood films are doing well in Indian cinemas?

Yes, those are contributing factors. The audience’s tastes are also changing, and with specialised dubbing, we are able to increase the reach of the films and make them more accessible, thereby helping grow the market.

The Angry Birds movie has been dubbed in Tamil too, and for the Hindi dialogue, you hired reputed writers. What was the thinking behind these choices?

Animated films are increasingly being appreciated by the dubbed language audience. If you think about it, kids’ channels have been dubbing animation in multiple languages for years and comics in local languages are very much part of Indian tradition. So to dub in Hindi and Tamil was a natural decision. For Hindi, we wanted to ‘trans-create’ the script and make it more local, more street-friendly, to better reflect the way people really talk, rather than just literally translating the English dialogue, some of which is not culturally relevant.

Earlier, Hollywood films had a market only among the English-speaking audience but now dubbed Hindi versions are taking away a huge share of the pie. How do you plan to penetrate newer markets, like Marathi Gujarati or even Punjabi?

Hollywood films are not taking away a huge share but are instead helping the market grow – there is always room for quality content and as long as the content is good, it works irrespective of language or genre. Dubbing helps us reach out to movie-goers who enjoy films in their own language and thereby help grow the market. In fact, Sony Pictures was the first to dub in Bhojpuri with Spider-Man 3. It was an experiment back in 2007 but dubbing in other languages apart from Hindi, Tamil and Telugu is something that is looking more of a possibility now as long as it makes commercial sense.

What changes do you foresee while releasing Hollywood films in the future?

It’s great to be part of a market that has evolved so that a film in any language can perform, whether it is in a variety of local languages or English. It’s a real indication that content matters in its purest form.

With regard to Hollywood films, the huge tent poles are performing and we hope we are able to continuously bring content that engages and excites the Indian audience to come to cinemas. Besides this, Hollywood films are also releasing on the same day along with the US market as India is a priority market and Hollywood stars are also more accessible to the Indian media. This helps us get a voice in the local media and we see that becoming a norm in the time to come.

With the growth in plexes armed with quality infrastructure in Tier I cities, we also believe that Hollywood films will get better showcasing and will be able to reach out to a newer audience, thereby helping the box office grow.

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