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The engine that powers the world economy, the mighty superpower that will soon overtake the US as the fulcrum of global geopolitics, the last bastion of communism – whatever else China might have been characterised as, a magnet for medical tourism isn’t a description you hear often.

It would seem surprising, then, that the multibillionaire and superhero, to boot, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man went to China for surgery in Iron Man 3. And if you were to check out the version of the film that released in China, you’d be even more surprised to see that Tony Stark’s surgery was preceded by a couple of scenes featuring Chinese superstar actress, Fan Bingbing – because neither the scenes nor that  character feature in the cut that the rest of the world saw!

Similarly, while the city of Shanghai appears only in a brief montage in the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis starrer Looper, the version released for Chinese audiences had substantially more footage of scenes featuring the city.

These are just a couple of examples of the increasingly frequent trend of Hollywood going out of its way to somehow weave in a Chinese connect in its films – whether in terms of casting, shooting locations, plot or even in-film promotional placements. At the heart of this phenomenon is plain and simple commerce – China is by far the largest international market for Hollywood films. Had that position been occupied by India, you can safely bet that Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Paduokne, Priyanka Chopra or our other leading ladies would have been approached for that cameo in Iron Man 3 and Looper would have featured Mumbai or Delhi rather than Shanghai!

But this note really isn’t about China or Hollywood.

The point is that the commercial prospects of a film improve, potentially at least, in regions that are familiar with the geographical and socio-cultural base of the narrative. Logically, what holds true at the international level – Chinese affinity for localised Hollywood films – should also apply at the intra-national level – audiences in, say, Gujarat being more likely to watch a Hindi film that is based in Ahmedabad rather than, say, Aizwal. 

To test that theory, we have taken a cross-section of films released over the last few years to analyse what impact, if any, the geographical setting of a film’s narrative has on the collections that accrue from that specific region. Take a look at the table below:

*Net domestic collections, rounded off to the nearest crore

~Based on territorial contribution to All-India NBOC in 2016 

The way to read this table is: of the approximately  Rs60 crore that Udta Punjab collected at the domestic box office, almost 19 per cent was contributed by the territory of East Punjab that encompasses the region that the story of the film was set in. On average, East Punjab usually accounts for 12 per cent of Hindi films’ all-India collections.  Therefore, Udta Punjab’s collections from EP were a healthy 56 per cent higher than the norm.

While the data above is admittedly not all-encompassing, the limited sample does suggest that films tend to get a boost in the geographies that mirror their respective on-screen milieus.  The extent of that impact can vary quite substantially, at least at first glance – Chennai Express, for example, experienced a massive 165 per cent jump in collections from TNK, while Bajirao Mastani, on the other hand, witnessed a seemingly more modest 8 per cent gain from the Mumbai territory where its story was based.

However, we need to bear in mind the vastly different weightages that different territories have in terms of their contribution to the Hindi film box office. In absolute terms, Chennai Express’ TNK increase works out to around  Rs5 crore, not very distant from Bajirao Mastani’s Mumbai gain of approximately Rs4 crore.

Long story short, you can quite realistically expect a better-than-normal return from territories that feature most prominently in your film. The moot point, of course, is how that potential upside measures up to the cost of shooting there; and even more importantly, whether catering to one regional taste runs any risk of alienating other, more remunerative, territories.

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