MUMBAI: Live action films producer Yash Raj Films’ foray into animation films along with Walt Disney Studios can be touted as a watershed moment for the Indian film industry. The coming together of two stalwarts, each with their own set of strengths, raised expectation levels from Roadside Romeo.
While the movie may not have met with resounding success at the box office, companies planning big animation projects say that the film trade and audiences’ response towards Roadside Romeo has not affected their plan of action. However, if sources are to be believed, it has made most companies realign their strategies.
Prior to its release, Roadside Romeo was watched with careful scrutiny by one and all in the industry, be it animation movie producers, film distributors or even exhibitors.
UTV Motion Pictures COO production Alpana Mishra says, "With the release of Roadside Romeo one was hoping for success in the animation area, because it sets the path for forthcoming films and tests the market. But it is still early days for animation movies."
Whether the audiences anticipated and got something out of the movie cannot be ascertained. But the film industry hoped for Roadside Romeo to be a benchmark film in the absolute sense, but was disappointed to end up with only Dos and Don’ts tips.
For starters, the movie raised the bar of quality for Indian animation movies and created new benchmarks in 3D animation.
To highlight some more aspects of Roadside Romeo:
- Made on a lavish budget of Rs 200+ million (Rs 20+ crores).
- Did net business of Rs 55.40 million (Rs 5.54 crores) in India in 2 weeks.
- Released in Hindi language, with approximately 250 prints and was screened only in multiplexes.
- Length was limited to 93 minutes.
- For the first time, an animation film got 4 shows or more, daily, for a week, and none of them were cancelled.
- Roadside Romeo released on 24 October and is now in its 4th week.
The movie’s marketing kicked off with a music release cum fashion show. The campaign was activated a month prior to its release and brands such as Popley, Bodycare, Catmoss and Lakhani amongst others were roped in for merchandising and publishing.
On the flip side, Roadside Romeo’s marketing and release were drastically affected due to next week’s releases – Golmaal Returns and Fashion – which brought a divide. Lead voices of the movie – Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor did not lend a hand to promote the movie, which caused a major dent.
The movie’s storyline brought about mixed reactions with some calling it a light-hearted movie, to others classifying it as having a thin plot. All this, because the movie was not targeted at any particular audience segment; it was not a kid’s movie per se and other age groups have little or no compelling interest in animation movies. To add fuel to the fire, comparisons were made with the likes of Shrek, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, which rank as best animation flicks globally and have more noteworthy stories.
"Just like superstars cannot cover-up for a bad storyline in a live action movie, good quality animation cannot cover-up for a bad storyline in animation movies. An engaging story will find its audience in a live action, regional, Hollywood or animation movie. Roadside Romeo should have concentrated on its script," opines an animation movie producer on condition of anonymity.
Roadside Romeo was expected to be a corrective remedy in the perception of Indian animation movies. However the perception that now floats in the market is that “Animation movies anyhow don’t fare well, to add to that even Yash Raj’s animation movie has failed.”
That said and done, very few will admit that it takes a lot of conviction to invest heavily in a nascent industry that has immense potential and moreover that Yash Raj Films have always been pioneers.
On the one hand, where animation is in its nascent stages in India, on the other merchandising and publishing market too is considered a fair weather friend. There have been more cases of flop shows as compared to a handful of unparalleled examples like Hanuman and Krrish. The fact remains that the movie’s box office performance lends itself heavily to the merchandise sales.
Percept joint managing director Shailendra Singh says, "I haven’t see Roadside Romeo but the feedback that I received was that while the animation quality was good, the content did not address its target audience – the children, and hence may not have done as well as it could have. But in terms of animation, marketing and distribution they have done a commendable job. Maybe, a little bit more could have been done in terms of marketing activities through a 360-degree approach."
An animation movie’s cost is the most vital point of concern. The investment and returns have to be pre-calculated, especially because Indian theatrical market for animation movies is still miniscule.
Until a few years back, producers cited star dates, costs and taxing shooting schedules as excuses towards investment in animation content. However now, animation movies are made at the same cost as live action movies; moreover star power is added to the voiceovers to broaden its appeal. Have animation movies then been reduced to only telling stories that at times cannot be told via live action movies?
An animation flick made within a budget of Rs 100 – 150 million (Rs 10 – 15 crores) and dubbed in two or more languages has the ability to sail through but as costs increase, recoveries are bound to face troubled waters.
"Dubbing the movie into Tamil and Telugu opens up more revenue streams. The film not only gets theatrical exposure in those languages and regions but also rakes in money for music, satellite, home video and then even merchandising in those regions," says UTV Motion Pictures vice president India distribution Suniel Wadhva.
While UTV dubbed Jodhaa Akbar and Race in Tamil and Telugu; in an ideal scenario a well made animation movie with a good story, marketed well to its target audience and dubbed in two or more languages can do a gross business of Rs 150 – 170 million (Rs 15 – 17 crores) theatrically and the balance is likely to be recovered through satellite, music and home video in each of the languages.
Amongst other companies, UTV and Percept have a couple of animation movies lined up for release. Percept has Jumbo up for release on 19 December with Akshay Kumar’s voiceover this year, whereas Hanuman 3 – Return of Ravana is currently in production. On the other hand, UTV will release Alibaba and 41 Thieves in April/May 2009 and Arjuna during 2009 Christmas or 2010 summer. Apart from these some other animation films to watch out for are Sultan from Ocher Studios and Koochie Koochie Hota Hain from Dharma Productions.
So while Roadside Romeo raised the bar in terms of quality, these forthcoming movies need to hold fort on quality, content as well as cost. The collective formula of these three is likely to be the elixir for Indian animation movies going forward.