MUMBAI: Sample this, India released approximately 150 Hindi films, 600 regional language films (including dubbed movies), 200 Hollywood and other international films over the last two years. Adding to this pie over the last year or so is world cinema, which is unleashing its marvel in India like never before.
The year gone by has seen six Indian companies namely NDTV Lumière, Palador Pictures, Sahara Firangi, Shemaroo Entertainment, Sony Pix and UTV World Movies either expanding or plunging into the world cinema ocean. Collectively, the total library strength of world cinema movies in India is approximately 2000.
The most widely accessible platforms to exploit these movies in India are the television, home video and theatres. While majority of the companies are tapping at least two of these to showcase their fare, all of them are actively involved on TV by way of syndicating movies with existing movie channels or even rolling out new channels. The idea is to be available on as many platforms as possible.
For an average Indian movie buff, the first preference for watching a movie in theatres is a Bollywood one, followed by a regional language movie and then a Hollywood movie. This takes care of their money and time consumption, leaving very little scope for audiences to explore the new genre of world cinema in theatres.
Additionally, since the audience interested in world cinema forms a minority and is also scattered at present, it does not make economic sense to showcase these films on a large scale in theatres. Over the last one year, world cinema movies have been making their way into theatres in India. However, the theatrical release of these is limited to three – four metros in India, and that too is restricted to one theatre per city.
The legal home video market and the internet are in their nascent stages of growth in India; therefore these don’t add extensively to revenues for world cinema movies. Sadly though, illegal import of world cinema movies is a successful business on home video and the internet is primarily used for downloading pirated copies of these movies.
Thus, by way of elimination, this makes television the most feasible option to exploit world cinema content. Amidst all the soap operas and reality shows, world cinema has the capability of becoming the distinguishing content on this platform.
UTV World Movies COO Dilshad Master concurs, “Television is a mass medium compared to home video or theatre and therefore we decided to showcase our library first and foremost on TV followed by a theatrical run and home video release for some movies.” World Movies channel rolled out in February this year and has invested close to $5 million for building a library of 500 world cinema movies.
Besides UTV, NDTV has also rolled out a world cinema dedicated channel – NDTV Lumière a few months back. Initially NDTV’s business plan was to invest only in the set up of a channel but the company revised its plan and tapped the theatrical and home video markets before TV. The reason citied is that doing so would help them build buzz around the film that would eventually translate into more audiences on TV. Internet is also a medium that NDTV Lumiere is looking at. The company tied up with Jaman.com
to stream its world cinema films recently.
To cut a long story short, the plan is to go about the release of world cinema movies like any other movie in India. “It is absolutely necessary to have a suitable distribution plan in place in order to have the ability to acquire a large quantity of films,” reasons NDTV Lumière co-founder and director Sunil Doshi. Over the last few years, Doshi has built a library of 300 world cinema movies and partnered with NDTV to release them.
On the other hand, Palador Pictures has syndicated some of its movies to English movie channel Zee Studio for a weekly telecast. Last year, the company had also tied up with Direct to Home (DTH) service provider Tata Sky to showcase eight movies. Palador strongly believes in selling catalog of movies as collectors’ item on home video.
“The world cinema business in India is not title-based. It is more of a catalog or category based business. The medium that any company taps is and should be based entirely on their catalog of movies,” says Palador Pictures founder and managing director Gautam Shiknis.
Sony Entertainment Television’s English movie channel Pix’s library is primarily dominated by Hollywood classics. It has 40 world cinema movies in its kitty. On the other hand, Sahara One Media and Entertainment’s Firangi also showcases world cinema; however its approach towards this is different. Firangi dubs movies in Hindi, which according to channel head Rajeev Chakraborty, gives them a wider reach.
Since the world cinema business on TV is still in nascent stages, none of the players have managed to create a footprint that will generate sizeable revenues. Moreover, it may also be unfair to expect much, too soon.
Home video company Shemaroo Entertainment has acquired licenses of 70 world movies. For Shemaroo, home video as a medium will remain the primary area for tapping revenues for its world cinema bouquet. While they are in talks with TV channels for syndicating movies, tapping the theatrical market is not on the agenda as of now.
Shemaroo Entertainment director Hiren Gada says, “In India, the theatrical release of world cinema movies is more of a promotional activity. Additionally, factors such as print availability and its import have to be borne in mind so as to release these films theatrically.”
Notwithstanding this, in times to come the theatrical market is likely to be more responsive, provided such movies are given a well strategized, platform release backed with a strong PR campaign.
Challenges faced by world cinema in India
The mammoth task that lies ahead in front of these companies is to identify the right audience for world cinema and deliver it to them via the most appropriate medium.
Along with this, it is also necessary to simultaneously create new audiences for world cinema, thereby increasing the overall consumption. Furthermore, the perception of world cinema in audiences’ mind, which is — ‘If it is world cinema, it’s not meant for me’ — has to be corrected.
The next big trial for ALL companies is to fight piracy. The Indian market has for long been infested with pirated world cinema movies on DVD and on the internet. Hence even for world cinema lovers, pirated platforms have been the only means of access… until now.
Now, when the market is actually beginning to stock original copies of these movies, consumers have an option to choose between cheap pirated movies (Rs 100 onwards) and original content priced at a premium (Rs 400 onwards). Moreover, if it was not for piracy, investments from all these companies would be higher, but now projections are adjusted keeping in mind the current piracy scenario.
On the other hand, India has few multiplexes and an even lower per screen average; making box office a non-significant contributor unlike in other markets worldwide.
In India, what attracts most eyeballs is a name attached to a film, be it that of an actor, actress or sometimes even a director and producer. In such a case, one will have to see what will pull audiences towards world cinema. As is said, content is King and it’s the story that has an ever lasting impression in the memory. One may actually see this working in favor of world cinema.
Factors favoring world cinema in India
Mass exposure to media has created a class of viewers who are discerning and looking for high quality cinema and are willing to experiment with their cinema habits.
Unlike the theatrical and home video segments, which are user funded, the television medium is advertiser funded. Long term operational costs on television are also much lesser, therefore it is easier to get audiences hooked on to this medium.
After cultivating world cinema viewing habits on TV, it can be followed up and monetized by companies on home video and theatrical medium.
Going forward, it remains to be seen how the market and audiences take to world cinema. Industry professionals who have studied the market feel that market dynamics for the segment will get more lucid in times to come. Players will have to make sure their approach is flexible to ensure scalability options. Moreover, it is necessary to have a realistic and not an overtly optimistic approach towards this market.