Hollywood Films Gain Traction in India

By Shackleton, Liz | Screen International, September 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Hollywood Films Gain Traction in India


Shackleton, Liz, Screen International


This year, US studios have scored big in the idiosyncratic and fragmented territory with films such as The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Hollywood has always had the role of a bit player in India. While audiences queue up to see the latest blockbuster starring Shah Rukh Khan or Rajnikanth, Hollywood films have been mostly restricted to an urban, English-speaking elite and consequently only accounted for around 4-5% of India's billion dollar-plus annual box office.

But that market share has been slowly creeping up in recent years and during 2012 the US studios have taken some giant strides in India. In April, Disney UTV released The Avengers on 800 screens, the widest release ever for a foreign film at the time, which helped propel it to become one of the top five Hollywood films of all time in India with a final tally of $12.7m.

In June, Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man swept away The Avengers' record screen count by opening on 1,200 screens and grossing $6m on its opening weekend. The film went on to take $14.5m, becoming the third biggest Hollywood film of all time behind Avatar and 2012. The following month, Fox Star Studios' Ice Age 4: Continental Drift scored the biggest debut in history for an animated film in India, grossing $1.5m from 238 screens.

All these films reaped the rewards of steady growth in multiplex screens and average ticket prices in India, along with the growing experience of the US studios as they grapple with this idiosyncratic and fragmented territory.

For example, Ice Age 4 benefitted from being dubbed into multiple languages, a strategy that is common practice for action blockbusters, but which Fox decided to also use for animated films. As Fox Star Studios CEO Vijay Singh explains, the experiment started with Ice Age 3, which was dubbed into Hindi and grossed a healthy $2m in 2009.

"With Ice Age 4 we tried to push the envelope further and also dubbed the film inTamil and Telugu," Singh explains. "The strategy worked as the film did really well in the languages as well as the English version."

The US studios have also started subtitling the English versions in English, making Western dialects and strong accents easier to understand. It's also become common practice to open films day-and-date, or even a few weeks before, their North American release. In a market so heavily dominated by local content, they're also finding that forging alliances with local studios can help.

Several US studios are now deeply embedded in the Indian market. Since completing its acquisition of UTV Software Communications, Disney has merged its India operations with those of the Mumbai-based powerhouse and releases all of its films through new entity Disney UTV. Similarly, Paramount's films are now handled by Viacom 18, the 50:50 joint venture between Paramount parent Viacom and India's Network 18.

Fox Star Studios, which releases all Twentieth Century Fox titles in India, is a joint venture between Fox and its News Corp sister company Star India. And following its deal with DreamWorks, India's Reliance ADA Group handles all of the US studios films in India; along with select titles from US sales company IM Global in which it holds a majority stake.

All these companies - UTV, Viacom 18, Fox Star and Reliance Big Pictures - are major producers of Hindi-language content and are also moving into production of regional-language films. These tie-ups give the US studios extra clout as they can now deliver multiple content streams to local exhibitors.

"When you can offer both Hollywood and Bollywood, you get better terms and usually more screens," explains Reliance head of distribution & acquisition Utpal Acharya. "Exhibitors think if I mess around with this guy, I may not get the next big Bollywood release. You can dictate when you have Spider-Man, but you struggle with the smaller English films. …

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