As the reach of Indian films is getting wider, more and more doors are opening up with the industry gaining a strong foothold in many international markets. The recent addition to the list of foreign markets for Indian films is China which was difficult to crack. But films like 3 Idiots, Dangal, Secret Superstar and Bajrangi Bhaijaan have changed the game. The market which was so far Hollywood-dominated has now got a taste of Indian films.
Indian film producers are making full use of this opportunity and host of films are already in line to be released in China. From Hindi Medium, which will hit the Chinese theatres on April 4, to Baahubali, which has been cleared by the Chinese censor board, to Toilet: Ek Prem Katha that has applied for a censor certificate – all are trying to leverage this new foreign market.
Huge box office collections of the previous releases from India have become the talk of the town and has got everyone wondering about the success formula. While producers are focusing more on China, industry is contemplating on the factors that have worked in favour of the Indian films.
In conversation with Moneycontrol, Amit Sharma, MD of Miraj Cinemas said, “Multiple factors have worked in favour of Indian films. First one is increase in the number of Indian films releasing in China from two to four, second is screen density and third is the content films from India are offering.”
“India may not be able to match up to Hollywood in terms of technology and grandness but we have our own genre and that is emotions. How India is playing its card right is by not releasing big ticket films in China because that genre in already provided by Hollywood films.”
Concurring with Sharma on screen density in China, Rahul Puri, MD of Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas said, “With 40,917 screens, China has surpassed the US and become the country with the maximum screen count. But the Indian screen count has not gained much momentum in the recent years. Infact, quite a few single screens shut shop in the previous year. This combined with the fact that a few Bollywood films have recently performed exceptionally well at the Box Office in China has the industry insiders focusing on the country as an important market for our films.”
But, what is it about Indian films that is clicking so well with the Chinese audience?
“China is a big market in itself. There is huge opportunity for Indian films to grow in China. One beautiful thing that has happened with Indian films in China is that it is not the blockbusters that have travelled to China, it is the films that have both good and universal content. Human stories have an easier way to travel to China,” said Prasad Shetty, Director, China Peacock Mountain Group at FICCI Frames event.
Talking about the successful journey of Indian films in China at the event, Gayathiri Guliani, Head of International Distribution for Indian language films, Sony Pictures Entertainment India said, “3 idiots was the foundation to enter the China market. But there was a pattern. It started from Taiwan then it travelled to South Korea from there to Hong Kong where it ran for 27 weeks and this was 2nd tier release. There was already a lot of piracy happening and the piracy was so rampant and it was one of the most downloaded films among the college youth. There was a lot of resonace coming from youth because the stories are similar in India and China.”
Adding to this film producer Ashish Singh said, “Dhoom 3 did not do that well in China as it was like any other Hollywood film. Big film, big action sequences.”
So, are only emotionally-driven films working well in China?
“While the facts do state that emotionally driven stories have done great in terms of numbers with the Chinese audience, it could also be that films with a social message is what works well with them as most of the films that performed well in China had some form of social message attached with the story line. But the data available in terms of the genre of films that have been released in China is too small to draw conclusions from hence the performance of Dhoom 3 may well be a one off example of a film that didn’t perform well,” said Puri.
And is it the star-power that is giving an impetus to Indian films?
As Chinese audience welcomed 3 Idiots, Dangal, Secret Superstar with open arms, it has become a popular belief that it is Aamir Khan films that can do wonders in China. However, director Imtiaz Ali says otherwise.
“India has another thing common with China and that is we tend to be personality oriented but the fact is that later in retrospect we know that these were movements that were content based and was heralded by a personality. I think Indian films had something to offer to the markets that they were not getting already. We need to be aware of the nature of films that have worked in China. There is a qualitative improvement in cinema as a result of travelling abroad.”
What can the new Indian releases learn from their predecessors?
According to Singh, the beauty of China is how they market the films in the country. One of the reasons for the success of Dangal and Secret Superstar in China is not the distribution model but the marketing strategy.
“The tier 2 market give more business than tier 1. For Dangal, they roped in few superstars of China to voice the film. One superstar had tweeted one night asking a basic question who do you think about when you think of your father. And the answer was “Shuai Jiao Ba! BaBa” (Chinese title for Dangal) and it started to trend.”
“The apps in China are guides to the distribution team. When you access the apps it tells you the business of film on that day at that particular time in as many theatres you want to see and in as many cities you want to see. It talks about the age group, gender of people watching a particular film,” he added.