O n the inaugural day of the Mumbai Film Mart 2013, MPA (Motion Pictures Association) India MD Uday Singh, tried to define the ways in which Indian cinema can reach out to a more global audience.
The top 10 Bollywood grosser seem to be hitting the glass ceiling of sorts and not being able to break through. We keep talking about crossover cinema and also going more main stream. My days at Sony always come back to haunt me as I used to say: “When I can get a white man to speak in Tamil, why can’t you get an Indian skin to speak in the same language.”
There are many questions that crop up in my mind while looking at the movie - is it contextual and most importantly do we connect with the consumer? Many times, the exhibitors will reject the idea, so the onus is finally on us. Where all can we travel with the film, and to always keep an eye on such a competitive market space that makes 1,000 movies a year.
Localising global products
This does not mean making a local version of the same global ad but to find a deeper meaning for the consumer in terms of positioning, naming, building cultural clues that make the product relevant. So what is the issue? Are the jokes too localised? Is it a difficult thing to travel culturally? These are the questions that crop up in my mind while looking at the movie. Is it contextual and most importantly do we connect with the consumer? Many times, the exhibitors will reject the idea, so the onus is finally on us. Where all can we travel with the film, and to always keep an eye on such a competitive market space that makes 1,000 movies a year.
We ventured into bit of localising global content by dubbing them into Hindi - like The Incredibles became Hum Hain Lajawaab and Stuart Little became Chhote Miyan. So when these can be done to foreign films then the same can be applied to our films to promote them globally. And we have done it in the past with Muthu: The Dancing Maharaja (1995) - a Rajnikanth film that went onto collect $6 million in Tokyo in those days.
Can we create a Life of Pie?
A Hollywood film on an average garners more than 70 per cent of its collections in today’s time from international markets. Life of Pie in China alone collected $84.3 million at the box-office - a figure that was higher than its collections in the US.
So the key ingredients for making a film with universal appeal are: Does the film strike a universal chord? Does it break through the stereotype? And, does it move beyond the song and dance grammar?
Will Smith had come down to India recently and we had a session with Karan Johar, so Will asked Karan, “Tell me one thing, why do you guys always break into a song and dance?” and Karan replied, “We pause to celebrate the moment.”
But that is where the case in point comes under the microscope as traditionally the duration of Bollywood movies used to be really long. Then there is the format, display of emotions, the movie will be star studded, the thing to figure out here is how to make the movie into transnational cinema.
So, there are a lot of examples of movies that basically just look at addressing key issues that are perennial in nature. Like in 3 Idiots, the need to conform to society, parental pressure on young students seeking success, friendship, etc. Basically, if studied, all of these are global themes and that is why they tend to make connect with a global audience. Also, another case in point, My Name is Khan, which looked at discrimination post the 9/11 attacks, travelled to nearly 64 countries.
Then you have films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - funded by foreign countries, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Europe; produced by the Chinese and distributed on a global network and consumed by the international market.
The game plan for localising
Going forward, both digitisation and the need of advertisers will lead to further segmentation. Also, fragmentation is the order of the day. We are continually developing more content and more products to further segment the audience and grow and reach the billion mark.
There should also be different posters, trailers and campaigns for an international audience and social media is the biggest way to do so and also to figure out how to connect with the dream kids of today.
There needs to be proper backing of research - both qualitative and quantitative - to know how the audience will react to the campaign; by segmentation, raising awareness by targeting the core audience, first to get the attention of the fans and expanding the audience afterwards. Also, if there is embedded equity, if the film has embedded awareness like Eat Pray Love, the book right acquisition, the title unveiling witnessed with Skyfall. Each of these is a tool to connect with the consumers, reaching out through international film festivals by organising fan conventions, the ads, the PR and the free screenings. There should also be different posters, trailers and campaigns for an international audience and social media is the biggest way to do so and also to figure out how to connect with the dream kids of today.
Coming to distribution capabilities and strategies, the case in point is My Name is Khan - the film was distributed by Fox, released in 64 countries, shorter durations also released, dubbed in Italian, German, Russian, Spanish and Mandarin. More than 1,35,000 tickets were sold four days before the release of the movie in the U.A.E and collected over 19 million at the international box-office. So the distribution capabilities also took the film beyond traditional markets to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Norway, Iceland and Portugal with 62 per cent of the box-office collections from non traditional markets.
And that brings us to the big question - Can we create an Avatar?.
70 per cent of the highest grossing movie in the history of cinema was from overseas markets, 14, 406 screens in 106 territories. And this is just the basic distribution capabilities in a market as in every country there is someone thinking and plotting how to take the film to the consumer in the particular market. And some of the capabilities are again taking it to festivals, marketing the films well in advance, creating a digital campaign as it cuts across geographies in this day and age, localise though tactical campaigns and counter programme as it’s a very busy shelf space there.
And as Shah Rukh Khan once said, “Indian cinema is like brushing your teeth in the morning, you can’t escape it.”