With Shahid Kapoor in the lead role and Rajkumar Santoshi at its helm,Phata Poster Nikla Hero was a movie that was much awaited. In comparison,The Lunchbox had Irrfan play the protagonist,a man in his 50s,with a debutant for a director and a theme too obscure to be mainstream. Yet,in the week that the two films released,the latter,earned more revenue at the box office than Kapoors action-comedy.
Although the audiences acceptance of alternative cinema has increased considerably over the recent years,never in the past has such a film posed a threat to a mainstream movie. But 2013 may prove to be a year where both the audience as well as film studios choose to blur the line between these two streams of cinema.
Take for instance Lucia,a crowd-funded Kannada psychological thriller,which PVR released across 13 centres in India,under its Directors Rare programme. Or Celluloid Man,a documentary on Indian film archivist PK Nair,which witnessed a moderate theatrical run when it released alongside Bombay Talkies to mark Indian cinemas centenary. Usually,the chances of reaching out to cities such as Ahmedabad and Bhopal are limited,especially for a film made at a budget of under a crore. We had a simultaneous release across India and saw a three-week run in the cinemas outside Karnataka,which is a good sign for things to come, says Lucias director Pawan Kumar.
Shiladitya Bora,Alternate Programming & Marketing Head at PVR Cinemas,says the idea behind working with alternative cinema was to build an audience for it. In the year-and-a-half since we started,our audience has grown from 1,000 to 10,000. Besides,they are open to watching anything from a Hindi feature film to a regional movie,a documentary or a short film, he explains.
Currently,however,PVR and Disney UTV are the only two major players backing alternative content. While the formers aims is to release one movie every Friday,the latters strategies with Anand Gandhis Ship of Theseus,Ritesh Batras The Lunchbox and more recently,Hansal Mehtas Shahid have demonstrated what effective marketing and distribution strategy can do for alternative cinema.
Each film needs to be treated as an individual product whereby we custom-tailor the marketing strategy accordingly, points out Shikha Kapur,Executive Director,Marketing Studios,Disney UTV. For instance,the nature of Ship of Theseus was such that we knew television promos are unnecessary and we focussed on the internet and on-ground activities with the youth, she adds. In addition,both Gandhis and Batras films have had credible filmmakers Kiran Rao and Karan Johar respectively representing them. Kirans credibility as a filmmaker,which she achieved with Dhobi Ghat,helped me take Ship of Theseus to the audience,something that being part of the festival circuit wouldnt have achieved, adds Gandhi.
Bora agrees that celebrity backing and a powerful campaign can reach out to a far larger audience. However,his company doesnt have the marketing budgets for 52 films in a year they release under Directors Cut and Directors Rare. Even if we spend Rs 25 lakh on each film,our marketing will be lost in all the media clutter. We would prefer to focus on building the audience for such cinema, Bora says.
The one major advantage PVR has over Disney UTV,however,is in the exhibition department as it has its own chain of cinemas. In contrast,Gaurav Verma,Director,India Theatrical Distribution- Studios,Disney UTV,says its a challenge each time to convince exhibitors. We have to get them to see the potential. But on occasions,when theres a limited release,we have to get those exhibitors with whom were not partnering,to see why weve chosen the others, he adds. But increasingly,single screens are eager to show alternative content.
This situation is seen as an indicator of the times to come when more corporates will support alternative content. On his part,Bora hopes they will be able to filter content to improve the quality by adding more to its programming that includes regional films,documentaries,shorts and international films such as Woody Allens Blue Jasmine that was to release in India on October 4,until its director decided against it. Disney UTV,hopes to acquire at least four such films every year and add to their existing repertoire of backing new cinema.