Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in New York on a five-day visit, he addressed the annual Global Citizen Festival. Dressed in his trademark Jade Blue kurta, Modi spoke about innovation and the ‘can do attitude’ of today’s youth. Besides the fact that he was standing next to the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), it was like any other normal speech delivered in characteristic Modi style. However, the most memorable part of it was not when he began with a namaste, but ended with a quote that is firmly ingrained in western pop culture.
English comedian and Last Week Tonight’s host John Oliver called it the “crowning glory” of Modi’s seven-minute speech in front of thousands of concertgoers. Hugh Jackman, who was within earshot, broke into a wide grin and began clapping. The crowd in attendance approved of what was said and responded with a thunderous applause. With just six words, Modi ensured that his speech made the evening news. In a strong Gujarati accent, Modi said: “May the Force be with you.”
Star Wars may not have a dedicated following in India, but there are pockets of fans scattered around the country like the Rebel Alliance in the film franchise. Walt Disney, who now owns the rights to the franchise, sensed it and dubbed the movie into major Indian languages such as Hindi, Telugu and Tamil. But the latest installment in the franchise that released yesterday was delayed by a week more than the rest of the world. Sean Mclain in the Wall Street Journal reported that the studio wanted to avoid clashing dates with blockbuster Bollywood releases — Shah Rukh Khan’s Dilwale and Ranveer Singh’s Bajirao Mastani.
Coming to theaters after nearly a decade, Disney wasn’t prepared to settle for a small slice of the box-office pie. Made on a budget of $200 million dollars, the highest for any Star Wars film so far, The Force Awakens was released in nearly 1,600 screens across India. Disney has already inked brand association deals worth Rs 80 crore with 50 brands in India, including Maruti Suzuki, Hewlett-Packard and Hindustan Unilever. Each deal is believed to be worth anywhere between Rs 1.5-3 crore, according to Lata Jha of livemint.com.
The film premiere was attended by big names in the Bollywood industry such as Aamir Khan, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani and R Madhavan. Aamir Khan’s 2015 film PK made $114 million dollars worldwide. This is half of what Disney pumped into The Force Awakens production and a fraction of what it is estimated to earn ($2 bn+).
A FICCI-KMPG 2015 report titled #shootingforthestars on the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry reported that last year saw a rise of Rs 1 billion in revenue for the top 10 Hollywood films. The reports also states that “on an average only 10-25 per cent of the total gross collections of an Indian movie is collected from overseas theatrical compared to 60 per cent for Hollywood industry.”
In Delhi NCR region alone, the film is releasing in over 50 screens, but, according to bookmyshow.com, after the weekend, only one theater is retaining it.
This is, however, not going to effect its global earnings as it is expected to cross the $1 billion mark by the end of the week. Globally, The Force Awakens has already outpaced the Avatar and Jurassic World at “light speed” in terms of box office receipts. On Wednesday, The Variety reported that the film has already made $765.9 million in five days after its release. Its strong run at the box office however hasn’t reflected on Wall Street. Disney shares were trading at $111.89 dollars in the New York Stock Exchange on the day The Force Awakens hit theaters, but it has been on a free fall ever since. When the film has reached Indian screens, the shares have closed at $105.95 dollars. Market analysts have reported that the success of the film did not have any direct impact on the the company’s share price due to problems at another of its acquisition, ESPN.
Despite the dip, credit rating company Moody’s gave a thumbs up to The Force Awakens. The company predicted that Star Wars will exceed Avatar, which is the all-time highest grosser in US box office, by at least 10 to 20% at the end.
“It is worth noting that the incredible success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is being achieved with a marketing budget significantly smaller than big-budget movies typically employ, given the favorable reviews, extremely strong word of mouth, pre-licensing to other advertisers and unprecedented franchise awareness,” read a report on the company site.
The film is yet to open in the world’s most populous country China. The country has a huge appetite for Hollywood films. Fast and Furious 7, starring Vin Diesel, has brought in $390 million dollars from China alone. Scheduled for release on January 9, China is expected to give The Force Awakens a big push.
If the Star Wars sustains its run, future generations, possibly alien planets, will remember it as the movie that broke the box office “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”.
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