By the time you read this story, Furious 7 would be inching closer to becoming the first Hollywood movie to have garnered Rs 100 crore at the Indian box office. The latest instalment of the million-dollar grossing Fast & Furious franchise, took Bollywood by surprise and also stunned trade pundits. It also impacted the collections of Yash Raj Films and Dibakar Banerjee-production Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (DBB). As of Wednesday, the tally, according to trade expert Komal Nahta reads: Furious 7– Rs 66.5 crore and DBB– above Rs 19 crore.
It’s all about the numbers. Released in 2,600 screens across the country, Furious 7 (F7) comes with an ‘A’ certificate which bars people under the age of 18 from watching it in theatres. For an ‘A’ rated Hollywood film, the numbers are indeed impressive. No wonder, the trade is proclaiming F7 as a game-changer in India. The competition just got hotter in our backyard.
The story behind F7’s wild success in India is a mix of things, starting from its release strategy like that of any of our Rs 100 crore blockbusters. It had great marketing, it released on an extended weekend and more importantly it had a release as wide as a Bollywood blockbuster. Sarabjit Singh, Managing Director, Universal Studios International India, says that one of the strategies was to penetrate into centres earlier inaccessible by Hollywood — over 1,000 B and C centres, and small cities and towns.
“These places always showed great interest in Hollywood action movies such as Fast & Furious but had to contend with pirated stuff. We felt that there is a market that we were not able to satiate. With the box office collections of F7, I suppose it is clear that people in these remote areas went to watch the film,” says Singh.
For F7, the studio broke a norm generally followed by Hollywood studios in India. To ensure a wider release, they agreed to release the film even in theatres with a projection system below 2k, generally regarded of inferior quality. Besides Hindi, dubbing into regional languages such as Telugu and Tamil also helped boost the collections. Anand Vishal, the business head of Fun Cinemas, the chain of multiplexes across India, says, “The kind of wide release that F7 had is only enjoyed by top 10 Bollywood grossers.”
This success story is bound to set a benchmark for future Hollywood releases in India. Case in point is Avengers: Age of Ultrons. One of the strategies adopted by producers Disney is to get the movie to India a week before its US release. With the US being its main market, and hence a source of piracy, it will optimise its chances in India, along with that of some other potential growing markets such as Germany and China. The number of screens for Avengers sequel will also be twice the number of the first part that released in 2012. While Disney has Ant Man coming soon, it plans to go huge with Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the end of 2015. Other biggies such as Jurassic World in June, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, releasing in July, Terminator Genisys in August, are expected to tread the same path as shown by F7.
So what does this mean for Bollywood? Will the Khans now compete with Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo?
Industry experts speculate that nothing much will change for the big-star extravaganzas such as Kick and PK but for the smaller films, like NH 10 or Badlapur — that rely on word of mouth and screen count formula — there is a bit of uncertainty because this is a new situation. There are no clear answers yet.
“Local films are a dominant force, and they have coexisted with Hollywood for decades,” says Kamal Gainchandni, CEO, PVR, “A Tamil or Telugu audience will still opt for a local film if they have to make a choice. And for the urban audience, Badlapur had released with
the Oscar movies such as Birdman and The Imitation Game and it still did good business.”
Trade analyst Nahta says that the success of a big Hollywood movie doesn’t affect a Hindi film because there are enough number of screens to accommodate the two on any given week. “It’s not that DBB didn’t have its share of screens and hence it didn’t do well. But if ever there is a question of choice, the audience will simply go for the better product,” says Nahta.
With smaller films such as Margarita With A Straw and Court releasing on April 17, and the Avengers sequel coming a week after that, it will be interesting to see if such small, content-heavy Hindi films survive the Hollywood juggernaut.
The box office will let us know.