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The BIG Bet on Ra.One

Ra.One once again puts to test the Indian audience’s acceptability of sci-fi made in India. And,going by the investment in terms of both money and effort,Shah Rukh Khan is pulling out all stops. But it remains to be seen if he can revive Bollywood’s fortunes this year.

Written by Sudipta Datta | Mumbai |
April 8, 2011 6:41:00 pm

Ra.One once again puts to test the Indian audience’s acceptability of sci-fi made in India. And,going by the investment in terms of both money and effort,Shah Rukh Khan is pulling out all stops. But it remains to be seen if he can revive Bollywood’s fortunes this year.

The sci-fi genre made in India isn’t very popular with Indian audiences,but after Enthiran’s (Robot) success last year,the buzz around Shah Rukh Khan’s sci-fi flick Ra.One,the most expensive Hindi film ever,is growing. Will SRK be able to do a Rajni and revive the fortunes of Bollywood in 2011? Last year,when Rajnikanth’s Enthiran or Robot,a sci-fi thriller,released,it raked in over Rs 375 crore at the box office worldwide. Made at a budget of Rs 120 crore,it was touted as the Indian film industry’s most expensive film ever. Ra.One reportedly has an even more ambitious budget,though co-producer Eros Entertainment rubbishes talk that the VFX-heavy film has crossed the Rs 175-crore mark. But that SRK is taking it very seriously is evident from the way the marketing and publicity strategy is being planned. His first film since 2010’s February release,My Name Is Khan,Ra.One will be a big release for SRK this year,who is pulling out all stops to enhance the production value.

After Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in 2008,which saw box office success,his 2009 home production Billu failed to pull the audiences. My Name Is Khan opened to mixed reviews and didn’t do well in the domestic markets,but fared better overseas. His TV show Zor Ka Jhatka on NDTV Imagine also hasn’t met with much success. Ra.One is being directed by Anubhav Sinha,whose last film,Cash in 2007,didn’t quite set the cash registers ringing,but his TV serial Sea Hawks was a huge hit. This year,Khan has two mega releases after 2007 (Om Shanti Om,Chak De India) with Ra.One and Don 2.

And yet,there are challenges,with Indian audiences not yet overwhelmed with the sci-fi genre,especially films made in India. Ra.One,the sci-fi superhero film starring Shah Rukh Khan,is slated to release during Diwali thsi year,but the astute businessman that he is,SRK chose to launch its first promo during the India-Australia cricket World Cup quarterfinals. What better platform than a high-pitch cricket match,with one billion people glued in,to showcase a film that is not quite the favourite genre for Indian audiences yet? Over the past three-four years,Indians have lapped up Hollywood’s biggest superhero,VFX-rich franchises from Batman,Spiderman,Harry Potter or even Narnia tales,but have been cold to homemade films like Drona,though Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish did quite well at the box office. In the past two years,gaming,too,has grown in popularity,probably the reason why Christopher Nolan’s Inception did so well in India. Ra.One,with its special effects and slick production values,will definitely try to woo the growing gaming community too.

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As it turns out,SRK isn’t leaving any stone unturned to ensure the success of Ra.One,roping in skilled Hollywood technicians,top music composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King,Gladiator,The Dark Knight),a Kareena Kapoor item song—and spending over Rs 100 crore in the process.

“All this talk that the film’s budget is Rs 175 crore is rubbish,the film is being made at much below that price,” says Kamal Jain,CFO,Eros Entertainment,though refusing to disclose any figure. “It’s an ambitious film,but we,at Eros,stress on return on investment,and this is one of the best movies on our slate this year,” he adds. That SRK and his team won’t be amused by the talk of budgets is understandable—“we are not releasing any details about the film just yet… the film is slated for an October launch,it’s early days yet,” says a Red Chillies spokesperson.

Bollywood is just emerging from two tough years after the 2008 financial meltdown when budgets had to be resized and production houses became over-cautious about greenlighting projects. At least two big-ticket films—Blue,reportedly made at a budget of Rs 100 crore,and Kites,failed at the box office.

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“It’s certainly one of the most awaited films of the year and we are very happy to be a part of it,” says Jain. Eros has had a role to play in every SRK production (Red Chillies Entertainment),from Om Shanti Om to Billu. For Ra.One,some of the VFX is being done at EyeCube,an Eros special effects unit,apart from Red Chillies. “If the VFX was done outside India,it would have added to the cost of the film,” points out Jain,“but most of the special effects are being done at our studio and the Red Chillies studios.” Industry insiders say the film will work if the superhero aspect is not made the point of issue. They single out Krrish and say it performed because there was comedy,drama,emotion,laughter and tears in the film. “Ra.One has a lovely story and the superhero element will just help to make it a mass film,” says Jain. As has been the trend in Bollywood over the last year,the producers have already sold the satellite rights for Ra.One pre-release,reportedly to Star India for Rs 40 crore,bettering the 3 Idiots price of Rs 33 crore to Sony,but Jain will only say “the rights have gone in good value”.

Eros had distributed Rajini’s Enthiran overseas,and the film grossed Rs 64 crore just from overseas markets. Eros,which had been an early producer of Robot,backed out after Drona failed and instead distributed the film overseas. But 2007-09 were difficult years for the Indian film industry and many films went through several changes before release. Now,production houses like Eros will stay away from expensive films unless the return on investment is more or less determined.

With SRK having a huge fan following in the US and Europe,especially in countries like Germany,Eros,which also has its overseas rights,will release the film worldwide the same day and date across the world this Diwali.

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First published on: 08-04-2011 at 06:41:00 pm

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