Mumbai: The forthcoming multi-starrer and action thriller Dhoom:3 has several publicity angles, but producer Yash Raj Films (YRF) picked the strongest one to launch the movie’s official campaign.
Last week, the family-owned banner introduced media professionals to the IMAX trailer of the third instalment in the Dhoom franchise at PVR Cinemas. The 2.46 minutes teaser, which was screened twice in the presence of leading men Aamir Khan (who plays a clown and a thief) and Abhishek Bachchan (who reprises his role as a police officer) and director Vijay Krishna Acharya (who has also written the previous two Dhoom films), emphasized the fact that Dhoom:3 is the first Indian movie to be converted into the IMAX format.
Dhoom:3 has been remastered to suit IMAX screens, which are larger than regular ones and require images to be of greater depth and resolution, and enhanced sound quality. “We chose to launch the theatrical (trailer) on IMAX in keeping with the scale of the film,” said Rafiq Gangjee, vice-president of marketing and communications at YRF. “This is the first Indian film ever to be released on IMAX and to that extent, it is a significant milestone for the local film industry.”
Since there are only five such screens in the country, of which one is inside the Gujarat Science City complex and used mostly for educational purposes, the IMAX tag is more about bragging rights than anything else. Yet, it represents a technological leap for YRF, which hasn’t even made a 3D film yet. Dhoom:3, which opens on 20 December along with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, has already generated acres of coverage for its high-wattage cast, which includes Khan in a role with negative shades and Katrina Kaif as a trapeze artist. The IMAX version adds extra sizzle to an already hot movie, as well as a marketing handle for multiplex chains that have spent crores in installing IMAX screens.
“It’s the first Indian IMAX release and we are all looking forward to it,” said Shalu Sabharwal, vice-president of sales and marketing at PVR Cinemas. The chain runs two IMAX screens in Bangalore and Mumbai and depends largely on Hollywood releases such as the recent Gravity and Ender’s Game in between nature documentaries to fill seats. “The weekends in Mumbai are not bad, the occupancy is between 40% and 45%, and it’s almost 100% on weekends,” Sabharwal said. The IMAX in Bangalore is “rocking”, she said, and added, “The appetite for movies there is crazy, and we don’t see a drop in occupancy even during the week.”
Dhoom:3 is part of a three-film deal between YRF and IMAX Corp., the Canadian company behind the trademarked acronym for Image Maximum. (YRF will also convert Shekhar Kapur’s forthcoming water wars drama Paani and a third unnamed title.) IMAX Corp. set up India’s first IMAX theatre at Adlabs (later BIG Cinemas) in Mumbai in 2001. Since then, India has added only four more screens at Gujarat Science City, Prasads in Hyderabad, and PVR Cinemas in Mumbai and Bangalore.
Expansion is on the cards for the company whose very name suggests vastness, said Preetam Daniel, IMAX’s director of sales for India and South-East Asia. “We have two screens installed and ready to go at the SPI Cinemas multiplexes at Forum Vijaya Mall and Phoenix Market City in Chennai, but we are waiting for government permissions,” said Daniel over the phone from Bangalore, where he works. “We are also looking at an IMAX with the Cinepolis chain at the Viviana Mall in Thane.” The Cinepolis screen in Thane, the township outside Mumbai, is scheduled to open in time for the release of Dhoom:3.
IMAX Corp. has a five-screen deal with PVR Cinemas and a six-screen agreement with SPI Cinemas, including the two screens in Chennai. “We have certain parameters for setting up an IMAX cinema in India—it is a high-end investment, and we want our investors to make money,” said Daniel. A second IMAX theatre will be set up in Bangalore, as well as in Noida in the national capital region and PVR Cinemas’ Basant Lok multiplex.
The company burnt its fingers when IMAX screens in Ghaziabad and Kolkata were shut down because of low returns. “We don’t want to repeat our mistakes, so we are going into the right complexes with the right partners,” Daniel said. “The reason I have had such a good year is that real estate has played a vital role for us. We didn’t have too many malls back then, but we do now. It’s all about positioning at the right place and the right location.”
IMAX screening technology is expensive to install, operate and maintain. Tickets for IMAX movies, especially IMAX 3D formatted releases, are in a higher price bracket. Yet, with the right kind of movie, cinemas can get away with charging close to Rs.630 a pop, which is what it costs to watch Gravity at BIG Cinemas in Mumbai.
A Warner Bros release, the IMAX version of Alfonso Cuaron’s space adventure notched up gross earnings of Rs.5 crore till date, according to figures released by the studio’s local office. (The total box-office receipts stand at a gross of Rs.33 crore.) Warner Bros, which has released 25 IMAX films since the technology came to India, including The Polar Express and The Dark Knight Rises, plans to release more such films over the coming months, including The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on 13 December, The Lego Movie and 300: Rise of an Empire.
A technology that seemed best suited to science museums and planetariums has been pushed into the realm of popular culture because of Hollywood’s relentless supply of IMAX-ready films, many of which are also in 3D. Movies such as Avatar, released in December 2009 by Fox Star Studios, lingered on IMAX screens long after the regular version had slipped out of cinemas. Nature documentaries fill up the screen space between special effects-laden spectacles and superhero fantasies. “We release a nature documentary every year, such as Born to Be Wild and Hubble in the past, and we will be releasing a film on Antarctica later this year,” said Daniel. Non-American audiences are content with watching Hollywood films that suit the IMAX canvas, but increasingly, countries like Russia, China and South Korea are experimenting with making their own films. Daniel pointed out that Stalingrad, a period war drama that is the first Russian IMAX film, has done tremendous business domestically as well as in China, where its dubbed version was released in late October.
Indian romances and comedies scarcely justify the costs of either shooting a portion of a movie with IMAX cameras, as films such as The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and NBC Universal’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which will open on 29 November, have done, or remastering titles to suit IMAX’s picture and sound quality specifications, as is the case with Disney UTV’s Thor: The Dark World, which comes out on 8 November. Other releases over the next few months include Sony Pictures’ Robocop and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Dhoom:3, which is being billed as an action movie, will finally localize the IMAX experience for Indian viewers who want to see their already larger-than-life movies being stretched to the limit.
For YRF, the IMAX marketing event is one of several steps towards publicizing the latest entry in a wildly successful franchise. “The anticipation for Dhoom:3 goes back to when D:2 was released in 2006,” claimed YRF’s Gangjee. “We are seven weeks to release and Diwali is an opportune time to capitalize on theatrical footfalls. And in today’s scenario, nothing is too early.”