Hollywood studios push harder to conquer the Indian market

Hollywood studios are increasingly tailoring marketing and promotion campaigns to suit local sensibilities
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First Published: Thu, Apr 25 2013. 11 15 PM IST
A still from the film ‘Iron Man 3’. Last week, a person dressed as the character stood on the stage with the contestants of the talent show ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’ on Zee TV.
A still from the film ‘Iron Man 3’. Last week, a person dressed as the character stood on the stage with the contestants of the talent show ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’ on Zee TV.
Updated: Thu, Apr 25 2013. 11 54 PM IST
Mumbai: Fictional billionaire Tony Stark is dramatic even when he isn’t wearing his Iron Man suit. So it was most appropriate that last week, a person dressed as Iron Man stood on the stage with the contestants of the talent show India’s Best Dramebaaz on Zee TV. The presence of an American superhero on an Indian television channel isn’t as incongruous as it appears. The promotional tactic represents only the latest attempt by Hollywood studios to improve their chances at the box office. Apart from dubbing and occasionally re-titling Hollywood movies, the studios are tailoring the marketing and promotion campaigns to suit local sensibilities.
It’s now de rigueur—and apparently not enough—to dub a big-budget Hollywood film. Disney UTV is releasing Iron Man 3 in India on 27 April in English, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi (as Fauladi Rakshak). The studio has tied up with 15 brands, including an Indian Premier League team for merchandise, Titan for a line of Zoop watches, and the Glucovita energy drink. “When we are especially doing multi-
language stuff, it makes sense for us to customize promotions on the basis of the target audience,” said Shikha Kapur, executive director for marketing, studios, Disney UTV. “What will appeal to Indian audiences is different from what will apply to an Iron Man fanboy.”
The marketing gimmicks include hiring bands to write special songs for films and scheduling their releases ahead of the Western world. In 2004, the Pakistani band Strings came up with “Najaane Kyun” for Spider-Man 2. For Disney UTV’s 2012 release The Avengers, the studio commissioned the rock band Agnee to compose the Hindi track “Hello Andheron”. The Avengers went on to become a monster hit. “For The Avengers, we mapped the media of choice, we were present on media platforms like Hindi movie channels, and we tailor-made the promotions for that audience,” Kapur said. “We also targeted Hindi publications like Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar.”
Another tactic to make Indian audiences feel special is to release the movie—usually a franchise entry or an action spectacular—early. The Avengers and its dubbed versions opened on 27 April last year, a week before the US. Ditto with the most recent James Bond instalment, Skyfall (1 November for India, 9 November for the US). The advanced release date, which is mainly aimed at curbing piracy, also achieves the target of giving a studio’s marketing team a readymade talking point. Viacom18 Motion Pictures will bring Star Trek Into Darkness to India seven days ahead of the international release date of 17 May. The film will release in IMAX and 3D in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.
Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi had its world premiere in India in 1982, so the idea isn’t a new one. What has changed since the 1980s is that Hollywood studios have become more aggressive about increasing their estimated 10% market share of the Indian box office business, and have greater media resources to do so.
Hollywood studios don’t usually permit their posters and trailers to be tweaked for foreign markets, but there are exceptions depending on the circumstances. Storied franchises such as James Bond don’t need too much of a local makeover to reach audiences, so Skyfall wasn’t renamed for its Indian language versions, but the posters were different in English and Hindi. The English artwork highlighted the movie title over Bond’s code name 007, while the Hindi posters reversed the order, said an industry executive. Local distributors who bought the rights for the 2009 blockbuster 2012, also released by Sony Pictures, added images of the White House under the sea and the Taj Mahal in shambles, neither of which is shown in the film, said the executive.
In 2012’s case, the dissembling worked, since the movie features Indian characters and has a section set in India. A studio’s job gets far easier when the movie has a legitimate connection with India. For The Amazing Spider-Man, the 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, Sony Pictures got Irrfan Khan, who appears in the movie, to address press conferences, and included his footage in specially recut trailers for India.
Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was also heavily promoted in the country that the movie and the novel are set in. Life of Pi features Indian actors, including debutant Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussain, Tabu and Khan, and kicks off in Pondicherry. The international promotional campaign began in India, with Lee travelling here and giving several interviews about his experiences on shooting in Pondicherry and working with an Indian cast and crew.
Fox Star Studios, which brought Life of Pi to India, has made strenuous attempts to “Indianize” Hollywood films. For The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and 127 Hours in 2010, the studio went down the music video route. It commissioned Sreeram Chandra, the winner of Indian Idol 5, to sing a song for Dawn Treader and cut a special music video to promote composer A.R. Rahman’s score for 127 Hours. In 2011, the studio hired singers Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaan to dub for the lead characters in Rio, and the performers also appeared in a music video.
“For Rise of the Planet of the Apes, also in 2011, we did a special campaign featuring Freida Pinto (who acts in the movie) in India for the film,” said Vijay Singh, chief executive officer of Fox Star Studios in India.
Life of Pi demanded, and got, special attention, because of its subject. “We went the extra mile and Indianized the campaign by getting a special trailer cut for India,” Singh said. “Since the film released around Diwali, we created a special Diwali toolkit and lanterns.”
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First Published: Thu, Apr 25 2013. 11 15 PM IST