Mumbai: At least four of the films nominated in major categories at the Oscars this year, including front-runners Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, will be released in India, proving that the annual event boosts prestige as well as box-office prospects.
First off the block is Les Misérables, which will compete in eight categories at the awards that are handed out annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Universal Pictures International India will release the musical, which is based on the 1862 French classic by Victor Hugo, on 18 January.
Next up on 8 February is Steven Spielberg ’s biopic Lincoln , which has out-nominated most of its peers for nods by the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards. Daniel Day-Lewis , who plays former American president Abraham Lincoln , is in the running for best actor. Lincoln is vying for 11 more Oscars, including for directing and best picture. “We expect that the nominations will draw attention to the film,” said Sanjeev Lamba , chief executive officer (CEO) of Reliance Entertainment, which is one of Lincoln’s producers and which will distribute the movie in five metros in India.
“When a film gets nominated or wins at the Oscars, it draws high attention from audiences as a quality film and immediately increases its overall business,” Lamba explained. “This includes its run at the box office, the sales in home video and the price it gets from satellite channels.”
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which recreates the operation to capture Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, will open on 15 February. PVR Pictures had released Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker after it picked up six statuettes in 2010. This year, the distributor and exhibitor is better prepared to showcase Bigelow’s new movie, which stars, among others, Jessica Chastain as a Central Intelligence Agency employee who becomes obsessed with hunting down Osama. “Zero Dark Thirty is a biggie for us—we have seen the film and everyone is buoyant about its prospects,” said Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures. The film is nominated in five categories, including best actress for Chastain and best picture. “The nominations will give the film tailwind, and by the second week, the actual awards will give more momentum to business,” Gianchandani said. The awards will be announced on 24 February.
In mid-February, Top Entertainment will distribute Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly acclaimed The Master, a study of a charismatic cult leader that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. “We are planning a strategic release,” said Rajiv Sangari, Top’s managing director. The Master has three nominations, including Phoenix for best actor.
The nominations could also breathe new life into older releases. Hollywood studio Warner Bros is likely to re-release Argo, the political thriller set during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, and directed by and starring Ben Affleck, in select cinemas on 18 January, said an industry source. Argo, which has seven nominations, including best picture, ran for close to 50 days after being released on 19 October—in Mumbai alone, the thriller clocked up six weeks. Sony Pictures India’s Skyfall, which has been nominated for five Oscars, including Roger Deakins for cinematography, is in its 11th week since its release on 1 November. Fox Star Studios’ Life of Pi, with 11 nominations, including directing and visual effects, was released only recently and is still running in cinemas.
Even though there are other equally prestigious awards at this time of the year, including the Golden Globes and the Baftas, it’s the Oscars that are taken the most seriously in India. The Academy Awards are considered the gold standard of excellence in film-making, Gianchandani said. “The Oscars have traditionally been one of the most recognized and followed international awards in the country,” he pointed out. “The Oscars have been the big-ticket event as far as the Indian public is concerned.”
The belief that a movie has achieved the zenith of excellence only if it has an Oscar to its name can do wonders for the prospects of such box office risks as dramas with no-name stars, musicals and biopics. The nominations, which were announced as day broke over Los Angeles by Hollywood actor Emma Stone and this year’s host Seth MacFarlane, are especially useful in bringing off-the-beaten-track films to theatres, said Kamayani Punia, former director of business affairs, Top Entertainment, which released the silent film The Artist in India last year after it pocketed five golden men. “How else do you explain a silent, black-and-white, period French production doing good business in India?” Punia said. “Oscar nominations and awards create a definite hype about the film and make it a must-see for people outside the limited audience for such genres.” The Artist, which was released on 24 February last year, ran for a little over a month at prime PVR multiplexes, said an executive from the company.
Fox Star Studios also benefited considerably from the Academy’s bow in the direction of Natalie Portman’s performance as a deranged ballet dancer in Darren Aronofsky’s psychological drama Black Swan in 2011. The studio shifted Black Swan’s release date from 25 February, two days before the award ceremony, to 4 March—Portman brushed aside such worthies as Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) and Nicole Kidman (for Rabbit Hole) to win the best actress statuette. Films such as My Week With Marilyn and The King’s Speech might have been passed over for a release or given the direct-to-DVD treatment if they hadn’t been nominated for the Oscars.
However, it’s wiser to hang a release to the nominations rather than the actual awards itself, said a senior executive with a leading Hollywood studio, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he is not authorized to speak to the media. “There are certain films for which nominations make a lot of difference and it’s best not to take a chance,” the executive said. “Nominations help build up audiences for niche films and in case a film does win, there can always be an extended run.” An Academy nod or two does not guarantee audiences, as independent movie distributor Avinaash Jumani, whose PictureWorks released the Oscar-nominated My Week With Marilyn and The Iron Lady last year, found out. Audiences are more interested in the final result than the process, Jumani said. “I think it helps only if the film is an Academy Award winner,” he said. “My experience is based on My Week With Marilyn, which lived up to its title by being screened at cinemas for only a week due to poor collections at the box office.”