New Delhi: Recognizing that the market for content-led English films in India has always been limited, production and distribution company PVR Pictures that brings director Ritesh Batra’s British-American drama The Sense of an Ending to the country is looking to combine a regular Hollywood movie marketing campaign with some Bollywood flavour.
“We’re going to do the regular Hollywood marketing plus a lot of Bollywood involvement because Ritesh Batra does have a name in India,” said Dharmesh Datta, vice-president and marketing head, PVR Pictures. He added they are going to look at about 50-100 screens for a discerning audience for the film that releases in the US on 10 March and should find its way to India within the same month. Based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending has been co-produced by BBC Films, FilmNation Entertainment and Origin Pictures and stars Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer and Michelle Dockery.
“Apart from Ritesh visiting India for two or three days, we look at a premiere with the film fraternity here supporting it the way they supported The Lunchbox (Batra’s previous directorial venture). We’re going to use the PVR infrastructure for things like apt trailering because that’s where the film buffs are looking at forthcoming releases. We want to make sure people know that such content is coming and Ritesh Batra is releasing his first Hollywood labour of love in India,” said Datta.
To be sure, while the weight of The Lunchbox’s success sits heavily on Batra’s latest project, the director himself is not particularly concerned about it. The romantic drama, which made about Rs20 crore in domestic box office collections, had conquered the international festival circuit, winning the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award at the Cannes Film Festival and notching up impressive earnings in several foreign territories, including France, Germany and New Zealand, making Batra’s leap to Hollywood, a rare feat for Indian filmmakers even today, easier.
“You’re a human being, so absolutely (there is pressure if the previous project has been successful). (But) You can’t really have an agenda, it doesn’t work like that,” Batra said, adding that his next project will be a Hindi film. “I had made a couple of movies before The Lunchbox and then it worked while this movie (The Sense of an Ending) came as an offer to direct. You can’t anticipate and plan how to work unfortunately. You just have to see what comes your way and feel lucky if you get to do what you’re excited about.”
The best kind of cultural diplomacy, Batra said, is for us in India to tell stories and show our talent to the world. And the more local and specific those stories are, like The Lunchbox, a Mumbai-centric, slice-of-life tale, the more universal they become. For that though, weaving the right distribution web is crucial.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the most important function of a festival is to find distribution for a film so that a movie can reach an audience,” Batra said. While The Lunchbox emerged as a festival favourite four years ago, Batra’s new film has opened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this week and was picked up by PVR at Berlin’s European Film Market last year.
“Going to a festival is not the end-all for a movie, it’s a step in the journey. That’s the importance of a festival, it’s not just a cultural but a business event, it connects audiences to movies,” Batra said.
To be sure, PVR is aware that the business of bringing such specifically targeted content to India isn’t entirely lucrative. Currently, the only English language films working in India are driven by spectacle and scale. The biggest Hollywood hits of 2016 The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War and The Conjuring 2, which made Rs188 crore, Rs59 crore and Rs61 crore, respectively, are some examples.
“For us, it’s been a content-led decision where we’re seeking a very wide genre of films. What we’re trying to do is create a content-led community which consumes this kind of entertainment,” Datta said. PVR which has brought about 400 Hollywood films to India in the past decade, including 12 Years a Slave, The Imitation Game and Zero Dark Thirty from festivals like Toronto and Cannes, has offerings like biographical drama The Founder, political thriller Miss Sloane and Dev Patel-starrer Lion lined up for release in India in the coming months.
“It’s definitely not a very lucrative business because it’s tough to bring these films but we use our infrastructure to make it happen,” Datta said. “These are nascent days but the audience will only grow. With all this (content) on-demand and other changes happening in the ecosystem, people are experiencing a lot of international content and global sensitivities. So their sensibilities are also changing with it, and they are enjoying better cinema.”