New Delhi: Earlier this month, American streaming service Netflix Inc. announced a two-season original web series on war epic movie franchise Baahubali. What started as a feature film for director S.S Rajamouli has now morphed into a digital show, besides the animated series Baahubali: The Lost Legends aired on Amazon Prime Video. Reliance Entertainment co-producer of Ajay Devgn’s action film series Singham is gung-ho about Little Singham, its animation series on Discovery TV as Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions readies a three-part superhero film franchise Brahmastra.
Clearly, Bollywood has realized the value of large-scale movie franchises that go beyond feature film productions with Eros International’s franchise arm Trinity Pictures and Rakesh Roshan’s superhero franchise Krrish that spawned an animation TV series, standing out as older examples.
A lot of it, filmmakers say, has to do with the inspiration gained from Hollywood and its age-old franchises like those in the Marvel Universe.
“Hollywood has certainly been the pioneer of franchises and superhero movies which consistently deliver box-office success around the globe," said Apoorva Mehta, chief executive officer, Dharma Productions. “The Indian media landscape is evolving at an unprecedented rate with the consumer possessing access to multiple avenues for consuming content. It was only a matter of time before the Indian film industry inadvertently branched out and invested in franchises or large-scale event films."
To be sure, the first advantage of a large-scale franchise is its visual appeal.
“Right now, audiences are looking at going to theatres only for something which is tent-pole and larger-than-life. If you look across production houses and companies, you will see subjects where they can create a world of spectacle and visual appeal, so that it has confirmed footfalls. From that point of view, franchises are very important," said Shibasish Sarkar, chief operating officer, Reliance Entertainment.
Secondly is the idea that a franchise comes with an established fan community among which the characters and universe are already popular.
“You have an audience that wants more of the universe, so that’s the basic set-up," said Shobu Yarlagadda, co-founder and chief executive officer at Arka Mediaworks, the producer of Baahubali. “Some may want to watch it from an animation perspective, others may want a Netflix episodic format which can go deeper into the characters and the conflict that films don’t allow. It’s all a different way of telling stories with an established brand."
Apart from the Netflix web show and animation series, Baahubali has stepped up the franchise game with original comic books, novels, merchandise and video games. A Baahubali theme park also stands as a tourist destination at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad. To be sure, industry experts say the ancillary streams may have only brought in about ₹ 10 crore compared to Baahubali’s massive theatrical revenues and there is a long way for India to go before it catches up on the extensions of a movie franchise.
“These are long-term things and they take many years to monetize, unlike films. But any media property that has an established fan base has good potential (to turn into a franchise) depending on how you tell the stories," Yarlagadda said citing the example of novels like The Hunger Games or video game franchise Prince of Persia that were turned into films.
“It can start anywhere but the first of them has to work before you build it into something else. Once it works, it turns into an asset that has tangible, substantial value," Yarlagadda said.