Will Salman Khan’s ‘Tubelight’ further boost Bollywood’s China market?
New Delhi: At last count, Aamir Khan’s Dangal had surpassed the Rs1,000 crore mark in China, raking in about Rs1,166 crore in the country, emerging as not just the highest grossing Indian film there by a wide margin but also the fifth-highest non-English grosser ever globally. The Nitesh Tiwari-directed wrestling drama, along with Khan’s own PK, Dhoom 3 and 3 Idiots that earned Rs123 crore, Rs24 crore and Rs16 crore, respectively, in China, have opened doors for the latest Bollywood offering—Salman Khan-starrer Tubelight, directed by Kabir Khan.
While the Tubelight team doesn’t have concrete plans for a China release as of now, there is more to the war drama that would appeal to the Chinese market than the regular Indian film. It is not just set during the India-China conflict of 1962 but also stars Chinese actor Zhu Zhu—known for Chinese romantic comedy What Women Want and Hollywood flicks like Shanghai Calling, Secret Sharer and Cloud Atlas—in the lead opposite Khan.
“Having a Chinese actress, someone the audience will be able to identify within the film, is one part of it. But I think thematically too the film holds great opportunity in China, so I think it’s a combination of both,” said Amar Butala, chief operating officer at Salman Khan Films, co-producer of the film, adding that the success of Indian movies that have worked in China shows that the audience is looking for a story that resonates and not necessarily for scale and spectacle. Dangal, for instance, was centered on an emotional father-daughter plot dealing with female underdogs making it big in a patriarchal society.
“For us, it’s primarily about the story Kabir has told in the film he’s made which I think will resonate (with Chinese audiences) and, of course, there is the additional advantage of having Zhu Zhu as part of the cast,” Butala said.
The Chinese film market offers both challenges and opportunities. The second-largest movie market after the US offers nearly 27,000-28,000 theatres out of which a Bollywood film typically garners 4,500-5,500 screens. In India, too, the widest possible release a film can get is 4,500-5,500 screens out of the 8,000-9,000 screens. PK was released in about 4,000 screens in China, while Dangal managed 9,000, nearly double its India screen count. Further, the average ticket price in China is $12 compared to $1.5 in India.
But the Chinese government rations foreign films fiercely, limiting them to about 34-35 a year, of which nearly 90% are Hollywood productions. Non-Hollywood foreign releases make up just 1.5% of the Chinese film market. Also, a major Indian film studio’s backing is essential to create enough space and noise for the movie. For PK, UTV Motion Pictures secured a distribution deal with Huaxia Film Group, a local Chinese company, and promoted the film aggressively with lead actor Khan, who barely interacts with the media in India, travelling all the way to China. Such factors explain why only big-ticket Bollywood films that have already enjoyed a successful run in India make it to the neighbouring country.
“They have a stringent policy on how (foreign) films get released, so we can’t pre-empt what Tubelight will do there. The good thing is Aamir has done this over and over again, so he’s kind of set an audience,” Butala said. “If we do manage to get in, it’ll be the first of Salman’s films and for us, just a way to reach out to a newer audience. The box office is secondary.”
However, the relevance of the Chinese market cannot be undermined.
“It may be a little early to talk about Tubelight’s prospects in China. For now, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion will see a release there,” said film trade and business expert Girish Johar. “But the presence of a Chinese actor makes for great box office appeal. They may have locked the basic story first but her presence could be a calculated decision to capture the Chinese market. Undoubtedly, the film has big potential there.”