New Delhi: Last Friday, Disney’s space western Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to net box office collections of Rs35-40 lakh in India. This was an all-time low even by overall standards of the Star Wars series, which has consistently failed to draw crowds in India over the last few years. In 2015, Stars Wars: The Force Awakens made Rs4.58 crore on its opening day while the 2017 release Star Wars: The Last Jedi managed Rs2 crore on its first day.
At a time when the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, Disney’s own Avengers: Infinity War and The Jungle Book have opened to collections of Rs31.30 crore and Rs10.09 crore respectively in India, industry experts say there are concrete reasons to Indian audiences not lapping up the otherwise iconic Star Wars brand.
“From a content perspective, the Star Wars films have not been able to keep audiences engaged or engrossed," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. “The fact that the older editions didn’t do well explains the little hope or expectation from Solo."
Film critic Mihir Fadnavis added that The Force Awakens came after years of waiting in 2015 and it actually delivered on the hype, so naturally it did well.
“Rogue One clung on to the coat tails of Force Awakens and despite some problems, it was a fairly good movie — so that did well. The Last Jedi is when the franchise actually took a hit — it got a severely mixed reception and the negative word-of-mouth sort of carried on to Solo," Fadnavis explained, adding that Solo had its share of bad press due to its behind-the-scenes drama, which didn’t help either.
The film, which made about $103 million over the weekend in North America, is the lowest earner among the new Star Wars offerings after Disney took over Lucasfilm. The movie has also had its share of production problems, as directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller quit the project after creative disagreements and Ron Howard was brought in. The casting of Alden Ehrenreich as the male lead has also been questioned, after legendary actor Harrison Ford played the iconic character for years.
“The film isn’t good so that was the final nail in the coffin," Fadnavis said.
The 40-year-old movie franchise may have its share of die-hard fans but industry experts point out that there has never been an effort to localise the Star Wars brand for India, especially when there is so much competition from newer blockbuster franchises like Spiderman, James Bond or Marvel products.
“Most of these franchises have been given an India-centric focus, from merchandising to local promotions to fan engagement methods and they have made that kind of investment for years without even making real returns. You need that kind of push for your characters to become household names," said film distributor and exhibitor Akshaye Rathi.
Most recently, apart from bringing out regional language versions and tying up with home-grown brands, American studios have looked at getting top Bollywood stars to dub for localised versions of Hollywood films (trade experts say Ranveer Singh’s contribution to the success of Deadpool 2 cannot be overstated) and customising trailers, promotional material and even actual dialogue in the films to suit Indian tastes. The fact that Star Wars has never received that kind of nurturing alienates kids and younger audiences not as familiar with the brand.
“You have to cultivate potential for a film in a way that it becomes entertaining for any and all audiences. The fact that India is one of the top 10 box office markets in the world for Avengers is proof of how much can be accomplished," Rathi said.