New Delhi: Indian movies are heading out—to unfamiliar foreign shores.
In September, Yash Raj Films will take its critically acclaimed comedy drama Hichki to Russia and Kazakhstan, while upcoming Tamil action comedy Seema Raja heads for a release in Poland. This month saw Eros International release its 2015 blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Turkey after having taken two films last year, Munna Michael and Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, to Russia.
The move to overseas territories may not be new for Indian cinema, but the leap to non-traditional markets that are not home to a large Indian diaspora is new.
More than anything else, industry experts say it has to do with the fact that Indian cinema, including Bollywood films, has come of age in a global market that is waking up to its distinctiveness.
“Bollywood has now become the buzzword, it has its own space, like Hollywood," said Pranab Kapadia, president, marketing and distribution, Eros International Plc. Apart from China, which is a well-known new market, countries such as Russia, Turkey, Taiwan, South Korea, Germany, Poland, Portugal and France are opening up to Indian cinema, with filmmakers also knocking on the doors of Latin America.
“That has happened because we’ve stuck to our own identity and not just followed the Hollywood formula but remained drastically different in our narrative," Kapadia said. “Across all countries, the one feedback has been on the emotional quotient, family values and the song-and-dance format our films bring. There is enough of the Bahubali type of content that Hollywood is already making and we can’t compete with their special effects or action. It is those films, which are different from Hollywood, which are succeeding."
Film distributor Yusuf Shaikh said the digital universe has improved visibility for Indian films. Plus, the internet has made things a lot easier for businessmen, as it is now possible to send digital prints of films to prospective investors and gain feedback on how to tweak or customize content to suit local tastes. For Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Eros partnered with a Turkish company, Filmarti, while Seema Raja has been acquired by 7th Sense Cinematics in Poland.
“We’re customizing the correct content for audiences’ sensibilities and in their language and convincing the exhibitors of the plunge they need to take with us," Kapadia said. “We participate in film festivals and let the audience experience
Bollywood. It’s not an overnight result, it’s taken time and one needs to nurture every market. But we’re seeing the rewards."
To be sure, theatrical release is not the only means to reach overseas territories. Television and digital platforms offer a whole new universe and much opportunity.
“The content has to travel through every possible means," said Gaurav Verma, chief revenue officer at Red Chillies Entertainment that has worked on releasing subtitled versions of its films on television in Latin American countries and in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Besides a content deal with Netflix, Red Chillies works with iTunes to ensure its content is available across the globe.
“With the kind of digital piracy prevalent today, taking a film (already released domestically) overseas is a Herculean effort, he said. Plus you have to be careful because these markets have to be nurtured for them to accept your content."