New Delhi: Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. is set to release the definitive Michael Jackson movie, This Is It, in at least 150 screens across India on 28 October to coincide with its worldwide release, but advance bookings so far have not met expectations.

Sony officials say the Wednesday release is one strategy to combat two big Hindi releases that Friday (30 October), London Dreams and Aladin.

Click hereto view a slideshow of Michael Jackson in This Is It

In keeping with Sony Pictures’ strategy for the film worldwide, ticket sales opened a month before the film’s release. Starting 27 September, moviegoers in India could purchase tickets through online booking on the websites of BIG Cinemas, Fun, Cinemax, PVR and Inox. At present, advance booking is available in 48 theatres in 14 metros across the country.

However, ticket sales have been slow to pick up. Kercy Daruwala, managing director, Sony Pictures Entertainment Films India, had anticipated a major demand for the film because of the singer’s huge fan following in India and also because the film has a limited two-week engagement. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the King of Pop perform larger than life," says Daruwala.

Daruwala shares that he is disappointed with sales as they stand now. “The response has been encouraging but not as we had expected," he says. He cites the long-winded censor board routine as a reason. “We’ve only had our advance booking open online because we can’t sell tickets over- the-counter till a movie clears the censor board in India."

The untold story: Michael Jackson in the movie This Is It. Sony officials refuse to comment on exact ticket sale figures, but estimate that around 2,000 tickets have been sold till date. Sony Pictures

Meanwhile, ticket sales have been phenomenal in other parts of the world. In the US, all 3,000 tickets for screenings at a Los Angeles cinema were snapped up in 2 hours, with some fans lining up for nearly three days. Around 30,000 tickets were sold in the first 24 hours that sales went live in London, while $1 million (Rs4.6 crore) worth of tickets were sold in Japan within the same time period.

Tushar Dhingra, COO of Big Cinemas that will screen the film in Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai and New Delhi expects bookings to shoot up in the week before the release when tickets are available over the counter. “This Is It is a film in its own league and dedicated Michael Jackson fans have been eagerly awaiting its release the world over."

Michael Jackson’s last major tour was in 1996, and his last album, Invincible, released eight years ago. The singer was all set for a grand comeback with a 50-concert tour titled This Is It starting July 2009 in London’s O2 arena, a month before he died of drug overdose. Now, a movie with the same title is an attempt to piece together the spectacle that the world lost out on.

The 112-minute film offers music lovers a behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his world tour. Chronicling the months from March through June, the film is drawn from more than 100 hours of footage featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. The film is directed by Emmy award-winning Kenny Ortega, who was both Michael Jackson’s creative partner and the director of the stage show.

The film’s world gala will be held in Los Angeles at the Nokia Theatre on 27 October. Other locations, including Mumbai, Moscow, Tokyo, Sydney and Paris, will host their own non-simultaneous premiere activities. Bhavesh Thakkar, director of marketing at Sony Pictures Entertainment, says that the entertainment label has planned several activities around the film’s release, including Michael Jackson club nights in major metros.

The film’s release is also accompanied with a two-disc album with the same title. The revived single that gives this whole franchise the name, This Is It, is already doing the rounds. Disc one features the original album masters of some of Jackson’s biggest hits such as Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, Human Nature and Thriller arranged in the same sequence as they appear in the film. The disc ends with two versions of This Is It, the original and an orchestral version. The song is also featured in the film’s closing sequence which includes backing vocals by The Jackson Brothers.

The song This Is It had missed making it to the Thriller album in 1982. We can only wait to see if the song, and the movie, misses the mark with Indian audiences completely.