Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

'Joker' signals growing audience for non-superhero Hollywood films in India

  • The earnings of this dark, adult film are not entirely comparable with Hollywood blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame
  • Industry experts say there is a niche but growing market for small-scale, plot-driven Hollywood films in India

With last reported collections of Rs. 67.25 crore, psychological thriller Joker is the highest grossing Hollywood film in India that was released only in English, and not dubbed in any local language. The earnings of this dark, adult film are not entirely comparable with Hollywood blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame (Rs. 373.22 crore), Avengers: Infinity War (Rs. 227.43 crore) and The Jungle Book (Rs. 188 crore) that released in languages like Hindi, Tamil and Telugu and had an instant appeal thanks to their spectacle-driven, superhero or action adventure narratives.

However, industry experts say there is a niche but growing market for small-scale, plot-driven Hollywood films in India. This is being driven an increasing exposure to global cinema through video streaming platforms, a younger generation of viewers flocking to theatres and new avenues to watch films, besides smart and innovative marketing techniques employed by foreign studios.

Earlier this year, Disney’s musical fantasy Aladdin made Rs. 55.73 crore in India while its animation flick The Lion King earned Rs. 158.71 crore, becoming the highest grosser in the genre in the country.

An even more niche Hollywood offering, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood managed Rs. 5.35 crore while Bohemian Rhapsody, a biographical drama on Freddie Mercury, had completed 50 days in theatres. The last two didn’t have dubbed versions.

“There is a growing market for different genres from Hollywood in India which the younger generation has started to accept and take to increasingly," said Devang Sampat, deputy CEO, Cinepolis India.

Globally, 90% of the movie business comes from Hollywood but in India, given the country’s vast dependence on rich, local content emanating from multiple language industries, the figure ranges between 20-21%, Sampat said. Still, this is a huge leap from the 5-10% of the total box office that Hollywood used to contribute in India five years ago. Clearly, there is huge scope for disparate genres, including non-superhero, larger-than-life Hollywood films to make a mark in India.

“As of now, the appeal (of niche Hollywood films) is highest in metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad but we are increasingly seeing traction in other cities like Pune, Vijaywada and Patna too," Sampat said.

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said there is a small but significant audience for non-superhero Hollywood content in India that remains updated on social media and doesn’t mind paying between Rs. 500-700 to watch these films in multiplexes. To tap these viewers, Hollywood studios choose film locations and show timings carefully. “They don’t look at more than 400-500 screens and spend a maximum of Rs. 5-6 crore on publicity, that is mostly on social media. That ensures the release is viable," Mohan said.

The advent of the OTT (over-the-top streaming) medium in India has contributed significantly to introducing audiences to different genres of films beyond big screen spectacles, said Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer- Cinemas at online ticketing site BookMyShow. “India has always had an audience for foreign films, however for the most part, we have been an under-screened market. The advent and growth of streaming platforms has made it easier to revive interest and also service this audience with varied foreign film content in formats beyond theatrical release alone. When select alternate content is made available in theatres, these films do find significant takers as we have seen on BookMyShow," Saksena said.

He added that interest in the Academy Awards has also allowed for varied films to release in India immediately after the nominations are announced globally. Hollywood studios are cognizant of the huge potential that India has as a movie-consuming market and hence, are trying to expand their reach here by dubbing and subtitling films.

“Beyond Hollywood, award-winning foreign language films have also seen a great ride this year. The Oscar-nominated Lebanese film Capernaum, resonated with movie buffs across Chennai, Hyderabad and NCR. Similarly, the release of Japanese film Shoplifters achieved over 90% occupancy in its first run itself in cities like Chennai as also 95% occupancy in markets such as Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, that otherwise witness an occupancy of 60-70% over weekends, thus resulting in three times the usual occupancy for films of this genre," said Vaibhav Lal, co-founder and CEO, Vkaao, PVR Cinemas, an online platform to pick and choose screening sessions.