G.I. Joe hit the screens in India ahead of its global release to capitalise on the extra-long weekend. With Hollywood thinking up new strategies to widen its reach in India, isn’t it time that the Hindi film industry came up with innovations to consolidate its hold over the audience?

This Wednesday marked the beginning of an extra-long weekend with Holi celebrations and guess who’s cashing in on the break? No, it’s not Sajid Khan’s ambitious Hindi masala film Himmatwala, but the Bruce Willis-Dwayne Johnson-Channing Tatum starrer GI Joe Retaliation! Responding to the local environment appeal, Paramount Pictures agreed with Viacom 18 Motion Pictures for the sequel of GI Joe: Rise Of The Cobra (which reportedly grossed over $300 million globally) to release on a Wednesday ahead of its global release on Friday. The film released on March 27 in India and the Philippines.

Last March, The Avengers had taken centre stage in India with rock band Agnee and director-lyricist Abbas Tyrewala belting out its Hindi theme song ‘Hello Andhero’ live in Mumbai. Disney UTV, distributing the Marvel Studios’ movie in India, wanted the film to be promoted in as big a way as its Bollywood release that June, Rowdy Rathore.

Marketing tie-up

Last July, Fox Star Studios India got its animation flick Ice Age 4: Continental Drift to tie up with seven different brands — MTR Milk Drinks, McDonalds, Crax Corn Rings, Perfetti Alpenliebe Swirl, LG Electronics 3D TV, The Mobile Store and DLF Mall Delhi — making it the most talked about marketing tie-up of Hollywood.

Arguably Tom Cruise’s three-day India visit in 2011 was a watershed moment in Hollywood promotions in India. The global star came across to shoot and then promote Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which also starred Indian actor Anil Kapoor. The decibel levels have hardly mellowed since then. From local marketing tie-ups to customised promotion campaigns, Hollywood studios have decided that the Indian market is not to be treated lightly. After all, according to industry reports, Hollywood releases account for eight to nine per cent of the total box office collection within India. “That may look like a single digit figure, but when you consider that in the last 36 months, it has doubled the original, I think it’s time to sit up and take note,” says Vikram Malhotra, COO, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, responsible for the India distribution of movies such as Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the just released GI Joe: Retaliation and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, MD, Studios – Disney UTV, agrees that Hollywood has definitely emerged an increasingly significant component of the Indian theatrical box office in the past few years. “It’s a combination of factors. First, big films are releasing wider than ever before due to digital expansion and lower per print costs, and are being marketed more and more aggressively. Second, the content is working well with audiences, especially big ticket franchises. Third, the wide reach of this franchise content on television is a big driver, since all these films are dubbed and consumed on television beyond their normal theatrical constituencies.” Which means by the time The Avengers 2 releases, The Avengers will have been aired across all languages and touched audiences that might not have watched it theatrically, thus increasing the audience for the next instalment significantly. Moreover, he says, the new generation of 15-24-year-olds, who have grown up in an age of 24x7 satellite television and the internet giving them direct and immediate access to a wide array of content from around the world, have a taste for content that is not local.

Viacom’s Vikram concurs that Hollywood films offer a more enriching movie experience, making the effort and the cost worth it. “3D and other cutting edge technology is a big contributor. Hollywood is about science fiction, action thrillers, larger-than-life experiences. Also, the connect with our target audience, which most consider 18-24 years but I mark at 14-19 years, is largely through social media. They are at par with the global audience when it comes to being aware of Hollywood releases in India. So I need to satiate their growing demand for new content. Which is where Hollywood studios are realising the need to design their marketing strategies locally.”

A growing market

Industry insiders pit India as the fourth largest globally growing market for Hollywood films after China, Russia and South America. Theatres are increasingly going digital and the IMAX technology is also getting more popular. That’s creating the right platform for big ticket Hollywood releases in the science fiction, action thriller or superheroes space. Vijay Singh, CEO of Fox Star Studios (distributor of Slumdog Millionaire, X-Men: Origins and Avatar) says, “More and more multiplexes are converting to 3D as the contribution of 3D to the overall business of Hollywood films in India has increased from 60 per cent during Avatar to a staggering 87 per cent for Life of Pi.”

Disney UTV’s Siddharth estimates, “In the next five years, Hollywood could rise to as much as 15 per cent of the Indian theatrical business. It will be driven by digitisation, screen growth, language dubs and the uniqueness it offers as a movie-going experience.” Regional dubs are also contributing to the growth.

Fox Star’s Vijay says, “Hollywood films over the last couple of years have been doing increasingly well in not just the mainstream markets but in regional centres as well with the dubbed versions. They have grown approximately more than 130 per cent over the past five years in India.”

About 1,000 films are produced annually in India, definitely the world's biggest producer, but with Hollywood making definitive inroads such as these, it might just be time for India’s film industry to pull up its socks.