What makes indian cinema tick in non-english markets like China?

The recent past has seen a few Hindi fi lms do exceeding well in what you would call non-traditional overseas markets for Indian fi lms, mainly China and Korea, grossing hundreds of crores of rupees and begging the question as to whether this is a new market for Indian fi lms to crack or are these fi lms exceptions instead of the rule.

First let's look at some facts. One of the first films to break into this Eastern region was '3 Idiots'. With its subject of pressures on students to conform to a rigid academic system, it struck a chord in China, Hong Kong and Korea, raising north of Rs 15 cr in these countries. This might seem a relatively small amount now, but in 2012, this was an unheard-of figure for an Indian film to gross in this region. 'Dhoom 3' followed and grossed about Rs 20 cr but the big breakthrough came later with 'PK'. Another Aamir Khan film which broke all records in India and crossed over to mainland China, where it grossed an amazing Rs 120 cr in its theatrical run. At that point there was talk of Indian films looking East rather than West for a major market for its films, but this has been cemented in recent years with two films - 'Dangal' and 'Secret Superstar'.

Starting with 'Dangal', a film which revised all Hindi box office records in its release, China took the film to heart and with the added strength of the burgeoning Chinese box office, the film has grossed a phenomenal Rs 900 cr in the country. This is more than its gross in India! It didn't end there with a relatively smaller film 'Secret Superstar' still running in China, its gross in the country currently stands at over Rs 400 cr. These figures portray two things. One, that the Indian box office is dwarfed by its Chinese counterpart - even for Hindi language releases and two, that Indian films do have scope in non-traditional markets and it isn't necessarily to do with star power and star value.

Now you will probably point to the fact that all the films I have mentioned are Aamir Khan films or associated with him in some way. That would be correct, but I think it only tells half the story. There is definitely an opportunity in story-telling that our Producers should exploit in these markets as there is a cultural overlap in many areas and from '3 Idiots' to 'Secret Superstar', this has been the key driving factor in making these films successful in China and Hong Kong mainly. Aamir Khan is now a set brand in China. The success of Dangal shows that his films will now be happily patronized in the country in a comparable way to how Rajnikanth films were in Japan. First mover advantage and the foresight to build a market must be credited to him for that and 'Secret Superstar' perhaps is reaping some of that reward but again, it's not the only reason for its success.

Films are finally about story. If the story resonates with an audience, then the film works. This is the same in China as it is in India and there can be no doubt that these films I have mentioned have resonated well with the local population. 'Dangal' and its story of a father and his daughters is a impressive tale that certainly has a lot of mirrors in the Chinese culture. '3 Idiots' is about a rigid system of education and China and Korea both have a much more rigid system than India. 'PK' about a man out of place in the world is something that China can understand and 'Secret Superstar' about freedom and expression is obviously something young Chinese people will flock to, even if their Government is not necessarily thrilled about that. These are films with an Indian heart, but their soul can be something that many cultures and many countries can well understand.

The key now is can this success really open the door for other films? 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' has opened terrifically in China, grossing upwards of Rs 150 cr in just 9 days of release and more and more Indian films will now look East for international release rather than only West and the diaspora. The Indian film industry has finally stopped looking at overseas release in terms of what is easiest. Any market needs to be developed over a period and just targeting people of Indian origin, for a long time, has held our Industry back in terms of its place on the international stage. With big US releases struggling at the Chinese box office this year, 'Secret Superstar' is the highest grossing imported film in China and given that, Indian films have an opportunity of giving similar cultures films that resonate more with them then some of those from the West and this is an opportunity we must cash in on.

Rahul Puri
MD, Mukta Arts Ltd

Source -