No desi show in Chinese theatres?

Of late, China has emerged as a lucrative market for Hindi films, though it’s still not anywhere near other overseas countries such as US, UK and Europe etc. A number of Bollywood films such as Dangal, Bajrangi Bhaijaan (BB), Hindi Medium, Secret Superstar, PK and Mom etc. have done exceedingly well in China. While Dangal earned a whopping Rs 1908 crore, Secret Superstar raked in Rs 874 crore. Likewise, PK made Rs 831 crore, even as Andhadhun touched Rs 324 crore figure in China, while BB also crossed Rs 300 crore mark. 

However, the ongoing situation in eastern Ladakh, where 20 Indian soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in a violent confrontation with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley late on Monday, has posed the question of whether Indian films will cease to release in the neighbouring country.

No More Numbers Game

For starters, filmmaker Nikkhil Advani refuses to look at the balance sheets. “If 20 of our soldiers have been brutally killed, there’s no question of even talking or thinking about having our films released there, or how much financial losses – miniscule or big – it will entail. Hypothetically, if we are in such a tense situation with a country that contributes in a big way to our overseas film business, will we think of releasing films there? No, I don’t think so,” he says.

Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta, whose Kaabil released recently in China, too concurs. He admits that China is “undoubtedly the fastest growing movie market in the world.” “But Hindi films don’t have a definite market share there yet with a very negligible business. So, it’s not like we are going to lose out on a huge pie if we skip China,” says Gupta.

Exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi is clear that desi filmmakers don’t stand to lose much even if they skip Chinese market. “Honestly, it’s an individual producer’s call. Money-wise, you don’t stand to lose much. Anyway, in a year, only about 3-4 Indian films get permissions to showcase in China. And on top of that, most of the money that these films make, goes into the pockets of the local governments and exhibitors-distributors. That’s why Indian makers don’t get to pocket much. So, our filmmakers can easily skip China, if they want,” he says. 

A high probability

Film trade expert Amul Vikas Mohan feels that film industry is most likely to take a stand on the matter. “I will be shocked if they don’t. I can understand from a business point of view that China is a brand new market that has opened up recently and the movies are doing really well there. But regardless of the financial aspect, the patriotic feeling is much stronger and that will affect decision,” he says.

Trade analyst Atul Mohan also agrees that when emotions run high in the country, it won’t be business as usual for the film industry as well.

“Fortunately there weren’t many films slated for release- just Super 30 in mainland China and Good News, which was to release in Hong Kong. As an Indian, no one will like to go on and release their films in China and make money in such times. It is all about moral ethics and taking care of the Indian sentiment,” he adds.

Not a big blow

Despite the whole monstrosity about the China market, Rathi notes how revenue-wise films not releasing in the neighboring country will not make much of a difference to the overall scheme of things in the Indian film industry.

“China has a policy where they allow only a limited number of foreign language films to release. So we weren’t really looking at the release of more than 3 to 4 Indian films there anyway. Even the films that go there, the kind of business policies that the Chinese entertainment industry has is such that the out of the big money that is a film makes, a very small share comes to the producers,” Rathi explains.


The Covid factor

While it indeed is lucrative for Indian filmmakers to release their films directly on 25,000 screens in China, the Covid-19 pandemic has anyway dented that prospect and cast a cloud of uncertainty about theatres opening in such large numbers.

“Tenet is going to be first film that the Chinese market is looking to release over any other films from India or elsewhere. They want to test waters in the blockbuster front. Then, it will take two months for an Indian film to get a clearance for release there. The films which are going to release are anyway old, they will go there, release silently and come back. It won’t make much of an impact,” he shares.

Echoing the same, Amul adds that by then things will get stable and it won’t come to that. “Hopefully, this will subside. People are anyway fighting a pandemic, everybody wants peace at the end of the day,” he says.

The big rush!

Till now, a number of Hindi films have hit Chinese big screens starting with 3 Idiots and PK among others. Of late, Hindi films like Hichki, Andhadhun, Kaabil and Mom released in the neighbouring country to varying degrees of success. In April, reports suggested that Hrithik Roshan-starrer Super 30 will release in China once the situation becomes ‘normal’ after Coronavirus pandemic. We tried to reach out to Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibasish Sarkar about the same, but he refused to comment on it.

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