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When “The Fate of the Furious” opened in India this month, the eighth installment of the blockbuster Hollywood franchise romped past the lone homegrown offering at the Easter weekend box office.
Period drama “Begum Jaan” was the only Bollywood film that dared to challenge “The Fast and the Furious” car-racing franchise, unlike other Indian films that steered clear of a possible clash despite the dearth of slots in a crowded 2017 release calendar.
“It has come to a stage when producers are actually staying away from April 14,” film-maker Vikramaditya Motwane told Reuters in an interview in March.
“No big Hindi film will be released on the day because the last one made a 100 crore ($15.5 million) and this one looks like it will make even more than that.”
Motwane’s words proved prescient. Despite weak reviews, “The Fate of the Furious” racked up a record-setting global debut of over half a billion dollars. In India, it pulled in over $10 million in four days, ahead of “Begum Jaan” with $1.8 million.
With moviegoers lured by Hollywood sequels, industry insiders say Indian movie studios are voluntarily delaying release dates to give their films some box-office breathing room.
“Baahubali 2”, touted as the biggest Indian film of the year, was originally slated for release on April 14 before being pushed to the month-end. Anil Thadani, the pan-India distributor of dubbed Hindi versions of the Telugu fantasy epic, blames pending post-production work and insists the Hollywood behemoth had nothing to do with the change.
“But yes, if it was some other film, I would have thought twice before clashing with a franchise like ‘The Fast and the Furious’,” said Thadani.
Bollywood movies are noticeably absent from the box office line-up next month. The sequel to space adventure “Guardians of the Galaxy” hits screens on May 5 while the latest in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series opens two weeks later. Both films are primed to take the box office crown with no major Indian release in the mix.
“If you look at parallel releases, the Indian market cannot support more than 300 crores ($46.5 million),” said Girish Menon of consultancy firm KPMG.
“When a Hollywood movie releases, you will realise that the Hindi movie releasing at the same time will have underperformed.”
In 2016, Marvel superhero film “Deadpool” trumped the Hindi film “Fitoor”, nearly doubling the $2.9 million box office takings of the Bollywood remake of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”. Disney’s “The Jungle Book”, released a week before Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s new film, raked in $28 million in ticket sales while “Fan” mopped up $13 million.
Five years ago, Bollywood hardly considered overseas films a threat and Hollywood studios were struggling to get a foot in the door of a fiercely loyal movie market.
But younger audiences are looking to Hollywood franchises such as "The Fast and the Furious" and the superheroes of the Marvel and DC Comics universe for big-screen thrills Indian cinema is unable to provide.
Colin Burrows, a marketing consultant who works on Hollywood releases in India, said he sat in on meetings with Bollywood producers and studio executives pushing release dates in order to avoid clashing with Hollywood franchises such as “Transformers”, “X-Men”, “Avengers” and “Spider-Man”.
“I can tell you one thing - I would not care to be a release scheduler in India right now,” said Burrows.
“First you have to see if you are going up against Aamir or Shah Rukh. Then you have to check when’s Holi, when is Diwali and then - Oh my god - there’s another ‘Batman’ film coming up.”
Things are unlikely to change, given the onslaught of franchise movies Hollywood churns out each year. But backing down isn’t really an option for India’s movie industry.
“I hope we learn the right way and combat them the right way,” said film-maker Motwane.
Editing by Tony Tharakan