As Dangal wows the Chinese audience, Indian filmmakers seem to have got a fresh impetus to think beyond the boundaries.
If you thought Indian films have no audience beyond the country and its diaspora, think again. With Dangal managing to earn over Rs 300 crore in China, it has opened up a conversation about taking Bollywood export into the neighbouring country a notch higher. Earlier, movies like PK, 3 Idiots and My Name Is Khan have done exceedingly well in the country. Now, with Dangal also getting rave reviews from Chinese viewers, the popularity of Bollywood movies seem to be getting in the country is a hark back to the days of Shree 420 and Awaara and the golden days of the Indian film industry. Last year, when ace Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke came to India at the Jio Mami Film Festival, he shared his insight on how Raj Kapoor’s films were extremely popular when he was growing up.
“It is amazing how the Bollywood industry is expanding to different parts of the world. It is a great time for directors as the market is huge,” says Anees Bazmee. The filmmaker, who had the honour of working with Raj Kapoor in Prem Rog, says the reason the films would be such huge hits was because they were essentially human stories and would touch people’s hearts. “The time is appropriate for directors to explore new areas and make films for audiences around the world, and it won’t take long before movies reach the shores of Europe and America,” he states.
However, in the past, Bollywood has been able to export Indian stardom to various countries, most famously Mithun Chakraborty’s fandom in parts of Sweden and Denmark. However, now it seems filmmakers are putting a concerted effort to reach wider audiences.
“China is a great territory for Indian films,” says filmmaker Sajid Khan. “There are many where Hollywood films that were failures in America, but were huge hits in China,” he points out.
According to Sajid, the huge market in China plays an important role in the success of these films in the foreign turf. “Cinema is universal and often the theme it shares is also universal. It’s about whether audiences like the story and how it is being portrayed,” he says.
However, there are a few constraints, says film historian S.M.M. Ausaja. “Language and culture — films that can transcend these barriers can make a mark. Only films that have basic themes can make a mark,” he says.
“Raj Kapoor’s films were popular in the USSR because these films had socialist themes, which managed to strike a tune with them. Ajooba was a huge hit outside of India, in countries such as Somalia. However, it didn’t do that well in India. Interestingly, the film was produced in collaboration with Russians. In Somalia, Bachchan is known as Ali because of his role he played in the movie. Amar Akbar Anthony was a huge hit in Trinidad and Tobago. And in Germany Shah Rukh is a huge star,” he says.
According to Ausaja, Bollywood films can do better if they know the culture of the audiences they are targeting. “For example,” he says, “Bollywood can conquer China as long as they are sensitive to Chinese interests. They should be using themes, which are universal and depend less on the prevalent star system.”
It seems India has woken up to the market that the American industry has already explored well in advance. “If you look at Fast and Furious 8, it has done much better in China than in America,” points out film-trade analyst Taran Adarsh. Recently, he tweeted saying that Dangal had collected a whooping Rs 187.42 crores ($29.13 million) on the first week and overall Rs 450.39 crores ($70.33 million) in the ongoing second week. “Dangal is doing well in China as it has in India. China doesn’t allow many foreign films to come in, but they are gradually opening up,” says Taran.
While it is clear that India is yet to explore the market beyond the boundaries, language is still a problem that needs to be solved as pointed out by Ausaja. However, the unequivocal solution is dubbing. “We watch English films dubbed in Hindi. So, language can never be a barrier in art,” believes Anees. Sajid concurs to the statement.
“Wild Tales, a Spanish film exploring the extremities of human behaviour, was a huge hit even though it was in Spanish. As I said earlier, cinema is universal. Baahubali 2 is generating such a buzz around the globe, because it offers an intriguing story and can connect to people on an emotional level. That is all that matters,” he concludes.