China cinemas to reopen to Indian films (Column: B-Town)

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Recently, China has accepted two Hindi films for theatrical exhibition in the country. And, is in the process of acquiring a South Indian film. This is not the first time that China has started screening Indian movies. China had started regular imports of Indian movies, albeit with a limit on the number of films per year.

When one talks of China, the unpredictability always needs to be considered. The imports were stopped for whatever reasons for the last two years. With countries such as Pakistan and China, you can never predict. Since the Balakot air strikes, for instance, Pakistan has stopped importing Hindi movies.
Whenever there is a tiff between the two nations, India and Pakistan, the first victims are always films. But guess who the loser is? It is the Pakistani exhibition trade, the cinema owners. Though they are improving now, content as well as technique wise, Pakistani films are no match to Hindi films, especially when it comes to popularity. Besides, only Pakistani films can't feed the country's cinemas for 52 weeks.
The fact that the Chinese had started importing Indian films came as a morale booster for our filmmakers. It was considered a kind of acknowledgement of the great popularity of our films.
The overseas circuit, as it was known in the film trade over the years, was considered as big as the Bombay circuit, as defined by the trade. Unknown to filmmakers, the overseas market was much bigger, but the producers had no way of knowing it. The trade was monopolised by one or two buyers and they had made sure it remained their market.
The filmmakers just felt happy that their overseas rights had been sold, for, as per the trade practice, a film's profit margin came from one circuit and that was 'Overseas'.
They never realised how lucrative the overseas market was, but even the staff and clerks working for the one or two distributors did. One after the other, they all left the parent company to start their own! Suddenly, there were a dozen or so buyers for the overseas rights of films. But the pioneers had minted gold while their monopoly lasted.
The overseas trade consisted of the traditional market, which extended to mainly the African countries, where a huge Indian diaspora had settled, UK, Middle East, South East Asia and smaller countries such as Fiji, Mauritius and such. Even South America was a sizeable market.
Then there was the non-traditional market. It consisted of European countries, mainly the Eastern Bloc. Mostly, these countries released just one or two Indian films a year, because their people's exposure to foreign films was limited to what their national governments approved.
In this market, the one country that appreciated our films the most was the USSR, or the Soviet Union, as it was called before its disintegration. Earlier, Raj Kapoor and, later, Mithun Chakraborty, were the heartthrobs there. In exchange, of course, we had to accept the Russian propaganda films that never attracted footfalls. That was government diplomacy and had nothing to do with the Indian film industry.
The US and Canada were slated to become a major market for Hindi films 1970s onwards following Ugandan despot Idi Amin throwing out the Indian families who had settled in these countries, besides England and other Commonwealth nations, being British passport holders. Almost at the same time, a lot of Indians were migrating to the US and Canada, some seeking higher education and then staying back.
Today, the Indian diaspora in the US accounts for more than 40 lakh people, besides having spread all over the world. The Indian films have been making the most of it ever since.
Till the 1970s, Indians abroad loved mainly desi-themed films. Mostly, romances with melodious music. Generally, the feel-good films. That was their nostalgia trip. They were still old-fashioned, living with the same values they had left India with. Their communications with home were limited and travelling back was never on the cards and, if it ever was, it was via long ship voyages.
They loved Rajesh Khanna films the most and kept doing so till long after Amitabh Bachchan had displaced him. Khanna's films were what they identified with because of romance and music. Action and other stuff was available in Hollywood films in plenty!
Now, of course, the scene has changed. With a huge young Indian population working in the U.S. and other countries, a lot of them from the South of India, the preference is mostly for youth-oriented films. And South Indian films seem to be doing better than the ones in Hindi.
Since the start of the digital era, small films don't find it easy to be released outside pay TV. Only the big films manage theatrical releases.
With the opening up of communications, television, Internet, mobiles and social media now rule our lives. The new diaspora consists of new-generation Indians, not only from coastal western India, but from all over. The overseas market, as a result, opened wider.
There are examples of, say, a Rajinikanth film setting a record in Japanese cinemas some years ago, even as Aamir Khan's 'Dangal', did the kind of business in China that a regular film hardly ever does in Indian cinemas.
Since then, China has been a sought-after destination for Indian films. Of course, the films have to be the kind that don't contest state policies. Among the films that have been shown in China are 'Dangal', 'PK', 'Secret Superstar', 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', 'Hindi Medium', 'Andhadun', 'Padman', 'Toilet Ek Prem Katha' and 'Baahubali', to name some. It is an added source of business.
The two films that are slated for release in China are 'Chhichhore', which was released earlier but will now get a wider play; the other film is Ajay Devgn's 'Drishyam', remade for China as 'Sheep Without A Shepherd'.
Pakistan, where Indian films, especially those in Hindi and Punjabi, had a captive audience, frequent government sulking makes the supply infrequent. The country follows the policy of 'Bite your own nose to spite your face'. According to Hirachand Dand, an overseas distributor who has been in the business for more than 40 years, reveals that recently a deal for two Punjabi films has been struck for exhibition in Pakistan, but the films have not been bought directly from India, but through a dummy company in the UK. Whatever helps them with a face-saving exercise!
Back to the Chinese market, it is reported to be reopening cinema trade with India. China has more than 80,000 cinemas and, as things stand today, they are starved of content. But the deal is loaded in favour of China. When China acquires an Indian film, it is through the state agency, China Film Group Corporation, which retains 50 per cent; 25 per cent goes to the cinema screening the film and balance 25 per cent comes to the Indian filmmaker!
This is because the trade is between an individual filmmaker and the government agency. That is how it works in China. Nonetheless, China adds to the kitty and that is most welcome.
@The Box Office
* John Abraham's 'Attack' has not been able to draw footfalls. The collections have been way below par, adding up to about Rs 11 crore.
* 'RRR' has helped fill the gap for a wholesome Hindi entertainer. Having opened to a bumper response, the film's two-week business for its Hindi-dubbed version is Rs 208 crore.
* 'The Kashmir Files' has done reasonably well even during its fourth week. The film's four-week tally stands at Rs 248 crore.20220410-121602

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