Rise of the Big Screen

By

Vivek Krishnani, Managing Director, Sony Pictures Entertainment, India.

Over the last few years, digital content platforms have dramatically changed the media and entertainment industry landscape. Simultaneously, box offices for both local and Hollywood releases in India are hitting new highs, signaling that despite a shift in content consumption habits, there is still scope for theatre viewership growth. Creative First caught up with Vivek Krishnani - Managing Director, Sony Pictures, India to talk about some of the changes in the industry and audience behavior, and what production companies can do to ensure the big screen continues to rise.

1. When an international film releases in India, how necessary are local marketing plans?

It’s very important to connect with the local market of the audience where you are going to be showcasing the film. First, marketing efforts need to be focused in areas where people are consuming content and in their local language. We launched the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer in ten languages even though the film was only released in four Indian languages. There are people who are sitting on the fence about whether or not they should go to the cinema to watch the film, so we took this opportunity to engage them in their most comfortable language. Seeing the trailer in one’s local language excites people to watch the film in the language of their choice. Those audiences turned up at the theatres and it worked out incredibly well for us. Also, having a big star like Tiger Shroff dub for the Hindi version of the film got us a fantastic response.

2. So, it is important to localize a marketing plan.

If an international film can get 20% of its overall box office from India, then of course, the way you position the film in India matters.

3. What are the biggest challenges to release an international film in India?

We are very under-screened as a country. We have about nine screens per million whereas the US has 120 screens per million, and China has about 30-35 screens per million. Screen growth has a direct impact on box office numbers in a country.

4. Do you have any example of a market where local stakeholders have helped build the industry?

Andhra has the highest screen density in India. This is because of the seriousness and focus that the state government has in facilitating growth in the industry. They have a smoother set up and facilitation of people who work in documentation for investment in cinema infrastructure. If you enable that, people will set up more cinemas.

Without that facilitation, it becomes a hindrance and the tax structures are self-defeating. They become barriers for investment as they create uncertainty. It needs to be more seamless and easy in terms of governance and regulation for people to set up more theatres so more people can visit them and start consuming films.

5. What can be done to change this?

It’s an expensive proposition to build a cinema, but if there is support from the government to do it in a cost-efficient manner, more screens will come up and in turn bring more people to the theatre. To do this also requires support from the distributors. For instance, when Cinepolis recently opened in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, the collections for our last film from that market almost doubled. This was because of the presence of a theatre offering a good viewing experience which was lacking earlier. We need that kind of growth across India. Great content backed by great infrastructure will help grow the cinema business in India.

6. Good content seems to be the buzzword right now. From a business standpoint, what do you think needs to be done to find good stories and make good content?

There is no secret to good content; you need to identify stories that connect with audiences. One way is by staying in tune with subject matters that are part of discussion in today’s day in age, particularly things that have not been showcased before but are stories people want to hear. A story has to be strong enough to drive people into theatres. Something that has an emotional connect, human insight, something that’s visually spectacular, or something that’s never been seen before: these are things that get people to the theatres. Films used to be more formulaic - a revenge story or boy-meets-girl etc. However, now stories need to be less formulaic because people have more options of how and where they are going to spend their money and time. Our job is to find content that is compelling enough to get people to come to the theatre and buy a movie ticket and feel they’re getting value for their money.

I think you’re more likely to create good content if:

A. You are able to identify what is the story you want to say; and,

B. You invest in good story writers and screenplay writers because those are the people who give you a blueprint for what will eventually show up on celluloid.

Finding good content is a constant process. We have a creative development team that does this 24/7. A good idea can come from anywhere; it’s up to you what you want to prioritize and invest in.

7. Any interesting stories you can share with us?

We just acquired life story rights from Indian cricketer Jhulan Goswami. She is the highest wicket taker in Women’s One Day International Cricket and the first bowler to take 200 wickets in WODIs. This is just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many other interesting aspects of her life that make it a story that needs to be told.

8. Female-driven films are becoming more popular than they were five years ago. Are producers more proactively seeking out those stories?

I typically don’t differentiate between female-driven stories and male-driven stories. A good story is a good story. We’ve seen films like Piku, Kahaani, Tanu weds Manu, English Vinglish, NH10 and now Raazi and Hichki – these are films that people want to watch and stories they want to hear. It’s a good story that needs to be told and it shouldn’t really matter whether it’s a female or a male protagonist.

9. Now that most big international films do make it to the big screen in India, is there any reason to buy the rights of a foreign film to make an Indian version?

At Sony, international films from many countries which gives us the benefit of looking not only at English content, but content across a variety of foreign languages. This enables us to leverage the rich content heritage in each market and cross-localize it not just as a foreign film being remade into an Indian film, but also an Indian film being remade into a foreign film. Our recent film, 102 Not Out is a great piece of content that can be replicated in any market in the world. There is an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and stories as long as the content is viable in that market.

10. What is the scope for the kids & youth genre? 

We brought Spider-Man back into college because we believed that there is a certain aspirational value amongst younger audiences to identify the superhero as one of them. I think that really worked with Spiderman. Kids and youth are definitely an important demographic because they have purchasing power and they drive purchasing decisions within the family. If filmmakers find a balance where the film caters to both parents and kids, we will definitely see this pie grow. Peter Rabbit, which is a combination of live action and animation, did really well in India because it had elements that both kids and adults can enjoy. By appealing to two audiences, you get to sell four tickets instead of two.

 

Vivek Krishnani is the Managing Director of Sony Pictures Entertainment, India. He is one of the youngest studio heads in the country, with more than two decades of media experience across verticals spanning advertising, radio, television and movies. He is currently tasked with ramping up the local production and distribution slate for Sony Pictures Entertainment, India. SPE has delivered back to back hits, including Pad Man and 102 Not Out.

 

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