The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Action option is top draw

For all its claims of high thinking, it is muscle over mind any day on the big screen of Calcutta.

Move over Al, it’s Arnold all the way as far as English cinema goes in Calcutta. The city top-grosser list of the past couple of years sees action heroes battling it out: Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Knights and Shanghai Noon, Men in Black II, Spider-Man… In peeps Stuart Little II, proving that if action is not at hand, big-ticket films — preferably featuring high-end special effects — are the only option to draw the crowds.

“The east is a laggard market, especially where English films are concerned,” says Harshavardhan Gangurde, manager, advertising and promotions, Columbia Tristar India, in town for the launch of “one of the biggest films of the year”, Terminator III. “Niche films” like the Al Pacino starrer, The Recruit, fare poorly in Calcutta, compared to either Delhi or Mumbai.

So, in keeping with the company’s commitment to the east — a market “poised to grow” — the obvious attack is through regional films. After taking the plunge with Saanjhbatir Roopkathara, the multinational distribution studio has taken on board Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Mondo Meyer Upakhyan, slated for an Independence Day release.

The other approach, which has been the vehicle raking in “over 50 per cent” of revenues nationally, is regional language dubs. Hindi, Tamil and Telugu lead the list so far. The company hopes that Bengali may feature in future.

Films are chosen for dubbing after careful consideration. “We have found that there are very few Hollywood stars regional language audiences recall,” explains Gangurde. The Terminator is one of them, but he is known more as “Arnold” than “Schwarzenegger”. So T-III has six Hindi dubs playing across the city, as opposed to the one for English-speaking crowds. Even the posters are different. The US display features just half the face of the leading man and lady. The Hindi version has much more action. “We have found that it is better to be overstated rather than understated here,” Gangurde observed.

Even action stars like Sylvester Stallone have low recall, according to Columbia’s research, while viewers are more likely to hold on to film names. Bruce Willis doesn’t work either, though Tom Cruise does break the language barrier. Jackie Chan on the other hand “could be Tamil” for his immense popularity down south.

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