The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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  • Rang De Basanti : 62,584
  • Harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban : 25,696

The total number of admits in INOX (Forum)


The plexes are plush and the hype is huge. Yet, Calcutta is so bitten by the Bollywood bug that it refuses to queue up for new English releases

Julia Roberts pulling up the black stockings in her introductory scene of Pretty Woman. Anthony Hopkins enjoying the notes of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in The Silence of the Lambs. Kate Winslet’s heart-shaped pendant dangling against her heaving bosom in Titanic. There was a time Calcutta would queue up for these images to unfold on the ill-lit big screens of musty movie halls.

Not anymore.

Calcuttans have stopped romancing the English movie. They may keep asking Anthony Kaun Hai' but they don’t care much about Johnny Depp’s Cockney accent in Pirates of the Caribbean. They are more intrigued by Aamir Khan’s Punjabi accent as Daljit (DJ) puttar in Rang De Basanti than by Ron Howard’s cracking of The Da Vinci Code.

What’s gone wrong' Why does Calcutta contribute just five to seven per cent of the national gross revenue when cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore account for 30 per cent each' Why has the multiplex boom spelt further doom for Hollywood here when it has opened up the English movie market dramatically in other metros'

Why does the most successful Hindi movie in the last three years, Rang De Basanti, run for 220 shows more than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — the most successful English movie in the same period — and draw in more than double viewers at the city’s most popular multiplex, INOX (Forum)'

The answer is indeed blowing in the wind. “The multiplex boom in Calcutta has not been an explosion like in Delhi and Mumbai and so the market for English movies is still very small compared to Hindi movies,” says Kushagra Jalan who distributes Warner Bros. films apart from Yash Raj movies here. “In the other metros, a big English film would release with 30 to 50 prints. In Calcutta, if the number is 10, it is a big thing. The audience base can only increase if the market increases.”

Even when films like King Kong do well in the city, it’s the dubbed Hindi version because, as Jalan puts it, “it may be difficult to follow Biblical references but it is a visual treat when a movie is packed with state-of-the-art special effects”.

Exhibitors like Arijit Dutta blame it on the great language divide. “In Calcutta, Hindi movies have completely dominated English films in the past five years... For a city touted as a lover of English films, why would all-India winners like The Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Caribbean fare comparatively poorly here' Because we may sermonise that we should watch English movies but when it comes to paying for the tickets, all the culture talk goes out of the window.”

It’s simple economics, stresses Vikramjit Roy, head of publicity of Sony Pictures India. “The Bengalis loved going to Globe or Chaplin a decade back because of the low cost involved. But today, they are intimidated by the multiplexes because of the associated cost factor that involves everything from shopping to eating to even parking cars.”

Echoing Dutta’s line, Roy elaborates: “The box-office collections clearly suggest that the verbal drive of the Bengalis to watch English films has not translated into action... As far as the non-Bengalis in Calcutta go, they would watch their Fanaa and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna any given day and not mind the pocket pinch.”

The push factor becomes a pull at Nandan, where comfort is combined with low cost. “Da Vinci Code did very well at Nandan. The reason is the affordable ticket rate, the maximum being Rs 50,” says Nandan CEO Nilanjan Chattopadhyay.

The delay in the prints coming to Calcutta also hurts. Says Vikas Syal, general manager of INOX (Forum): “Apart from the wide releases, most English films come to India at least a couple of months after their American arrival. And then they take another couple of weeks to come to Calcutta.”

Case in point: Asterix and the Vikings refusing to come to Calcutta shores. When asked why, Jiten Hemdev, director of Star Entertainment, had told Calcutta: “See more English films and we will definitely come here first.”

By the time the new releases make their way to the plexes in town, the niche audience has either seen the film on pirated DVDs or rented them from the neighbourhood library, feels Syal, for they do not want to be left out or wait in queue.

Syal’s home theatre theory hits bull’s eye. The two most popular DVD lending libraries in Calcutta — Cinema Paradiso and Raja Electronics — agree that the new English movie section is the most sought after. “Of the 1,200-odd movies we rent out on an average every month, most are new English films that fly off the shelves the moment we get the original DVDs,” reveals a spokesperson for Cinema Paradiso. “By the time a Capote or a Crash hits the theatres, most of our members have seen it at home.”

Calcutta, yet again, is picking up the crumbs and starting to play catch up. “Yes, the pick-up has been faster in Delhi and Mumbai but we are trying to catch up,” says Syal. “This year we have had Oscar-nominated films, which are not commercial releases, coming to Calcutta in the same month as in the other metros. That’s a start. Once we have more multiplexes, the market will surely pick up.”

Jalan believes that the studios would make sure that Calcutta doesn’t get left out. “They are now releasing their movies through local agents who are conversant with the distribution of Hindi and regional films in the area,” he says. “So there will now be more access to the territory and they will be able to play around with the huge plans they have for the eastern region as a whole.”

Multiplex chains across the country are also doing their bit to promote English movies. “They have started segmentation, breaking up films into genres and going in for innovative programming,” says Sony spokesperson Roy. “English film marketing has become much more in-your-face and perhaps all they need to do is target the niche Calcutta crowd that is staying away from the cinemas.”

Like most things in Calcutta, time is the main hope. “The entertainment industry works in cycles,” muses Dutta. “There was a time when Calcuttans would queue up to watch an English film; maybe that day will return soon.” Amen.

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