afaqs!

Slumdog Millionaire: Was the buzz enough to pull the crowd?

By Tarana Khan , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | February 06, 2009
The film garnered a lot of media attention, but has the publicity translated into box office revenues? afaqs! finds out

Slumdog Millionaire, the rags-to-riches story of a boy from the slums of Mumbai, has been picking up armfuls of awards in the US and Canada, and has even been nominated for 10 Oscars. In India too, the movie generated a lot of hype and debate, along with a lot of pride about AR Rahman composing the soundtrack.

The film released in India on January 23, much later than its premiere in the US in November 2008.

Fox Star Studios (FSS), the distributor for the film in India, claims that the film has earned Rs 13.5 crore in its opening weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). As on February 2, which includes the following weekend, the film's revenues stood at Rs 21.5 crore.

To & #BANNER1 & # put things into perspective, a mass movie, such as Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi or Ghajini, grosses around Rs 60-70 crore in the opening weekend. However, when it comes to multiplex movies - Slumdog Millionaire is also part of the same genre - Rock On earned revenues of Rs 22 crore in the first three weeks.

In fact, Raaz 2, which also opened on the same weekend as Slumdog Millionaire, is estimated to have collected Rs 21 crore in the first weekend.

Without comparing it with the rest, it can be said that Slumdog Millionaire has had an average opening. But for one moment, could we say that the movie would have done better—especially after the buzz it generated?

afaqs! spoke to a few industry observers, and marketing experts to find out why the movie was an average grosser, despite the media coverage and word of mouth publicity, it received.

A few among them were of the opinion that the movie could not have made it as a mainstream movie as it is more suited to the English-speaking, urban multiplex audience.

A similar kind of opinion was voiced by Rensil D'Silva, executive creative director, Meridian, an O&M agency, who has also penned the screenplay of Rang De Basanti and is currently working on his directorial debut. "The film is intrinsically a white man's perspective about India, which is what the Western audiences want to see. But the Indian audience get to see poverty every day, and they live with it," he says.

A source from the Indian film industry reasons that the game show format of Kaun Banega Crorepati, which has been used in the film, has lost its old charm. "Besides, while we are all used to seeing poverty in this country, in the West, the audiences saw an India which they had not seen so closely; for Indians, it was 'been there-done that'.

However, the film distributors seem to be quite satisfied with the movie's performance. Vijay Singh, chief executive officer of Fox Star Studios, says, "We were aware that the Indian audience prefers Hindi movies over English ones, because Hollywood movies make up only five per cent of the box office. This is why we presented Slumdog Millionaire as a Bollywood movie, though it cannot be compared to a mass movie such as Ghajini," he says.

Like any other Hollywood movie, Slumdog Millionaire also had two language feeds running in the theatres - English and Hindi. FSS claims that 68 per cent of the box office earnings were contributed by the Hindi feed.

The movie was launched with only 351 prints in India, 75 per cent of which were of the Hindi version, Slumdog Crorepati. In comparison, Farhan Akhtar's Rock On released with 600 prints worldwide.

The Hindi title of the movie was a straight translation of the English one - Slumdog Millionaire to Slumdog Crorepati. Does this make the Hindi title unusual for the Indian audience.

Nabeel Abbas, CEO of movie marketing firm, Epigram, says, "A film with an English title comes with some baggage. When two versions of an Indian film shot in the English language are in play - one called Slumdog Millionaire and the dubbed one called Slumdog Crorepati - with dual and combined advertising driving awareness and information like show timings, it creates further confusion."

"I feel that dubbing an English language Indian film adds to this chaos, especially when you have slum kids and game show hosts, whom the nation has seen speaking in Hindi, suddenly start speaking fine English in the original version," he adds.

However, Singh of FSS clarifies, "We didn't want to give it (the Hindi version) a totally different title. For that, we would have had to have separate marketing plans. In small towns, we thought that it would help audiences be clear about which version they wanted to watch."

The biggest marketing promotion for the film was the publicity it got when it received 19 awards and the 10 Oscar nominations. However, the coverage was mostly via the Western media, until the premiere of the film was held in Mumbai on January 22. Also, whether that buzz reached small-town India is debatable.

According to Singh, the film was promoted in India through TV promotions, print ads and OOH.

Harish Bijoor, a prominent marketing consultant, says about the promotion of the film, "The film has certainly done well among the SEC A crowd, who was really the TG. But it hasn't been marketed as well to the rest of the Hindi film audience. Also, the middle and lower socio-economic classes do not really want to see such a realistic film, because they go to the theatres to be entertained."

Bijoor adds that it is not enough to have a single promotion for the film. It should showcase the variety in the plot, because people go to watch films for different reasons. "There are aspects of cruelty, romance and triumph in the film, but that kind of verticalisation was not seen in the promos," he says.

Another analyst says that a film deserves a certain amount of "content showcasing" and that "the heart of the film was not fleshed out in the campaign", adding that it is the Western audiences who saw the story of triumph in the film.

The soundtrack of the film, which received great reviews, was also not promoted as strongly. The audio album did not see a high-profile launch, which is usually done six to eight weeks before the release of a Hindi film.

Another crucial factor affected the outcome of Slumdog Millionaire at the Indian box office. Since the film was released in India three months after its US release, pirated DVDs and illegal downloads were rampant in the Indian market.

"There were a lot of people who couldn't wait to see the original film. As the campaign peaked early, with pirated DVDs available and the film not in play in cinemas, it worked against the film's Indian box office. When you peak a campaign, you should be able to sell tickets too," adds Abbas.

Responding to why there was such a long gap, Singh says, "It was a conscious decision to go for a deferred release. We released the film worldwide once we established its credentials in the US."

But Singh admits that piracy is bound to happen and that it may have had an impact on the collections of the English version of the movie.

Though the film has done reasonably well in India, one does wonder if it could have done better as a 'mass' movie, made in Hindi by a Bollywood director, and of course with a pure Hindi title (not a translated one). What do you think?