This year, HBO completes 10 years in India. Ten years of laughs, action, blood, chills, thrills, tears, silence…that the viewers have virtually grown up with. If you think about it, we've all had a chance to see approximately 29,000 movies and series in this decade.
I thought it would be interesting to put down some of these insights/observations that I have seen in the Indian movie viewer.
Of creepy craw-lees and Bruce Lee
This is a strange paradox of evolution. After years and years of the latest and the best of Hollywood and now also World cinema, there is nothing to beat the charm of creepy reptile movies, which somehow viewers just can't get enough of.
A few years ago, I was surprised to see that the No. 1 movie for that period was Enter the Dragon, starring the inimitable Bruce Lee. A '70s movie, shown for the 70th time, had more appeal than all the webbed superheroes and magic school whiz-kids put together.
What started with Titanic, continued with the Jurassic Park trilogy and Bruce Lee's martial arts, still stays with the Indian audience after all these years. There are about 10 odd movies that are watched with great fan following, regardless of where and when they are shown. The same rule applies for a handful of actors, who continue to be all-time favourites -- Julia Roberts and Jackie Chan command a passionate following even today.
So, when movie channels run out of ideas, they know who and what titles to resort to. You just can't go wrong with a Julia festival and a Jurassic quadruple bill. (I know there are three films in the Jurassic series, but at the rate the studios in Hollywood are cashing on franchises, I won't be surprised if there's a fourth one by the time you read this.) Not to mention our Oedipus complex with 'mummies', and other ghosts of the past.
There is Hollywood English, and then there is Indian English
In these 10 years, I have also observed a strange accent that has somehow caught up with all of us Indians. It didn't exist 10 years ago; but now it's everywhere. Whether it is a BPO employee sporting the standard American twang; or the eager saleslady who will only reply in yet another version of accented English, no matter what language you speak to her in; or the penthouse dwelling Gurgaonite or Mumbaikar. We all speak with a suspicious foreign accent. Speaking in plain old Wren & Martin Indian English is just not cool any more.
But when it comes to watching movies, we are more comfortable taking the help of English subtitles to comprehend the Hollywood English that sometimes becomes difficult to follow, even for the fluent speakers amongst us. Thus, we are, perhaps, the only country in the world to run English subtitles in English movies.
And it works. Of course, it does come with its fair share of critics, who want to know how far we will go to 'kill' the movie-watching experience. But it will not be wrong to say that this small innovation has had a significant impact in expanding the overall movie-watching audience.
The not so inconvenient truth about lesser known movies
This is one of the most heartening milestones to have achieved in the last 10 years that we've been around in this space. There is an ever-increasing interest in movies that people may have barely heard of, or certainly not had an opportunity to watch before.
Al Gore's documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, received such rave reviews from viewers in far-flung areas that it was brought back for a special prime time viewing. Movies such as A Mighty Heart, Blood Diamond and some 'HBO Original made for TV' movies have been enjoyed over and over again.
As tastes evolve, there is clearly a place for quality shows that are not about eyeballs, but a place in the heart for the viewer. And it clearly signals the increasing success of Hollywood-based producers in making their offerings transcend borders.
There is something about Carrie
It's a well-known truth that English movie channels are the so-called "big daddies" of English entertainment. Unlike our Hindi channel counterparts, soaps and series don't do it for our viewers. So, you can have the best series that will première on an English entertainment channel; but it doesn't get quite the viewership that movies get.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. When Carrie Bradshaw and her friends hit the scene a few years ago, the show's ratings equalled some of the top movies at that time. After all these years, Sex and the City still has place of pride amongst series. Lately, another HBO Original series, True Blood, did very well. It's been slow and steady (and may still continue to be), but English TV series are finally finding a resonance with the Indian viewer.
Two good two be true
Ten years ago, when HBO launched in India, there were two-and-a-half other English movie channels, and a total of 50-60 channels in the Indian television space. And we thought that was a clutter.
Thus began a fierce fight between the top two movie channels -- the ratings went up and down, but the fight remained between the top two. Today, with 350 TV channels, six DTH players and seven international movie channels, the same top two continue to slug it out for leadership.
At HBO, we realise that while you may resort to your old favourites and recycle titles over and over again, nothing succeeds like top quality Hollywood blockbusters shown for the first time on Indian television. Adding a fresh set every month, it's a dictum we are living everyday.
And as more and more viewers keep getting added to the mad, merry movie-watching bandwagon, we look forward to the next 10-20 years in India. Keep tuning in!
(The author is country manager for HBO Asia in India.)