Home is where the theatre is. And major home entertainment players who swear by that mantra have a new trick lined up: direct to video film releases, besides DVD launches of movies that never released at your neighbourhood multiplex.
"Not every international hit is commercially viable in India," says Anupam Sengupta, marketing head, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. "Yet, such films do have a niche market here. Which is what we target with such releases."
Sony’s direct-to-video release, Stuart Little 3, sold over 40,000 units all over India — a big figure for a children’s film. The film was Sony’s second highest selling foreign DVD title in 2006, after The Da Vinci Code. Lined up exclusively on DVD are sequels like I Will Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend 3 and Lake Placid 2.
While the market looks best for children’s movies, a strong target audience is emerging in the 18-34 age segment too. "We are still experimenting with products for young adults, such as Fight Club, Alien Resurrection and Thank You For Smoking. These films were released theatrically worldwide, but are only available on DVD in India," says MN Kapasi, managing director, Excel Home Videos.
Even Eros and Shemaroo, primarily Bollywood players, have caught the direct to video bug. Eros recently launched Kevin Spacey’s uber-arty production, The United States Of Leland, considered too abstract for an Indian theatrical release. "When it comes to direct-to-video foreign releases, we go for films that the buffs can otherwise only avail on pirated prints," says Rajesh Das, vice president (marketing and sales), Eros.
Das knows there is a dormant market for the masters too — Akira Kurosawa’s classic Dersu Uzala that never opened in India, for instance, is also on their release list. Kurosawa, in fact, seems to be a popular pick, even Shemaroo’s catalogue flaunts one: the evergreen Ran.
Shemaroo Vice President Hiren Gada reveals another strong area: regional films. "We released Jaspal Bhatti’s Jijaji directly on video last year, and the film’s success has encouraged us to sign other Punjabi films, besides Marathi and Gujarati products," he says.
Of course, the market is still small, what with the DVD industry itself being a niche market. While Das of Eros puts the figure for direct-to-video at "10 per cent of all sales," Excel’s Kapasi says: "In 2002 we didn’t release even one film directly on video. By 2005 we went with 60 films and saw brisk results. I’ll say the market is evolving."