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English films, desi delivery

English films dubbed in Indian languages are finding many takers. Often, dubbed versions do better at the box-office than their English originals, reports Rachit Vats.

business Updated: Dec 06, 2009 23:47 IST
Rachit Vats

James Cameron’s epic action-adventure Avatar, which hits theatres on December 18, will start with 600-plus prints in India. Fox Star Studios, the distributor in India, says that of this number, the dubbed Hindi version will hold the majority share at 40 per cent, followed by English at 36 per cent. Tamil and Telugu will cover the remaining.

Warner Brothers also released Ninja Assassin in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, besides English, in India last week. The view is that English films, which have a more limited viewership in India than desi films, can manage to draw in bigger audiences if they can be delivered in languages more Indians can understand. Even people conversant with English often prefer to watch dubbed versions of English films, finding it difficult to follow the American or British accents of the actors.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (India) followed a similar formula, using 676 prints to release 2012 on November 13 in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, besides English. The film had a box office collection of Rs 19.15 crore, the second highest opening ever for a Hollywood film in India after Spiderman 3 in 2007.

Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios (India), says, “Big Hollywood films do very well in dubbed versions. If it’s a big movie, then almost two-thirds of collections come from the dubbed versions. Our biggest learning comes from X-Men and Ice Age 3, both of which gave us good collections. There is more of regional collection on both. The market itself is growing and in the next five years, dubbed English films will contribute even more to the overall pie.”

X-men Origins: Wolverine was the second biggest opening for a Fox Film in India and overall collections stood at Rs 14 crore, from English and Hindi-dubbed prints. Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs delivered total collections of Rs 9 crore. Ice Age 3 was released with 67 prints, with 44 in English, 11 in Hindi, and 12 in English digital 3D across India.

Fox Star’s Slumdog Millionaire, with 363 prints in English and Hindi (dubbed), also did very well with Rs 40 crore in box office collections. The Hindi version, Slumdog Crorepati, fared better, contributing 30 per cent more than the English version.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (India), which dubbed Gandhi for the first time in 1982 in six Indian languages, is now investing more in this recipe. Managing director Kercy Daruwala says, “It’s an old trend which was later revived in the mid-90s with Lost World. It has huge commercial potential now. Most metros contribute extra revenues from dubbed films, with Hindi contributing the majority share.”

The next line-up from Sony Pictures, which is considering dubbing in Bengali too, includes The Stepfather, Zombieland and Did You Hear About The Morgans?.

After Sony’s Gandhi in 1982, Paramount Pictures dubbed Jurassic Park in 1994. Titanic was dubbed for India when it released in 1997.

Smita Jha, associate director, entertainment and media practices, PricewaterhouseCoopers, comments: “At 50-60 films a year, the English film market in India is not very big yet, but it is growing. Increased multiplex penetration in Tiers 2 and 3 cities, and dubbing combined with local promotions will fuel the growth of foreign films in India.” The Indian film industry, PwC expects, will touch Rs 17,000 crore revenue by 2011.

Industry experts, however, warn that not all dubbed films do well. Films with a bigger brand and star value work. Action, horror, thriller, adventure, romance and sex-oriented films are the best bets as they bring revenues from smaller towns. Animation and alternative content also work. A film can be dubbed for as low as Rs 1 lakh or as much as Rs 70-80 lakh.

Gurudutta Shenoy, general manager, Percept Picture Company, says, “While the rest of the world prefers subtitles, Indians would rather see a dubbed film. Though dubbed English films took a huge beating in 2003-04, bringing in scant collections, with a few recent successes they have started to pick up again. It’s more like a trend with a new equation.” Percept Picture Company distributed Spiderman 2 and Spiderman 3 in India earlier.