India’s maturing film industry has realised that there is no formula for success and each film needs a unique distribution-exhibition strategy
It was a coup of sorts for Disney UTV’s distribution arm when Chennai Express released in over 3,500 screens across India on Friday. One of the widest domestic releases yet in Bollywood, Chennai Express collected R6.75 crore in paid previews alone—the highest to date, with 3 Idiots following at R2 crore—on Thursday, and the makers are expecting it to surpass all previous opening weekend records.
Of Disney UTV’s current slate, Chennai Express isn’t the only film running in theaters. Ship of Theseus, an independent film that the studio is distributing, has witnessed a steady rise in numbers over the three weeks since its release on July 19. Having opened at a mere 21 screens in five metro cities, the Anand Gandhi-directed Ship of Theseus is currently running to packed houses in 31 cities.
Every film is unique. This fact has been beautifully demonstrated by the distinct, contrasting distribution strategies that Disney UTV adopted to release its last two films. Indicative of the growing maturity in the industry, it is a fine example of how Bollywood has come a long way from the traditional model of production, distribution and exhibition.
“One of the reasons why most production houses also distribute their films is that they know their product best, they understand its genesis and the potential, which also helps in marketing the movie. They don’t want to take the risk of handing it over to other distributors, as in the traditional model, who may not be able to view the film as the unique product that it is,” explains Gaurav Verma, director, India Theatrical Distribution, Studios, Disney UTV.
Up till the 1990s—before the corporatisation of the film business and setting up of studios—distributors also often served as financiers of a film where producers would borrow money from them in return for a share of revenues generated upon a film’s release. The key reason was that banks didn’t lend them money, save the biggies like Rajshri Productions. While it allowed producers access to funds, it also gave distributors large control over the film’s making and exhibition. Back then, the widest a film released was across 1,500-1,800 screens.
“The first instance to change that scenario was privatisation. Corporates started to set up and they either came with seed money or could borrow from banks,” recounts