Box-Office

Why the Force is not with « Star Wars » in India

Cinema

Freestyle

News - India & You

February 19, 2016

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The last movie of the Star Wars saga, « The Forces Awakens », is a huge worldwide success, notably in the United States, in Europe and Japan, or even in China. But India resists the power of the Force and the film was largely eclipsed there by big Indian films such as « Dilwale ».

« Star Wars, The Forces Awakens », released last December, still enjoys some box-office gross globally but has quickly disappeared from most Indian screens.

The film directed by J. J. Abrams and inspired by the modern mythology invented by George Lucas, has crossed the two billion dollars global box-office mark. It is now the third biggest hit ever, in current dollars, behind two films directed by James Cameron : “Titanic” (2.18 billion dollars) and the invincible “Avatar” (2.78 billion).
The last Star Wars approaches a record one billion dollars gross in the US and is hot in France, with more than 10 million tickets sold so far. China also welcomed the film produced by Lucasfilm, owned by Disney, with nearly $ 130 million box-office.

Yet, as in the Asterix cartoon, where the Gaulish village does not let Roman legionaries in, there is a major country on the world map of cinema that resists the invader: India. It is the sixth market in the world in terms of box-office and the first one in terms of number of films produced annually.

Star Wars’ box-office did not exceed 5 million dollars there, according to the latest figures available on the website Box Office Mojo. A relatively small performance in a 1.3 billion people country, where cinema lovers are numerous. And India did not experience the other Star Wars usual wave : an onslaught of merchandising, toys and gadgets with a Star Wars logo, to fill Disney’s ample treasure chest.

The Jedi Knights have been defeated by two major Bollywood productions : « Dilwale », directed by Rohit Shetty, a romantic comedy with megastars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol ; and « Bajirao Mastani », an historical epic, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, with two other Indian stars, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.

Why on earth did Star Wars chose to face these heavyweights, have wondered many film critics ? Except that Disney had little choice, aiming at an almost simultanuous world release, to concentrate its promotional fire and to limit the risk of film piracy.

But there is another reason, more technical, for this modest Indian performance of « Star Wars, The Forces Awakens ». Disney did grant it a 1,230 screens release, in English language, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Yet, the film was essentially shown in multiplex cinemas that use DCI digital files. A standardized file, intended, again, at avoiding piracy.

This did leave the field open to local competition in most parts of India, a country still dominated by local cinemas which usually have only one screen. Although, as everywhere, the multiplex and « pop corn » type of big movie theaters are gaining ground.

« The Hero with a Thousand Faces »

Last but not least, Indians are not huge fans of Star Wars, like Americans or Europeans are. Previous episodes of the saga, that started its screen adventure in 1977, have always been modestly appreciated in India. They mostly performed in English language and appealed to young and urban audiences. Hollywood was more successful recently in India with the dinosaurs of « Jurassic World » or with the fast cars of « Furious 7 », two films that topped 20 million dollars box-office.

But from the start Star Wars has positioned itself as something more than a particular film genre : it intends to be a trully universal saga. George Lucas imagined it after reading carefully the book of American academic Joseph Campbell, « The Hero with a Thousand Faces » (1949). In this study of comparative mythology, Campbell explains how each major story, like Homer’s Ancient Greece « Iliad » or Alexandre Dumas’s « Three Musketeers », uses the same universal mythical patterns, such as the hero’s quest for his identity or his journey through adversity.

Lucas also mixed many references in his galactic tales : cinema genres like western movies, adventure movies, war movies, swashbucklers … ; but also disparate visual motifs: samurai helmets, Nazi type uniforms, mythological monsters…

But then, India is already a country of epic millenary stories, packed with powerful myths, such as the « Ramayana » or the « Mahabharata ». Visually, its cinema is also as big and diverse as a continent and fed by many influences. With a unique feature, the Masala movie, where characters do pretty much everything, notably dancing and singing, two things Star Wars’ characters almost never do.

The Disney Empire can take comfort in thinking it could do better in India with the next episodes of Star Wars already scheduled for release in the coming years.

Slowly but surely, Hollywood is gaining ground in India. American movies account for less than 10% of total box-office, in a film market hugely dominated by Indian movies. But Hollywood has already doubled its share of the pie in just five years.

Beware: in any good Star Wars movie, the Empire always strikes back.

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