Our Strength is Emotions : Avtar Panesar

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Our strength is emotions and that’s what connects our audiences to our films -Yash Raj Films’ Dhoom 3 has become the biggest film in the history of Indian cinema domestically and internationally. We must be doing something right. It’s nice to be accepted by the audiences on our terms globally, says Avtar Panesar, YRF’s VP International Operations

How does 2014 look for Yash Raj Films after phenomenal success of YRF’s Dhoom 3 in both international and domestic markets?

The year is looking very good, with a great mix of films. We have a mixed bag of big commercial films as well as smaller films like Dibakar Bannerji’s Titli, which is already getting attention in the festival circuits and of course we’re delighted that our US film Grace of Monaco will be the opening film at Cannes this year.

What is the response of Dhoom 3 in European territories? Give some insights. Has it built scale in its international reach?

The film has become the biggest movie of all time in all key markets and we’re delighted with that. The film has opened to a fantastic response both in Germany and France. We have opened it in Romania and getting great reviews and we are building this market with each film since Ektha Tiger and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Russia is next. We have been able to use this to crack new markets and the support it received from International press coverages has been a very important tool.

You have been an advocate of creating a brand identity for Indian films in the global market place…

Indian films have now certainly made a place for themselves on the global stage. We still have a long way to go for us to start doing major business globally, beyond the diaspora. Dhoom 3 has done $27 million from the diaspora. The day we can start doing this or more from the non-diaspora is the day we can say with some degree of satisfaction that we have made a mark.

What is unique about India?

India is known for its diversity and culture and the great thing is that we have so many stories to be told. The exciting thing is that not all these can be made in to big event films, and so it gives us opportunities to tell all kinds of stories at all levels. Titli is one such story which turns the family value system on its head and tells a very compelling tale.

Is Bollywood a genre by itself in the global footprint?

Yes indeed, the term Bollywood is certainly a genre and that’s why I feel when the non-traditional audiences see it for what it is, it starts to make sense – I believe we tell global stories but in our own unique way. I always say, we speak a very different cinematic language from the rest of the world and it’s a language that works for us. Fortunately, we have been able to attract some attention in the non-diaspora markets and our films are intriguing these audiences. The unique thing about India or Indian films is that by and large we tell human stories and very emotional stories – of course our emotions are over the top but we as people are loud and over the top, we don’t know how to whisper. We tend to speak loudly, that’s the case when we make movies too. Our strength is emotions and that’s what connects our audiences to our films, even an action film like Dhoom 3 had a very emotional track but packaged differently – at its core it wasn’t about the bikes, chases, sexy girls, it was about heart and the emotional ties between brothers. The fact that it has become the biggest film in the history of Indian cinema domestically and internationally makes me feel we must be doing something right. It’s nice to be accepted by the audiences on our terms globally. It’s set in a world you can identify with but still see a film that brings in all the ‘Bollywood’ elements.

Have digital platforms expanded the Indian film content globally? Or is it still dominated by theatrical releases?

For now, its hasn’t replenished the home video business for us and the thrust is still on the theatrical business. For us it’s a slow burn but we hope to see this change in the very near future as the windows shorten.

India is still less than 2% of the global entertainment pie? Although it produces the largest film releases yearafter-year? How do we break this ice of increasing it to 5%?

Well that is going to remain an issue as long as the Indian Rupee is valued at 60 to the US Dollar. Till that happens the revenues will remain a small percentage on the world stage. But we must also look at the admissions in India, which are just phenomenal and will continue to grow as more and more cinemas reach the rural areas. Also, it must be remembered that cinema is still one of the cheapest form of entertainment in India and the poor cannot afford to pay $8 – 12 for a ticket, and it needs to remain in the reach of the common man.

Film festivals like Berlinale, Toronto have played a key role in spearheading Indian cinema?

Yes indeed, and we’re very happy to have had this support from these very prestigious festivals.

Is that limited to particular kind of cinema?

I don’t agree that this is limited at all, I have screened Veer Zaara at Berlin which was classic Bollywood and I have also premiered Kabul Express at Toronto which was anything but Bollywood, so they take films on merit and these platforms have been a great way to showcase our cinema to the world.

Can we go beyond that?

We can certainly go beyond this and we are. We are now ready to showcase our films earlier than usual so festivals can view them much in advance, we are ready to show our films at festivals and use this route to find a world audience for films that merit this approach. Titli is one such film, we have already started work on this.

Finally, What motivates you in export of Indian film content?

The short answer is the `Bucks`. No, seriously, money is the by product of the success we have seen through taking our films everywhere we can and entertained our audiences. I was part of a team to host a Chinese delegation not too long ago, and the Information Minister from China asked me what was our secret for such consistent success outside of India. I said, it’s really very simple, first we play to our strengths – our strength is the millions of South Asians living outside of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Our first goal is to reach them and entertain them. If we achieve that goal and reach them even in small markets like, West Indies or East Timor, then we have done our job well. After that secondly we target the new markets and the non-diaspora. If we did it the other way around we might have few big story successes, but suffer with the vast majority of the films.

It’s a great feeling to be at the other end of the world and see your posters being displayed longside all the mainstream or local films and have families come to see your films as they have been doing for generations. The biggest high for me is that we are spreading Indian culture and language to kids who may never have been to India yet and may not speak the language properly, but are connected with their ancestral motherland through cinema. Having been raised in the UK, I learnt to speak Hindi only by watching Hindi films and listening to Hindi songs – so now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward

 

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