India has become one of the most significant film markets globally in terms of box office growth. Even though it has a long way to go before it can take over America and China’s reign as the dominant audience for movies, its box office revenue, particularly for Hollywood movies, has grown exponentially over the years.
But as Hollywood is becoming so entangled with India, it’s also experiencing upheavals from the country's censorship. The tightening censorship is at the heart of the problems faced by distribution companies while releasing Hollywood films in India.
PVR Pictures' Joint Managing Director Sanjeev Kumar Bijli explains how the business of exhibition companies often get affected by the restrictions of the Indian censor board.
“I remember we distributed Hereditary last year. It did really well in the US in terms of box office wise. It was one of our summer trumps, so to speak. But the censor completely butchered it. They suggested so many cuts that it almost became choppy and a very incomprehensive film. Critics didn’t like it. The audience didn’t like it either which ultimately affected the business of the film,” says Bijli.
Actor Keanu Reeves plays an ex-hit man Jonathan 'John' Wick in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. (Official poster)
Just last month, Keanu Reeves-starrer John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which was distributed by PVR Pictures in India, suffered several mutes and significant cuts despite getting an ‘A’ certificate.
Last year, the release of Jon M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians had drawn a lot of attention after Warner Bros. initially confirmed that the film would not hit Indian theatres. The film had finally arrived in Indian cinemas on October 5 after many fans expressed disappointment over the news of the movie not making it to the country. However, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) blurred out a pivotal scene in the movie as well as the word “bit**.”
Official poster of Jon M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians.
“Censorship is still a bit abstract in India in terms of its guidelines as to what gets cleared and what doesn’t get cleared,” Bijli emphasises.
Furthering anxiety is another challenge of finding better release date slots for Hollywood films during peak moviegoing periods.
“In India there are so many films that get released in a week. It’s a challenge to give the film right scheduling at right time and also give it the right marketing and the right platform and awareness,” says Bijli.
But there is a frequent criticism that most distribution companies back the slate of action and superhero franchise titles because of which the chances of an independent and original story getting released in India sometimes gets slimmer.
Official poster of Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, which was distributed by PVR Pictures in India.
Bijli says, “We always wanted to establish PVR pictures as independent distribution house, representing indie films that are not brought in by major studios and are content-driven movies.
“The idea was never to compete with the big studios because they are big and they will remain big because they have massive budget. We wanted to bring different films to India because India is very much aware of what’s going on in the West now. They know Moonlight has won Oscar so how I’m going to justify if Moonlight isn’t playing in theatres. The Wife got a lot of critical acclaim at the Oscars this year so how can we not have these films available in India?"
PVR Pictures’ this year’s slate includes Angel Has Fallen, Rambo: Last Blood, Mid Way, 21 Bridges, Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona, Current War, The Boy II, My Spy, The Informers and more, all slated for release between August 2019 and 2020.
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