How is the Japanese market now for Indian movies after the success of Muthu?
Today everybody is talking about crossover movies. Back in 1998, the first crossover movie was Muthu. In association with Japan cinema associates, I released the film initially in three theatres and went to screen it in 25 theatres. Almost 25 years back a Raj Kapoor film had created the kind of impact my film had. Films, which released after that did not create an impact because the people who took their films to Japan failed to understand the psyche of the audience and the need to market it.
What kind of marketing techniques did you foreuse?
Japan had only the kung-fu movie or the serious arty kind of movies. Muthu told a story of a joint family, while the songs were a new experience. In Japan, the theatre counters give advance tickets for only a day witnessed long queues in front of the movie halls. We took Meena, the heroine of Muthu to Japan and though TV channels we advertised that she would be making an appearance in the theatres. The elephant in the film was a big attraction. Meena’s TV interviews alongwith the media reports made the film a big hit there. I later on distributed Yezhumaan, Porkaalam and Annamalai there. Dentsu, a leading ad agency, came to Chennai to shoot an ad film for a soft drink on the lines of the song-dance sequence in Muthu. The success of the film is because we spent eight months on marketing and publicity. We also realised that the Japanese like to have their films in the original flavor so we only subtitled it.
What are the new territories that you are exploiting now?
During the IT boom, our country could cash on it. Now there is an entertainment boom abroad and India must cash on it. The North American (USA, Europe and Canada) market is opening up for South films. Unlike India, where the revenue is limited to TV and theatre collections, the overseas market has home video segment, which is paying. The lessons I learnt from the North American market is that the audience who were seeing terrorism on screen are now going away from it after the WTC attack. They seem to prefer subjects devoid of violence. The non-American market alone constitutes two percent of the total box-office and if tapped well can give the Indian films the much-needed revenue. The art house segment can alone give Indian films the revenue it needs. Now I am taking Muthu to China and also to Brazil and Argentina.
By Indian films, do you mean Bollywood films also?
Bollywood films already have an overseas market and many producers and distributors have offices abroad. South Indian films, especially the Tamil and Telugu film market, has a great potential. Sadly, these two languages have no promotion. The first step has been the tie-up with California Media group, which constitutes of South Indian’s abroad. We plan to produce films in India and market them abroad through this group. The Indian film festival of LA is yet another attempt to promote South Indian films and this is the first festival for Indian films in North America.
Which are the films that you are marketing abroad?What is the arrangement with California Media Group?
Mani Rathinam’s Roja is the first. This film, which speaks of terrorism and the Kashmir problem, is bound to strike a chord with the moviegoers abroad because now the Americans are very much aware of terrorism and inter-border conflict in the Asian region. AR Rahman who scored the music is a known personality in USA after Bombay Dreams. The film will have subtitles. Next in line is Vasanth-directed Rhythm which again has music by Rahman. A Malayalam film Iyer the Great has a subject which is similar to Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense.
Vardhan, a tax consultant, based in Hollywood heads California Media Group. He has immense contacts with the film world. His friends got together and formed this company to produce South Indian films because the budget suits them. The job entrusted to me is to identify scripts, directors and coordinate the production. The films are primarily for the overseas market and of course the local market. We will make only value-based movies and subjects that are heroine-oriented. The films will be for the family. The idea is to bring in at least two Hollywood film stars to act in our films and bridge the gap.
In what way does the film festival in LA help South Indian films?
For the first time, a festival exclusively for Indian films in LA is ours. This six-day festival starts every year on April 14. The festival conducted at Arc Light Cinema in Hollywood is in association with American Film Institute and Spielberg’s LA film society. The sponsors are Kodak and Variety film magazine. Christine Marouda of American film Institute is the founder-director. Last year Mani Rathinam’s Kannathil Mutham Itaal was judged the best film. Kandukondain Kandukondain, Buddhadep Dasgupta’s Tale Of A Naughty Girl, Everybody Says I’m Fine, Mrs and Mr Iyer and a documentary on Ayurveda were screened. The festival attracts distributors in USA. Variety brings out a daily newsletter on the festival. The Annenberg School of UCLA, which has film studies in its curriculum, has allotted time for its students to study Indian films. This being the only festival of Indian films in NA and Europe, it gives our filmmakers an international forum. My idea is to bring the teaching faculty from abroad and the latest equipments to start a school on film studies in Chennai and get International participation for it. Indian films should transcend all borders.