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Bhansali Productions to focus on multi-lingual releases; CEO says cross-partnership is the way forward

Prerna Singh says the production house is hoping to emulate the success scripted by the dubbed versions of southern films, and will release its next film with Tamil and Telugu versions apart from Hindi.

May 30, 2022 / 02:27 PM IST
Poster showing Alia Bhatt as Gangubai Kathiawadi in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film. (Image credit: Instagram)

Poster showing Alia Bhatt as Gangubai Kathiawadi in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film. (Image credit: Instagram)

Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who produces films under his Bhansali Productions banner, set the ball rolling for Bollywood releases this year with Alia-Bhatt starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi. The production house is now eyeing a multilingual release structure for its next project.

The success of recent South Indian ventures such as KGF 2 and RRR is making Bollywood take notice of the strong performance by dubbed content at the box office. RRR, a Telugu film, was released in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada, while the Kannada film KGF 2 was dubbed in five languages. Both movies saw big contributions from their dubbed versions. While KGF 2's Hindi version earned over Rs 430 crore, RRR's Hindi version added more than Rs 273 crore to the film's overall revenue.

In addition, analysts point out that while the share of Hindi language films between January and April this year was 38 percent, 60 percent of this came from the Hindi versions of RRR and KGF Chapter 2.

“We are becoming language agnostic and that opens so many opportunities for me. I can bring a Southern director or a Southern actor and do a pan-India film. The Southern films (by dubbing content) are only increasing box office (business). Cross-partnership is the way forward,” Prerna Singh, CEO of Bhansali Production Private Limited, told Moneycontrol.

She said that Sanjay Leela Bhansali's past films have done well in Southern markets such as the Hyderabad region and Chennai, and the current scenario boosts their confidence knowing that both Bollywood and the South Indian film industry are ready for more collaborations.

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"For my next, we will focus on releasing in Tamil and Telugu instead of only Hindi,” said Singh.

Streaming story

While the production house is developing story ideas for its next theatrical project, Singh said that the current focus is on its new series, Heera Mandi, for streaming platform Netflix. “The idea was with us for a good couple of years. It will go on the floor this year. It will be a global show from India,” said Singh.

She also pointed out that when Gangubai Kathiawadi released on Netflix, the film was number one even in the non-English content category. “It was trending in Thailand, Hong Kong and many non-traditional markets, including France.”

Singh also noted that for movies, the digital rights contribution will increase with Over The Top (OTT) platforms continuing to bet on successful big screen ventures. “Gangubai Kathiawadi came out on OTT after eight weeks, yet it trended,” she said.

Big screen challenge

But the film’s theatrical journey was not an easy one due to the Omicron wave, which led to the shutdown of theatres, forcing production houses to postpone releases. Gangubai Kathiwadi, which was initially scheduled to release last year, was delayed because of the second wave of the Covid pandemic. While the movie faced the same uncertainty this year due to the third wave, the production house decided to go ahead with the big screen launch.

“We were sure it is a film that should be released in theatres. A lot of people thought cinemas would not come back but we were positive. We were in touch with all the stakeholders and we had Pen Studios with us. We used to take dipsticks from our exhibitors. We got to know that theatres were going to open in February but the key markets, including Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat, which are big contributors, were still testing and they had plans to open in phases. In these territories, SLB (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) films do well."

She added, “Sanjay said that if the film is good it will find its path. ‘Let us go ahead and release and position it as the biggest film and it is a hero’s film.’”

Although Gangubai Kathiawadi became the first film this year to enter the Rs 100-crore club, it did face a hit on overall business because of Covid restrictions .

“There was a 5-day weekend (when the film released) which could have been an advantage for the film. It opened (on February 25) at Rs 10.5 crore at 50 percent capacity in theatres. If it had been 100 percent, we would have opened with Rs 4-5 crore more. Sunday there is always a peak, so from there it would have been a 25-30 percent rise," said Singh.

She said the film was unable to take advantage of the Mahashivratri holiday on Tuesday (March 1) as theatres received permission to operate at full capacity only from May 1 onwards. Nevertheless, the film industry got its confidence back, said Singh.

International interest

Even overseas markets were a challenge, especially the US, due to the Covid threat, the CEO said. But the film managed to earn over Rs 57 crore from international territories.

“There were more challenges in the US than in India, so that affected business a little. But in the UK, the film was number one. The film went to Berlin so it opened the Europe market for us. If you track his (Bhansali’s) past films he is known to open foreign markets for Indian films, including South Korea (the 2005 release Black was well received there). His films always do 60:40 or 50:50 in terms of India and overseas business,” Singh said.
Maryam Farooqui
first published: May 30, 2022 02:27 pm
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