COVID-19 impact and a dearth of theatrical content have resulted in a stronger buzz for south superstar Vijay's upcoming venture Master, which was otherwise scheduled to release in April last year.
While exhibitors down south are in a better position in terms of the content lineup as well as box office collections for the new releases, theatre owners dependent on Hindi content are still struggling. This is why exhibitors across the country are eagerly waiting for the release of Master which will release in three languages including Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi.
Looking at the buzz around the film, producer and distributor Vikas Sahni's Grand Master and B4U, a Bollywood TV channel have bought all-India distribution rights of the film except for south India.
Sahni, who has been in the film trade for around 25 years, has dealt with funding, marketing, and selling of many films for Viacom 18 like Akshay Kumar-starrer Singh is King, older ventures of producer Vipul Shah like Namastey London and for film company Shree Ashtvinayak Cine Vision's films like Jab We Met, Rockstar, Dabangg franchise.
"I have handled marketing and distribution of 18 films for Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Motion Pictures which involved India and overseas distribution of movies and have also handled around six Red Chillies films," said Sahni.
Overall, he has handled the funding and distribution of more than 300 films.
In addition, Sahni also looks at non-theatrical IP (intellectual property) business. "I own approximately 75 negatives of library films which includes Hindustani, Nagina, Ek Hasina Thi. I have been buying negatives of old library films and offering them to both digital and satellite platforms."
Master will be Sahni's first movie from down south, for a theatrical release.
Master -- a safe bet
And now Sahni will be distributing the Tamil as well as the Hindi and Telugu dubbed version of Master across India except the southern market.
"I was interacting with a various platform who were looking to get the satellite and digital rights of Master and they wanted me to handle the rights. Then I thought why not dub the film in Hindi and release it across. Then the question came up whether somebody would pay the price for the dubbed Hindi version and I said I am up for it. I was very sure about the product," Sahni told Moneycontrol.
While Sahni did not share the cost of buying the distribution rights of Master, Karan Taurani, Vice-President, Elara Capital said that Master has been sold at a 10 percent discount as compared to pre-COVID period for Rs 100 crore to distributors. He noted that distributors are confident that the film will collect Rs 180 to Rs 200 crore given the pent-up demand for a large film and relaxation of occupancy in Tamil Nadu which has allowed theatres to operate at 100 percent capacity.
However, both exhibitors and film trade analysts said that theatres operating at full capacity will result in a tricky situation considering the spread of coronavirus in the country.
On January 6, Tamil Nadu had recorded 820 new cases of COVID-19.
While doubts are being raised regarding Tamil Nadu government's move, Sahni has no doubts regarding the film Master.
Ask Sahni what made him so sure about the film, he said, "the heroes down south are getting strong TRPs (Television Rating Point) for the channel. Earlier it was only Sony that was airing the dubbed content but slowly channels like Star, Zee all of them started venturing into dubbed content space. Today over 40 percent of revenue of satellite channels comes from dubbed catalogue. So, we have the audience across India who are watching south content."
He further said, "The numbers any big Bollywood hero is fetching, heroes from down south are getting the same on TV. All the big sponsors (advertisers) like HUL have recognised the strength of these (south dubbed movies) films and are putting a lot of money behind these films. These brands are increasingly asking channels to get the dubbed content. So, if this content is accepted on TV channels by audience across India, why can't we get them into theatres especially after the success of the Baahubali franchise and Kannada-language film KGF."
More dubbed versions of south films on the way
Sahni thinks that the way forward is to release more dubbed versions of films from down south and this seems to be a step in the right direction as for Master the traction is strong. Many exhibitors are saying that the film is already seeing strong demand for tickets.
"Master will be a 1,000 odd screen release across India. We have all the multiplex operators that are ready to screen the film and many are opening up their screens with Master's release," added Sahni.
He is also planning a lot of ground activities to promote Master which he will reveal next week.
Along with Master, he said that there are many films from south that are in the pipeline but he can't name them because they are in various stages of discussion.
Content beyond boundaries
In addition, Sahni is looking at cinema from across the globe but not Hollywood. "We never knew five years back that China is a strong market for our films. We have been making films for the last 100 years but did anyone try to market films in China? This is why I am looking at countries where there is a commonality in cultures and I am trying to get content from such countries. Thanks to platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video we have crossed barriers of language, and audiences are receptive to new content."