IMAX is growing in India due to the high consumption of Hollywood content, more Indian films coming on the large-screen format and faster development of multiplexes
'It is bigger and better', 'movie watching experience is enhanced', 'far more detailed than regular formats', are some of the common experiences that moviegoers share when they come out of an IMAX theatre.
This Diwali, Indian audience can indulge in this immersive technology when Thugs of Hindostan releases on November 8.
The multi-starrer flick will be the sixth Indian film to be digitally remastered in the IMAX format.
Dhoom 3 starring Aamir Khan and Abhishek Bachchan was the first film to be digitally converted into IMAX. Hrithik Roshan-starrer Bang Bang, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion and Padmaavat soon followed. The most recent and the only medium-size film remastered in the IMAX format was Akshay Kumar’s sports drama Gold.
What is IMAX format?
IMAX, or Image MAXimum, is a film format that can display images of far greater size and resolution than conventional film display systems. A typical IMAX screen is 16 meters tall and 22 meters wide (approximately 52x72 feet). However, they can be much larger.
How is it different from standard multiplex screens?
A standard multiplex screen displays a film in 35mm format. IMAX does so in a 70mm format which leads to an immersive film-watching experience.
Is IMAX gaining popularity in India?
IMAX is growing in India due to the high consumption of Hollywood content, more Indian films coming on the large-screen format and the increased pace of multiplex development.
While India has been an important market for IMAX for several years, it was only in the last two years that it gained significant popularity in the country following success of films like Baahubali 2 and Padmaavat at the box office.
Audiences’ preference of opting for more premium movie going experience has also helped IMAX to grow in India.
However, film trade analyst Joginder Tuteja said that there are limitations for this format in India.
While IMAX is a phenomenon in the West, in India it is yet to garner attention, he said.
"In the West there is so much awareness about IMAX but in India only handful of cities have IMAX screens. It has not reached to the stage where a viewer would step out of the house and think that I’ll watch a film in IMAX," he said.
"In the West this concept caught up in last four-five years. In India we are a couple of years behind," Tuteja added.
Challenges for the premium format in India
There are more challenges before IMAX to expand its footprint in India. The primary challenge is development of such screens. The cost of building an IMAX screen is a lot more than a regular auditorium. In addition, there is cost of real estate and projection. Getting an IMAX system is also an expensive affair.
Getting a nod to build theatres is a cumbersome process in India. This has led to a slow pace of growth for IMAX in India.
When theatre chains offer premium large format cinema, they make sure along with entertainment cinephiles enjoy a luxury experience. For this, they offer premium lounges and leather recliners, which also come at cost.
"How many multiplex owners or theatre chains would want to make that kind of investment?" asked Tuteja.
For now, few have ventured into this territory.
IMAX, a Canadian entertainment technology innovator, joined hands with Cinepolis and INOX Leisure to expand its footprint in India.
In partnership with Cinepolis, IMAX will open four new screens in Bengaluru. With INOX Leisure, it will open two theatres in Delhi and one each in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Gurugram.
This year, IMAX has brought its total number of new screens -- both under contract and already operational – from 26 to 40, year-on-year.
India lags behind in comparison to China where half of its overall screens are premium large format.
Along with exhibition infrastructure and its cost, number of big screen spectacles being made in India is low. Till now, only six films have been converted to IMAX.
"In India, there are hardly two to three films which possibly make the cut in the IMAX format. Unlike the West, where the number is higher. We are not really making such kind of big films," said Tuteja.
Impact of IMAX format on film collections
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat was the first Indian movie to release in IMAX 3D and had garnered a record over Rs 29 crore ($461,000) in its opening weekend at the box office from 12 IMAX theatres in India.
Not just in India, Padmaavat was also distributed to an additional 42 IMAX theatres in 10 markets outside of India. In the overseas market, the film raked in $1.3 million across a total of 54 IMAX theatres in its opening weekend run at a $24,000 per-screen average.
YRF Vice President Akshaye Widhwani in an interview to IANS said, "Thugs Of Hindostan will see the widest ever IMAX screen release for an Indian movie."
However, for the IMAX format to gain steam, it is important that more screens play films in IMAX format and more Indian offerings are produced for it.
"Until there is volume of such films being made and volume of such screens (IMAX), we will never have the kind of returns coming in," said Tuteja.
However, Tuteja added that "films like Thugs of Hindostan are stepping in the right direction. If such films come in IMAX, big-ticket venture plus a Diwali release then people will watch it."Asked whether the premium format is here for the long stay, Tuteja says that "it may not be huge and it will take time to grow."