Filmmaker Sriram Raghavan’s dark thriller Andhadhun released in China in over 5000 screens on 3 April and in just over 2 weeks, the Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer became the 3rd highest Indian grosser in the country, overtaking Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. As of 22 April, Andhadhun had collected over Rs 300 crore at the Chinese box-office, which is way over what it made in India.
I pinned down Ajit Andhare, the Chief Operating Officer at Viacom 18 Studios, for a quick chat over email about the success of Andhadhun and how studios here are reacting to the expanding market for Indian films in China.
Q. First of all congratulations on the success of Andhadhun in China, did you anticipate this kind of a response from the Chinese audience?
Ajit Andhare: A Spanish film called Invisible Guest; a dark thriller collected in excess of 20 million dollars in China on its release. This gave us an insight that the Chinese audience is responding to content beyond just big spectacle Hollywood, Aamir Khan and the social issue-based films that succeeded earlier. China had also shown great interest in another thriller film of ours – Drishyam. We started pitching Andhadhun and began scouting for Chinese partners basis this insight. Also given the way the middle-class multiplex audience responded to the film in India, we were keen on showcasing this unique dark comedy to the massive middle-class audience that exists in China. So, there was a significant preparation and runway before we managed to get it released and wow the Chinese audience.
Q. In your understanding, why has a film like Andhadhun has struck a chord with the Chinese audience? It’s of course a brilliant thriller, but the way it has worked in China could have other reasons as well?
Ajit Andhare: It’s an intelligent film that is a genre-bender. The best response has come from the middle class urban educated multiplex audience. There was full response to the nuanced dark humour and thrill that always keeps the story ahead of the audience, and the delightful end that keeps you chuckling as you leave the hall. This multiplex-going audience while relatively limited in India is huge in China. That is the key reason why what happened in India at a level is reflected multiple times in China.
Q. It was earlier understood that films with a social message or feel good cinema is what works in China, but the collections of Andhadhun sort of deflates that understanding.
Ajit Andhare: That was the popular thesis, and we changed that with Andhadhun. We have always broken myths and rules in India with our unusual stories. I am happy we have been able to do that with China as well which will open many new doors and opportunities. The audience there is very much like our new age multiplex audience that responds to a good story. Just look at all films that have succeeded whether Dangal, Secret Super Star, Andhadhun or Bajrangi Bhaijan - these are all standout films with unique stories.
Q. What is the revenue share that is worked out with the Chinese distributors for your films?
Ajit Andhare: Of the net realised revenue from China and after charging all expenses, the split it half & half.
Q. Are the costs of dubbing, prints and publicity borne by you or is it shared with the Chinese distributors?
Ajit Andhare: They are borne by the local distributor but like anywhere else, it is netted off from the revenues collected.
Q. Are studios in India going to take any special measures to woo the Chinese audience now that it has become such a major market for Indian films?
Ajit Andhare: There will always be a China lens to a film script. Not all films are relevant, but it’s imperative to have a China strategy like in any business. There is a greater understanding of that audience now.
Q. We’ve seen how Aamir Khan films have been extremely popular amongst the Chinese audience, and he has a huge fan following but Thugs of Hindostan failed. Does this show that ultimately even in the Chinese market, it is the content which is king, a popular star will not be able to sustain a film at the box-office.
Ajit Andhare: The industry will always be grateful to Aamir for what he did as a pioneer. He opened a new market, a completely new audience for our Cinema that is beyond diaspora. We have followed the path laid by him, which is to make a standout & unique film. It has found an audience in India in traditional markets, and now in China too. Great stories travel, and Sriram and Pooja deserve all the praise for giving us this great story that we could take across the world.
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