Shah Rukh Khan
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Bollywood: Trade in China..

Shah Rukh Khan

By HT

Mumbai, Feb. 9 -- Guess what three of the top five grossers in the Chinese film market were in 2014 - Transformers: Age Of Extinction, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The country is the world's second-largest movie market (Hollywood being the largest), and is estimated by some to overtake the US by 2020. But it isn't just America that's realised the potential of having their films released in China.

As three big Indian films from last year are set to release there soon - Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Happy New Year (HNY), I (director Shankar's much-talked-about Tamil film) and Aamir Khan-starrer PK - it's evident that we, too, have begun looking at our neighbours for business. With PK reportedly set to get 3,500 screens, and HNY to get a whopping 5,000, we ask trade experts just how big a move this is.

Bigger is better

Traditionally, the main overseas markets for Indian films are USA, UK, the Gulf and Australia. The reason, obviously, are the significant numbers of Indians settled there. China, then, is still a non-traditional market, because of the lower number of Indians, as well as the language barrier, according to film distributor Akshay Rathi.

He says, "The target audience there is the locals, besides the Indian diaspora." Yet, factor in the numbers, and the interest in the Chinese market becomes evident: "China has around 30,000 screens," says trade analyst Atul Mohan.

India, in comparison, "has approximately 9,500 screens," says Mohan. And the number of screens our films are set to get in China (3,500 to 5,000), is "as big a release as a big-budget film would get in India," Mohan further adds. Just to put things in context, PK released in 4,000 screens in India, and HNY had 4,500.

The limitations

To protect the interests of the local film industry, China restricts the number of foreign films that can release there every year. Before 2012, that number stood at 20. But a significant change saw the number go up to 34 (according to The Hollywood Reporter). Though the change largely seems geared towards allowing more Hollywood films in the country - according to bbc.com, 14 of the quota of 34 are for Imax and 3D releases - the burgeoning Indian film market is also looking at its neighbour with hope.

"With the cap on the number of releases, though, we have to be selective about the kind of films we choose to take there," feels Mohan, adding, "So far, we've only considered three or four films - like 3 Idiots (2009), My Name Is Khan (2010), English Vinglish (2012) - after they've already run successfully in India."

Proceed with caution

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, says that the Chinese population is extremely receptive towards foreign-language films, but we need to be careful: "I'm hopeful that PK and HNY will benefit from this trend. But the quota of 34 films a year is still a deterrent." Rathi, too, feels that "the likes and dislikes of the market are very different from ours. It's an experimental move, but with the massive audience there, we should certainly keep our eyes on it."