In less than a week since its release, Avengers: Infinity War has raked in about Rs 188 crore at the Indian box office. That makes it the second biggest release of 2018 behind Padmaavat (which made about Rs 300 crore). The film has also set the record for the highest opening weekend in India, beating Padmaavatby a sizeable margin: Infinity War collected Rs 94 crore while the Sanjay Leela Bhansali epic raked in Rs 75 crore in its opening weekend. The 19th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on track to be the highest grossing Hollywood film in India.
It’s no secret that in recent years Bollywood has been struggling to bring audiences to theatres. Tent-pole films like Fan, Tubelight, Jagga Jasoos and Mohenjo Daro were among the biggest disappointments of the last two years and big names like Amitabh Bachchan, Farhan Akhtar and Saif Ali Khan failed to deliver at the box office. The success of films like Padmaavat, Raid, Baaghi 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety has brought some cheer to Bollywood this year but the industry is still struggling to compete against high-ticket prices, rampant piracy, a more discerning audience and the internet. But the biggest competition Bollywood faces is from the more powerful and resourceful Hollywood.
It was believed that Hollywood appealed to a very niche movie-going audience in India but that scenario changed significantly on 15 April 1994 when Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park roared into life in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. This was the first time the Indian audience experienced a mega budget, computer-generated Hollywood marvel in a local language. And that contributed to the film’s remarkable 25-week run at the box office. In the 24 years since, Hollywood has gone local with a vengeance. Tiger Shroff has voiced the Hindi version of Spiderman, Varun Dhawan was the voice of Captain America and The Jungle Book had Priyanka Chopra as Kaa, Irrfan as Baloo and Nana Patekar as Sher Khan. Baahubali star Rana Daggubati has lent his voice to Thanos in the Telugu version of Avengers: Infinity War.
An increase in multiplexes in smaller towns, greater exposure to the internet, OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and films dubbed in local languages has helped Hollywood to increase its foothold in the Indian market. And, very often, movie-goers are picking Hollywood films over their Hindi counterparts. Last year, xXx: Return of Xander Cage and Ok Jaanu released on the same day and the audience picked the former. Ditto for when Fast and Furious 7 left Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! in the dust and X-Men: Apocalypse earned more than Sarbjit.
For now, it’s only franchise films like The Fast and The Furious and Jurassic World or superhero films like Avengers that have created huge buzz at the desi box office but it’s understandable that Hindi films are going out of their way to avoid a clash. So, Avengers: Infinity War got a solo release and it’s believed that Veere Di Wedding was moved to June to avoid clashing with Deadpool 2 on 18 May.
Some of the biggest names in Bollywood have been forewarning the dangers of Hollywood edging Bollywood out. “This I was told in 1993 when I was on a casual visit to New York and I met some studios who were wanting to meet me and they told me, ‘You better get your house in order because India is the new frontier and Americans are coming’,” Amitabh Bachchan shared earlier this week during a promotional event for his film 102 Not Out. The actor went on to say, “Everywhere Hollywood has gone, it has destroyed the local industry whether it’s England, Italy or Germany, they just come and take over. They have the money and the expertise. They have the quality and quantity. We are fighting against them… So, whenever their films come out, please don’t patronise them because we are fighting against the ogre of Hollywood from overtaking us and destroying our industry.”
Bollywood doesn’t get to dictate what the Indian audience should or shouldn’t patronise. Instead, like Shah Rukh Khan suggested during an event with Hollywood actor Brad Pitt last year, the industry needs to needs to sharpen its script writing, screenplay, marketing and technological skills to level the playing field between the two film industries.