In July this year, Bollywood production and distribution company Eros International Plc took its action comedy Munna Michael to Russia. Released in about 10 screens, the Tiger Shroff-starrer became the first Indian film to reach the country in 20 years. Two months later, Eros also released the romantic drama Shubh Mangal Savdhanin about 22 screens in the country, the widest ever for an Indian film in Russian cinemas, bringing the market back to Bollywood’s focus.
“Eros has always been a leader in opening and re-introducing Indian films in various overseas territories. This is just the beginning of the return of Indian films to Russian cinemas,” said Kumar Ahuja, president-business development, Eros International Media Ltd. “It was quite a challenge to re-enter this market which we managed thanks to our experience and partnership with the right and biggest film distributors in Russia.”
To be sure, Bollywood does have a history of wowing Russian audiences. As early as the Nehruvian socialist era, India had attempted to take its films there. While Raj Kapoor still remains the face of Indian cinema in the foreign country thanks to hits like Awaara (1951), the other favourite is Mithun Chakraborty whose musical drama Disco Dancer (1984) was released to much acclaim in Russia.
“There was a long gap till anything else came to the fore after Chakraborty. The reason was that after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the countries were still taking stock of the situation and focusing on their own content,” said Utpal Acharya, founder of film production, distribution and marketing company Indian Film Studios. “Now they are again trying to find good content across the globe.”
Acharya added that like China, not only are there strict quotas on the amount of content that can be imported into Russia, there are also restrictions on the kind of movies allowed.
“You can’t show any revolutions, protests or liberation movements — basically anything against the government,” Acharya said. “Mythology and period dramas are also a no-no. Only love stories and content high on emotions and relationships will work. Films like Dangal or Bajrangi Bhaijaan have a market in Russia.”
Plus, there is the need to partner with local distribution networks if the Bollywood studio wants to gain easy access and entry. Eros had on board Central Partnership, one of Russia’s largest film and television distributors and a subsidiary of Gazprom-Media Holding, a leading media company in Russia and eastern Europe that distributes Indian films into various verticals of the Russian market. The company has a history of collaboration with Hollywood studios in the past.
“Partnering with the right distributor is key in any territory and our association with Central Partnership is proving the same to be correct once again. Their focus, along with Eros, is to grow the market for Bollywood films. Together we feel there is a huge potential and demand for Indian content by Russian audiences,” Ahuja said.