THE STORY BEHIND THE FILM
The story about the film’s creation is almost as interesting a story as the film’s release itself. ‘RA.One’ was the most widely released Bollywood film, and Shah Rukh Khan has been hard-selling his big Diwali release. If reports are to be believed then he has almost Rs 200 crore at stake. Travelling across the country and tying up with about 20 brands, which alone amounts to about Rs 52 crore, Shah Rukh Khan has naturally been doing his best to ensure that his Rs 150 crore magnum opus ‘Ra One’ sets the cash registers ringing this Diwali. All eyes are on the box office collection of the movie and trade pundits say it will have to gross Rs 200 crore to break even.
The event’s telecast rights are believed to have been sold to the TV channel for a Rs 10 crore. Satellite rights of the film have reportedly been sold for Rs 35 crore, while distribution rights have been sold for Rs 77 crore.
The first trailer was aired during the World Cup and later came tie-ups with Champions League T20, UTV Indiagames for online games and iPhone/iPad application for fans, Sony Playstation for video games, Google Plus and Seventymm, a leading DVD rental company for merchandising, as well as with Homeshop18 to sell superhero film merchandise and Youtube. The G.One online store is selling merchandise related to the film. In past one month, the film’s promotion saw an all time high with Shah Rukh’s eight-city tour to create awareness about it, his back-to-back appearances on the finales of reality shows “India’s Got Talent”, “Just Dance” and “Sa Re Ga Ma Li’l Champs” as well as occupying the hot seat on “Kaun Banega Crorepati”.
‘Ra One’ will be hitting across 400 screens overseas and 3000 screens in India of which about 500 theatres will be screening its 3D version. The movie will also enter the non-traditional markets of South Korea and Hong Kong. This is the most widely released Bollywood film and its satellite rights have already fetched a whopping Rs 35 crore. The film will have its world premieres in Dubai and London, instead of the usual Mumbai location. It is being positioned to best the box-office performance of ‘Bodyguard’ which collected Rs 21 crore on its opening day.
RA.One is being billed as a technological masterpiece with world class VFX and graphics, and is dubbed into Telugu, Tamil and German as well. Continuing on a trend initiated by Krrish and Enthiran, the film reportedly has 3,500 VFX shots (James Cameron’s Avatar has 2700). Jeffrey Kleiser, co-founder of US-based Synthesian Studios (and maker of the 1994 Hollywood film “Stargate”) was hired as the supervisor of visual effects to oversee the work done by his Redchillies VFX team. The 3,500 VFX shots, which could mark a new beginning for the use of the technology in Indian films. The task of adding special effects was outsourced to multiple specialty studios including in London, Paris and Bangkok, as also in the US. Khan also roped in Oscar winner Resul Pookutty for the special sound effects which was completed in Los Angeles. Nicola Pecorini of ‘Loathing in Las Vegas’ fame is the director of photography, while the film is edited by Academy-award winner Martin Walsh. Khan roped in international singer Akon for two songs – “Chammak Challo” and “Criminal” – and both of them are a rage. The Dildara ballad is also popular among youngsters. The music launch of ‘RA.One’ was streamed live on a video-sharing site for an undisclosed amount. Dolby surround 7.1 system has been installed in several multiplexes in the run-up to the sci-fi’s release.
ABOUT THE FILM
Superhero film ‘Ra.One’ is about a geeky tech-wiz dad Shekhar Subramaniam, played by Shah Rukh Khan who tries to become his young son’s hero by creating the greatest video-game villain of all time. Named Ra.One in a not-so-subtle reference to The Ramayan’s Lanka king, this super-villain almost immediately shows signs of breaking out of his virtual world to wreak havoc and destruction in the real one. Yet even as danger is lurking around the corner, Ra.One’s creator Shekhar is distractedly working the dance floor with his wife. This moment sums up the entire experience of watching this ambitious but flawed superhero film – one with a simplistic but intriguing story of how Ra.One can only be vanquished by the game’s superhero G.One (also played by Shah Rukh).
The only real standout performance is by Shah Rukh Khan. His Aiyyo-speaking Shekhar Subramaniam is caricaturish but charming, while as G.One, he gives even his robotic video-game character a charismatic edge. Kareena Kapoor, as Shekhar’s wife, provides the glamorous oomph factor as she shimmies to that fantastic number ‘Chamak Challo’, while Arjun Rampal makes a menacing Ra.One. However, too much screen time is wasted on the long-haired Armaan Verma who plays Shekhar’s son, while Shahana Goswami playing a video game developer, inexplicably vanishes from the screen midway through the story. Shah Rukh Khan’s sheer presence and energy, coupled with the narrative’s don’t-stop-to-think pace makes ‘Ra.One’ watchable despite its flaws. This is however, a spectacle-driven experience, not really meant to be a film. Two and a half hours of special effects, action sequences and superficial romantic and emotional entanglements demonstrate the ambition and imagination that the makers tried to pour into this movie. The filmy doesn’t succumb to the kind of lazy film-making seen in many recent films, ‘Ra.One’ clearly suffers from a case of packing in so much that the superhero theme often gets lost.
‘Ra.One’ heavily references films like ‘Last Action Hero’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Terminator-2’, yet there is a certain thrill attached to the action sequences. A car chase through London’s streets is rivaled by a local-train sequence in India where G.One leaps from one bogie to another. There’s also the mind-boggling sight of the beautiful Gothic structure of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus crumbling as the train ploughs right through it. These portions make up for the long-drawn climatic battle between Ra.One and G.One fought in a rather tacky virtual world.
‘Ra.One’ misses a sure-footed director’s touch. First-time director Anubhav Sinha fails to tie all the elements together resulting in a superhero film with plenty sound and fury, but sorely lacking slickness.Following the aflictions that have ruined the best of Bollywood film experiences, director Anubhav Sinha feels a desperate need to inject dance numbers, comical sequences or a melodramatic interlude into the narrative. The distraction makes the film clunky.
RA.ONE, got mixed reviews. However the extensive marketing campaign behind the film and novelty of the film’s concept drew viewers eager see what is the film all about. The film managed to collect Rs.18 crore at the home box office on the opening day. However, as predicted by trade pundits, the film couldn’t break the first day collection records of Salman Khan starrer “Bodyguard”, which earned Rs.22 crore in the domestic market on the opening day. In the overseas market, the Red Chillies Entertainment and Eros International co-production raked in Rs.6.5 crore.
PVR-owned Cinemas: The first day saw more than 80 percent occupancy in theaters.
Spice Cinemas: The film is not appealing to adults. ‘RA.One’ is basically a film for children as it boast of lot of animation and special effects. Adults are not actually liking the film. It seems nothing more than a video game.
Cinemax Theaters witnessed an average footfall on the first day.
Other Reasons: The busy Diwali season festivities was a possible reason people stayed away from theaters. Also, the 3D version of Ra.One was made available late in non-metro cities due to delayed release in 3D and some shows were cancelled.
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma, Shahana Goswami, Dalip Tahil, Satish Shah
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Bollywood: To the next level
By Amy Kazmin | FT | October 28, 2011 |
India’s most expensive movie ever – a blend of high-tech tradition– is the latest attempt to reach audiences abroad
On the eve of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, all 11 cinemas across London’s O2 entertainment complex were lit up this week – on screen and in real life – by the charismatic figure of Shah Rukh Khan, as the Bollywood superstar launched the premiere of Ra.One, India’s answer to the Hollywood superhero movie.
Costing more than $30m, it is by far the most expensive Bollywood picture ever made. Packed with slick, high-technology visual effects of a quality never before seen in an Indian film, Ra.One tells the story of a nerdy digital games designer, played by Mr Khan, trying to impress his young son. He creates a game that pits the evil Ra.One against a seemingly less potent good guy, G.One, also played by Khan. Then the game comes to life and “starts playing with them”.
Produced by Mr Khan’s own Red Chillies Entertainment along with Eros International, a distributor of Indian movies that is listed on Aim, London’s junior stock market, the film is a classic Hindi tale of good versus evil. The name Ra.One is a play on Ravaan, the embodiment of evil from “Ramayana”, an ancient Sanskrit epic; while the hero’s name is pronounced like jeevan, the Hindi word for life.
Yet the film has a distinctly international gloss. Much of the action was filmed in London; its catchy anthem song, “Chammak Challo”, is sung by Senegalese-American R&B star Akon. Specialist studios from Los Angeles to Italy to Paris, plus a handful of prominent Hollywood special-effects magicians, helped bring the visual wizardry to life. Besides 3,600 screens in India, Ra.One is being released simultaneously on 1,100 screens in markets from the US to Dubai to Kenya and South Africa, plus Asian markets including South Korea and Taiwan.
“It’s an important event,” says Professor Rachel Dwyer of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. “It’s about moving on … The fact that the biggest star has put in his own money and is experimenting is important. It’s about flirting with Hollywood but not going all the way.”
Bollywood has already been transformed since the lows of the 1970s and 1980s, when a decline in audiences and difficulty in securing legitimate financing led to dependence on undeclared “black money”, often from criminal sources, and the production of large volumes of low-grade films to satisfy the nascent home video and cable television market.
Since India’s government formally recognised film-making as an industry a decade ago, Bollywood producers with proven records have had access to bank loans, while companies such as Eros and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment have moved into movie production. Hollywood studios including Fox, Sony, Disney and Viacom have all set up shop in Mumbai, both to promote their films to India’s audiences and to invest in Bollywood content.
Meanwhile, along with Shah Rukh Khan, two other top stars – Aamir Khan and Salman Khan (none of them related) – have been using their clout to produce very different types of movie, from Salman’s action thrillers to Aamir’s more independent-style films. Behind the scenes, Hollywood and Bollywood’s technical talent is increasingly integrated.
So is Ra.One, the dream project of India’s most bankable star, set to become the long sought Hindi film that – like China’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – “crosses over” to become a global hit, including among hard-to-please English-speaking audiences in the US and UK? On the red carpet at his London premiere, Mr Khan was coy.
“I would like an Indian film to make it big like [Italian actor Roberto Benigni’s Academy Award-winning] Life is Beautiful,” the star said. “I don’t know if this is the one or not … If the technology goes ahead we will be able to compete with Hollywood later on in terms of the quality … All of these will be steps towards making it possible.”
Like Mr Khan, Bollywood has long dreamt of making movies to appeal far beyond the domestic audience, and the south Asian diaspora in the west and the Middle East that now comprises the bulk of its global market. Although its prolific producers crank out hundreds of movies a year in multiple languages, annual revenues from tickets, television rights, music sales, foreign sales and merchandising total just $2bn-$2.5bn, a fraction of the $60bn generated annually by Hollywood.
Bollywood’s low revenues reflect the shortage of screens in India relative to the huge population; and low ticket prices, on average less than a $1 a seat. Yet the industry has reason for optimism: prices are rising, with the development of urban multiplexes that charge about $3 for a seat and up to $7 at weekends. KPMG, the professional services firm, forecasts revenues will rise by about 30 per cent by 2015, buoyed by higher ticket sales and more expensive television rights, amid an insatiable demand for entertainment from an increasingly affluent population.
Yet foreign sales remain a tempting target. In recent years, Bollywood films have found favour in eastern Europe, Germany, east Asia and other non-English-speaking countries where audiences are already accustomed to watching dubbed Hollywood movies. Among mainstream audiences in the Anglophone world, however, success has been elusive.
“Nobody has ever achieved a breakthrough in the global market,” says Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance Entertainment. “We still tend to make imitative films, our promotional budgets are still way behind and our stars are a bit ham-handed in their approach.”
When it comes to Indian-themed movies, western audiences tend to prefer gritty social reality – a far cry from typical Bollywood bubblegum fare. Despite its fairytale qualities, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the story of three children left to fend for themselves in Mumbai’s violent underworld, was embraced by Indian audiences only reluctantly – and even then mainly for its overwhelming international success.
“Slumdog is not a Bollywood movie, it is an art-house movie, and it didn’t work in India,” says Kishore Lulla, Eros chairman. Michael Winterbottom’s recently premiered Trishna, a retelling of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles set among modern India’s widening social chasms, is also likely to find favour in India only among a small niche.
Rather, India’s emerging middle-class enjoys watching its favourite beautiful stars cavort in exotic locales such as Thailand, Singapore, Australia, the US and Europe. That trend has been facilitated by tax breaks and other production incentives from foreign countries, which see Bollywood films as a way to grab a slice of the fast-growing Indian outbound tourism market. This year’s coming-of-age movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, about three friends on a pre-marriage road trip, was produced in close collaboration with the Spanish tourism promotion agency.
“Most European countries would do anything to get in bed with a Bollywood producer, as it’s the best way for them to showcase their country to potential Indian tourists,” says Jehil Thakkar of KPMG India.
Yet even if they are set in stunning foreign locations, many of these movies grapple with middle-class India’s angst about retaining its cultural identity amid rapid social and economic change – a topic with little resonance for western viewers. “It’s about how can you be modern and still be Indian,” says Prof Dwyer. “So much of finding out what Indian values are seems to happen overseas.”
For all Ra.One’s whizz-bang effects – which include the rescue of the heroine from a runaway train and the destruction of Mumbai’s central station – the film maintains its fealty to core Bollywood values: high melodrama, the centrality of family and sizzling song-and-dance numbers. All that may make it tough to digest for typical western science-fiction or action thriller fans.
Furthermore, even while praising the visual effects, many Indian and foreign critics have expressed disappointment with the overall package, bemoaning the film’s sluggish start, uneven acting, soppy romance and often disjointed confusing script.
What is indisputable, though, is that Ra.One marks a big step forward in the evolution of Hindi cinema, as it seeks to retain the loyalty of an ever more affluent, demanding and worldly domestic audience in an era of increased competition.
As India’s domestic film market continues to grow, Mr Lulla believes it is only a matter of time before Indians gain the financial clout to make films to rival Hollywood’s. “I don’t have $100m to produce so my quality cannot be at the quality of an Avatar or a Harry Potter,” he says. “But the quality of Indian movies technologically will keep getting better. And the day is not far off when an Indian movie, in India alone, will gross $100m in two weeks.”
When that happens, he says, “audiences across the globe will accept Bollywood the way it is. We don’t have to transform ourselves.”
Additional reporting by James Crabtree and James Fontanella-Khan