Monday, February 27, 2006

The Oscar alley beckons

The Oscar alley beckons

Meena Iyer[ Sunday, February 26, 2006 12:35:59 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

The Oscars are upon us. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the foreign films hitting marquees across India.

In the last two weeks, four Oscar-nominated flicks—Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, Rob Marshall's Memoirs Of A Geisha, Paul Haggis' Crash and Bennett Miller's Capote—have been released. And on March 3, just three days prior to the Oscar ceremony, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain is also due.

Is this sheer coincidence or is there a hidden agenda? While trade analyst Amod Mehra believes that foreign film distributors typically choose this period for release ("Major Hindi films are held till the end of April because of school exams, and this is the only time English films can get a better run in multiplexes"), Vikramjit Roy of Sony Pictures, the company that brought Memoirs of A Geisha and Capote to India, says the move is part of a deliberate marketing strategy.

"I don't know if people in India are aware that there's something called the Oscar alley which gets into motion a little after the Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA and the Screen Actors' Guild Awards are announced," says Roy.

"The buzz actually starts from the Golden Globes since this is the first major awards category. And the BAFTA and Screen Actors' Guild Awards are strong indicators of who the winners at the Oscars could be.

Once the Academy nominations are announced, the wire agencies in Hollywood show a renewed interest in news stories about the nominated movies, and the Indian press picks up the scent.

This helps the films capture attention—especially slightly offbeat films like Memoirs and Capote which don't have a high marketing spend and therefore rely on buzz marketing.

Ajay Gupta of Multivision Multimedia India (P) Ltd, who brought Crash to India this week, says that nominated films are strategically released a couple of weeks before the Oscar ceremony.

"Once the awards are announced, only the winners have a clear advantage," he says. "On the other hand, this gambit helps the entire line-up of nominated films.

People want to see them all and then guess which of them will pick up the awards." Gupta, however, claims that only his company had actually planned the release of Crash and announced it a month ago.

"The other guys just jumped into the fray at the last minute."

When so many films come together, doesn't it prove it counter-productive at the box-office? Gupta admits it does. "They are bound to eat into one another's collections," he says.

"But despite this, releasing Oscar-nominated films closer to the Academy Awards is the best time to make money on them.

" Adds Mehra, "Most of the nominated films are niche. Only the elite audience or true lovers of cinema patronise them. So their advantage is double if they come prior to the actual ceremony.

Mehra also points out that India once imported only 50 to 60 English films in an entire year. "Now, we import at least 120 films a year.

For these films to get a good run in the theatres, the importer has to work doubly hard at creating a buzz. And the magic word here is 'Oscar'."

Vikramjit Roy believes that multiplexes have helped importers to a large extent. "Earlier we had to be content with releasing Hollywood films in the city centre or in single-screen theatres," he says.

"And the audience in the suburbs missed out on them because of the distance factor. Now the same socio-economic class of people frequent the multiplexes in the suburbs and in the city centre.

So our films are finding more patronage. And yes, the man in a distant suburb in India is as aware of the charisma of the Oscar as the man in Beverly Hills is."

The Oscar gyaan, then—coupled, of course, with a few tricks from the marketing gurus—probably does go a long way in ensuring better box-office collections. At the end of the day it's the money that counts.

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