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Ban on Indian films overseas adding to industry concerns

A spate of bans on hyper-nationalist Indian films in some overseas markets is set to dent collections even as the film industry is yet to recover from the pandemic in its home market.

Vijay’s Tamil film Beast, Dulquer Salmaan’s Kurup and Vishal’s FIR have been banned in certain overseas markets such as Kuwait for portraying Muslims as extremists over the past few months. Trade experts said censor boards are becoming increasingly strict in these countries, and hyper-nationalist films are unlikely to be allowed. Bans in key Gulf nations or others like Malaysia (a key Tamil cinema market) could make a 10-20% dent in overseas box office collections.

“The Middle East market, as a whole, makes up about 10-20% of the overseas market for Indian films and ranks number two after North America. The censor board there is quite strict, and not just with Indian films. Edits, cuts, and bans have happened with Hollywood titles, too,” said film producer, trade, and exhibition expert Girish Johar. Recently, the mystery thriller Death on the Nile wasn’t allowed to release in Lebanon and Kuwait due to lead star Gal Gadot’s past support for the Israel Defence Forces. The actor served two years in the Israeli army and has expressed support for the country’s armed forces. Earlier this week, Marvel’s upcoming superhero flick Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was in the news for negotiating with the cinema classification unit in Saudi Arabia that wants the studio to cut out references to same-sex relationships to release the film in the country.

A film producer, however, pointed out that the censor board in these countries doesn’t blindly take offence and puts its foot down only when a film tries to demonize a particular community blatantly. “Various other hyper-nationalist Hindi films are smart about how they portray specific communities and can get away with a release,” the person said.

Independent film trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai, however, pointed to the larger issue with the overseas film market that is yet to recover from the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic. Countries like Malaysia, the number one international territory for Tamil films, have crashed completely.

In 2019, overseas film shows accounted for ₹2,700 crore of the ₹19,100 crore total collections made by the Indian film and entertainment industry, as per the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report.

However, now even big-ticket releases are not managing the kind of returns they would have before covid. In its opening weekend in December, Allu Arjun’s Pushpa: The Rise-Part One had made around $1.05 million in the US, while Baahubali 2: The Conclusion had collected $10.3 million when released in April 2017, according to figures from trade website Bollywood Hungama. Action film K.G.F: Chapter 2 may be breaking box office records in India but only managed $2.9 million over its opening weekend in the US earlier this month. Live Mint

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