By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi : While an Indian court's decree to arrest Hollywood star Richard Gere for kissing in public has been hogging international and national headlines, away from the limelight New York's friendly neighbourhood superhero, Spider-Man, has cast his web so wide in the country that it is almost impossible not to get caught in it.
The big-ticket sequel "Spider-Man 3" released in India with almost 700 prints, highest-ever for a Hollywood production, and simultaneously in a record five languages (officially) – English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bhojpuri. A feat even the famed Mumbai studio-based production houses have never pulled-off.
The Sam Raimi film with Tobey Maguire in the red skin suit marks the beginning of a summer of bonanzas with an estimated Rs.1 to 1.5 billion riding on them.
"Spider-Man 3" will be followed closely by "Shrek 3", "Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End".
Bollywood has only one biggie – Yash Raj Films's "Ta Ra Rum Pum" – on the marquees during the same period. At least for the summer this year, Hollywood will give Bollywood good competition, feels P9 Integrated's Navin Shah. P9 is marketing "Spider-Man 3".
The exposure of Hollywood productions in India is likely to triple this year compared to last year. The top five Hollywood films in 2006 had 1,120 prints while "Spider-Man 3" alone released with more than 600 hundred prints.
And there are 61 Hollywood movies that will hit the silver screens across the country, between April and December 2007.
"Spider-Man 3" was a commercially successful venture even before it was released given its tie-ups with about seven brands – Yamaha, HDFC Life Insurance, Baskin Robbins, Ceat and Pidilite among others – worth over Rs.100 million in India.
Percept Pictures, who have majority of the distributions rights of the film in India, say the decision to dub the film in Bhojpuri is paying off well. The Bhojpuri belt is the most populous sector and popular actor Ravi Kishen has dubbed for Peter Parker in the film.
Traditionally, the numbers of Bhojpuri moviegoers swell during summer vacations as families return from metros to their native villages during annual holidays.
"Today, 'Spider-Man' is the biggest movie brand across all cultures, religions and ages," says Vikramjit Roy, publicity head of Sony Pictures India. "From comic book strips to the first two movies, there is a strong embedded imagery of the character," he added.
The craze for the wall-crawler is also set to push sales of film memorabilia like the six new Spider-Man collections from Funskool that have become an instant hit with the kids.
"I believe Spider-Man toys have been flying off the racks in most metros," says Philip Royappan, group product manager of Funskool India, from Chennai. "We have done movie-related products in the past, like 'Chronicles of Narnia' and 'Jungle Book' and 'Spider-Man' was the next level."
The brand associations, obviously, go beyond toys. Thanks to tie-ups with Hutch, Yamaha, Horlicks, Baskin Robbins, Travelguru.com, Rediff.com and Diptrix, "Spider-Man 3" is just about everywhere.
"The year is big for us since we have two big global properties coming right in the middle of summer, a huge season for blockbuster releases," Uday Singh, Sony Pictures India MD, was quoted as saying in news reports.
Given the continuing stalemate between Yash Raj Films and PVR chain of multiplexes over revenue sharing, the latter are also upbeat about the Hollywood fare this summer.
By Hollywood standards the Indian market is small, even if "Spider-Man 3" nets more than the Rs.80 million that "Spider-Man 2" had garnered. But it no doubt has boundless potential and Hollywood studios know that.
For Hollywood this has opened a new window to make money as the revenue that it earned in 2005 saw an increase of more than 35 percent in 2006.
Speaking about Asian domination of entertainment, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur had once said: "In future sequels to 'Spider-Man', Sony will have to ensure that when Spider-Man takes his mask off, he is either Indian or Chinese. Or they will lose out on 75 percent of their market."
With "Spider-Man" already speaking in Bhojpuri, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, the day is not far.
With the international studios aspiring to reach out to the small town population of India, the Indian film fraternity will either rise to the occasion and match the technical finesse or like in past demand protections and curbs.
Not content with conquering more and more Indian screens, international film distributors Sony Pictures have a new trick lined-up: direct-to-video release of Hollywood films.
News reports say, the company was inspired by the direct-to-video release of "Stuart Little 3" that sold over 40,000 units all over India – a big figure for a children's film.
The film was Sony's second highest selling foreign DVD title in 2006, after "The Da Vinci Code". Lined up exclusively on DVD are sequels like "I Will Always Know What You Did Last Summer", "Urban Legend 3" and "Lake Placid 2".
On the creative side, Hollywood stars are dropping enough hints about their willingness to be cast in Indian films.
Who can forget Will Smith's whirlpool visit. Now "Kill Bill" actress Uma Thurman has shown interest in essaying the lead opposite Hrithik Roshan in a Vishal Bhardwaj film set in 1943 Burma during the World War II when Indian soldiers were fighting for the British against Japan.
Rajkumar Hirani, who is busy writing the last in the trilogy of Munnabhai, is also said to have sketched a character for a western actor.
Nothing new though, "Rang de Basanti" had Alice Patten, "Salaam-e-Ishq" had Govinda romancing a foreigner (Shannon Esrechowitz) and so did "Lagaan" and "Kisna".
Rachel Shelley played Aamir Khan's love interest in "Lagaan" and Antonia Bernath was Viveik Oberoi's in "Kisna".