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Why India loves ‘Dunkirk’

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-07-2017 Lata Jha

New Delhi: Christopher Nolan’s war film Dunkirk grossed Rs15.57 crore in India over its opening weekend. Not only is the figure impressive for a screen count of 400 but also more than substantial, trade experts say, for an American film that doesn’t exactly fulfil the expectations Indians have from Hollywood movies—action, spectacle and superhero franchises.

Coupled with reviews that call it everything from a “landmark achievement” to “one of the best war films ever made”, it is clear that the Nolan magic has been woven again. The director remains singularly responsible for the high buzz around the film.

“Our country has traditionally been a star-driven market but Christopher Nolan has been penetrating this mould over the last few years,” said Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, at online ticketing site BookMyShow.

“He has already dabbled in genres which have traditionally been favoured by Indian audiences, right from a superhero spectacle like the Batman trilogy to a film set in space (Interstellar) to a concept thriller (Inception). Therefore, he had an almost ready audience waiting to lap up a war film which has not been a preferred genre for a very long time now.”

Nolan’s 2014 epic science fiction film Interstellar had made Rs8.25 crore over its opening weekend in India, while his Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer Inception had earned Rs7.5 crore in 2010, putting him in the league of names like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron who are the rare Hollywood crowd-pullers in the country.

“Indians love movies, and if there’s good cinema out in theatres they will watch it,” said film critic Mihir Fadnavis. “Nolan and James Cameron are probably the big names for local audiences. Nolan’s work since The Dark Knight has been consistently spectacular and there’s no stopping him. He’s known for his big, entertaining yet smart cinema and he delivers every single time. The opening weekend crowd (for Dunkirk) was always going to be huge. It may not be a superhero movie, but it’s got the visual spectacle of a superhero movie.”

Other than Nolan’s reputation, Saksena said that the success of Dunkirk also has to do with the fact that viewers in India prefer a large screen format and the war film with its emphasis on a 70mm and Imax release was able to capture their attention, despite neither being dubbed in Hindi nor employing a 3D format.

Then there are logistical reasons.

“Multiplexes are now reaching places in India where the Hollywood market didn’t exist earlier,” said Devang Sampat, director (strategic initiatives) at Cinépolis India. “Initially, you’d only find them in cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru. Now small-town audiences are getting a taste of that niche content which they’ve started appreciating and then of course the youth is getting on to social media and contributing to the word-of-mouth. So the whole world is becoming one market.”

Meanwhile, the popularity of comedy series The Hangover and horror flick The Conjuring 2, besides Dunkirk, shows that Indian audiences are lapping up more niche Hollywood content.

“Superhero movies were a trend initially. But for the last couple of years, niche Hollywood content has been working very well especially in multiplexes,” Sampat said. “Because of the evolved viewing experience, better sound and quality of content, we’ve seen even non-typical Hollywood films performing well.”

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