What Makes Avatar: The Way Of Water So Attractive To Regional Cinemas?

From theatre renovations to high-quality dubbing, here’s how regional cinemas are preparing for James Cameron’s film to land in theatres this Friday
What Makes Avatar: The Way Of Water So Attractive To Regional Cinemas?

James Cameron’s science-fiction epic Avatar created waves among audiences, becoming the highest-grossing movie at the worldwide box office when it was released in 2009. Thirteen years later, in a world of sequels and prequels, Cameron’s original is all set to get a sequel this Friday with Avatar: The Way of Water. And trade experts expect the film — particularly the dubbed versions in the south — to create the same exhilaration that its predecessor managed to, a decade ago. 

“These are technical aspects of filmmaking which only a Hollywood film can give, and that is what constitutes this craze behind the film. Avatar 1 was an all-time blockbuster. I am expecting all-time record collections for The Way Of Water,” says entertainment tracker Sreedhar Pillai. The craze that Pillai refers to here is evident in the decision undertaken by many southern theatres to spruce up their premises. 

Setting the bar high 

Avatar 2 is billed to be the most expensive film ever produced with a budget of approximately $350-$400 million. The advanced bookings for the film are in full swing and it has reportedly beaten Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in its pre-sales. While it is estimated to compete with Indian films like RRR, Baahubali 2, and KGF, the film could also surpass the collections of Avengers: Endgame to become the highest-grossing Hollywood film in India. But producer and film historian G Dhananjayan opines that it all boils down to the film’s general appeal to audiences. 

“Following its trailer and promotional videos, Avatar 2 has created a bigger expectation across the country. Having said that, a lot of Hollywood films have tanked because they did not appeal to the audience, so we need to wait and see what kind of film this is. But even if the film meets the basic expectations of the audience, it will be a blockbuster.”

When Avatar was released in 2009, it made for a unique experience for the viewers, at a time when VFX was still a largely unexplored territory. But cinema has come a long way since then, reminds exhibitor-distributor Tirupur Subramaniam. “When the original Avatar was released years ago, it was fresh. For instance, when Jurassic Park came out in the 90s, nobody, including me, could differentiate the graphics from reality. But now there are so many expensive high-graphics films made in India itself such as Bahubali and Ponniyin Selvan I. So, we will have to see if the film will exceed expectations. In addition, its runtime of 3 hours 15 minutes could be a minus point.”

Cinemas should be bang for the buck

A number of theatres across the country are said to have revamped their interiors with better seats, sound experience, equipment, and screen projection. Prasads Multiplex in Hyderabad, for instance, was the latest to be renovated with a Dolby Atmos sound system and a dual laser 4K projection ahead of the film’s release. Dhananjayan notes that such a trend is common ahead of any big film’s release.

Pillai looks at the renovations as a means to make the exorbitantly priced IMAX tickets worth the money. “A number of theatres in India are getting renovated, especially in south India. Companies like IMAX have tried to capitalise on it by giving the right kind of technology. I am told that the tickets in Kerala’s high-end IMAX theatres are nearing Rs 900 -1000. So, when you're going to pay such an astronomical amount to watch a film, you deserve the best.”

Dubbing to perfection

Avatar 2 will be released in dubbed versions across the country in languages including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. With Hollywood dubs having their own fan base today, Avatar 2 is expected to win over regional audiences with a hint of local flavour. 

Perfection in dubbing is key, tells Pillai. “The dubbed films today are as big as the regional films in Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada. It comes down to the language you understand and are comfortable with. And the makers of Avatar have taken a special effort to get the regional languages right.” 

The focus on dubbing today is not just in terms of voice artists, but also the dialogues. For instance, director AR Murugadoss was roped in to pen the dialogues of Avengers Endgame. Similarly, Avatar 2 has actor-writer Srinivas Avasarala writing the dialogues for its Telugu version. Avasarala is known for writing the Telugu dialogues of Brahmastra

Dhananjayan points out that the local flavour in language is something that audiences look forward to in dubbed films. But not all dubbed films work the charm, Subramaniam says. “Two decades back, English films were released only in English. But when they realised the market for a regional audience, they started dubbing films. If an English film has an audience of 1000 people, its dubbed version will have 5000 viewers. However, not all dubbed films do well. Not all films can become RRR or Pushpa.”

Behind the distributors’ dispute

Apart from raising the bar, the film’s expectations have also led to a dispute between the film’s distributors and local theatre owners. The top distributors from southern states have reportedly quoted outrageous prices to acquire distribution of the sequel. The new contractual terms put forth by the distributors did not go down well with the theatre owners. So, what is the issue exactly?

The basic dispute is about which side gets the lion’s size of the revenue. Usually, in the case of English films, the contractual terms for sharing profits will be 50-50 between theatre owners and distributors/producers. But for Avatar 2, the distributors demanded a 60-40 ratio. In Kerala, after several discussions, the Film Exhibitors’ United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) and the distributors agreed on getting a share of 55% in the first two weeks, followed by 50% in the third week and 40% in the fourth week. This consensus solved the dispute in the state and theatres are gearing up for the release. 

However, the terms in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are in the process of being resolved. Subramaniam says that the theatre owners are waiting it out because the increased share will not be profitable for them. 

While the multiplexes across the country have agreed to the new terms, the single-screen theatres are yet to make a decision. Pillai says, “The national multiplexes PVR, INOX, Cinepolis, and others have signed up their terms because they do it at an all-India level. So, they always have better terms. PVR has nearly 1000 screens. But a Kasi theatre in Chennai may not get that kind of preference from Hollywood companies. They will naturally demand more from single-screen theatres because more audiences come to watch a film in multiplexes, rather than single screens. The ticket rates in multiplexes are almost three times that of the single-screen ones.”

Dhananjayan adds that this dispute is a common occurrence with any tentpole film. “Even with a Vijay or Ajith film, distributors have high demands. But the demands can’t be so high that it becomes unviable for the theatres.” Trade experts predict the dispute to be sorted by today. 

“We are requesting them (the distributors) to bring their ask down by 5% . It is not a big argument, and I don’t see any problem at all.” 

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