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|June 11, 2001||
Last fall, Sony Entertainment Television introduced their first theatrical distributed film -- Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Mission Kashmir, with a loud bang.
There was the gala world premiere in London's Piccadilly Square, followed by a similar event in New York City's Times Square area. All the major stars of Mission Kashmir (except for the young heartthrob Hritik Roshan), crew members, music directors, screenplay writers and other technicians were flown in from Bombay for a major promotion event.
This was the first ever at this scale for a Hindi film.
For their second film, Lagaan (opening on Friday, June 15), Sony is taking a relatively quieter approach. Although a visit to New York by the film's star and producer Aamir Khan did create a commotion in the city.
Several hundred fans turned up to see Khan last month when he dropped by a desi music store in the Jackson Heights area of Queens, leading to a massive traffic jam, and no doubt, a headache for the city's police department.
"Bringing the stars does help promote the film," says Charu Benegal, spokesperson for Sony in New York.
"It did help with Mission Kashmir. We didn't go that big with Lagaan because if you look at the cast, Aamir Khan is the only well-known star in the film. But he was a dream to work with. He is so professional."
"We definitely have a great feeling about the film," adds Benegal. "At the end of the day, the product is most important. You have to create the hype. If, with all the hype, the product doesn't live up to it, that can be problem, too. Come Friday, the audience will make the decision. I know this film is good and the audience will think so, too."
Sony will release Lagaan on 40 screens in North America, putting it in the league of hits films like Taal, Hum Saath Saath Hain and Mohabbatein. Of the 40 prints, 15 will be subtitled, adds Benegal.
Last year, Mission Kashmir faced tough competition from director Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein, which was released on the same day.
This time again, Sony has not been able to get a clean release for Lagaan, which has to compete for the audience and screens with Gadar - Ek Prem Katha. The two films are being released on the same day and deal with similar themes. Both films are period pieces set in the time of British India.
"I think the timing for Lagaan is better -- for a while now, the theatre-going people have not been going to theatres at all," feels Benegal. "American Desi was a hit earlier this spring, and Ek Rishtaa - The Bond Of Love was the first film that opened the gates. People are looking at Lagaan for doing that."
Benegal says that experience of releasing Mission Kashmir at the Loews Theatre at the heart of Times Square -- the first for a Hindi film, was a positive experience. She describes the BO numbers for Mission Kashmir -- as "healthy" as compared to the Hollywood films that were showing at the same theatre.
With Lagaan, Sony is in talks with the Loews chain (owned by the giant Sony Corporation). But no final decision has been made.
"There is a crossover audience for this film. Hence we will make available subtitled prints," reveals Benegal. "We are still open to showing Lagaan at a Loews theatre. It's just that with Pearl Harbor hogging all the screens…"
Benegal recalls meeting a young Indian lawyer last year at a midweek screening of Mission Kashmir: "She told me that it was really amazing that she could see this film midweek because it was in Manhattan and that she could hop across from work."
In the past two decades, several people have experimented with opening movie theatres in Manhattan that focus solely on Hindi films. The last such attempt was in the late 1990s, when Eros Entertainment ran a two-screen theatre across from Bloomingdales, in Manhattan's Upper East Side neighborhood.
However each time, the theatres have had to eventually close down. South Asian residents of Manhattan have had to drive to New Jersey or Queens to see Hindi films or wait for the release of DVDs, which are often pirated.
"Piracy is big, big problem. And for the product to begin delivering, we need to first take care of that," Benegal says, adding that with Mission Kashmir, Sony had some success, since the company was able to hold off the pirates for about three weeks.
"With Lagaan, we hope to do even better because we are committed to this film," she adds. "Aamir himself is very concerned about the piracy issue. He has spoken to the (Indian) Prime Minister. Over here, too, he has urged people to see the film in the theatres or wait for the official DVD to be released."
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