If you want to tap the desi Marvel audience, then Adipurush 3D must be judged by Marvel standards

Director Om Raut’s comment is perhaps more intriguing than the wide criticism of the 2D teaser that dropped on 2 October.

Prabhas and Saif Ali Khan (R) in Adipurush [2023]

By Mayur Lookhar

Honestly, we were in a bind on whether we should write this comment piece or not? It was brave of director Om Raut, and producer T-Series to have a 3D teaser preview of the Adipurush [2023] teaser just a day or two after the adverse reaction to the 2D teaser that dropped on 2 October. Unfortunately, it (2D teaser) was largely deemed disappointing by most. A 3D teaser was bound to be more immersive than the 2D one. We had the privilege of watching the 3D teaser with the director, who was sporting enough to acknowledge the reaction to the 2D teaser.

We were informed at the venue that this would be an informal chat. So, keeping in the with the code, we didn’t post any article on Raut’s comments. However, it didn’t take long for that conversation to be published with the director himself expressing the same views to a couple of channels/publications. Raut’s comments are all over the media now. For us, it is now all about introspecting his wisdom.

We respect the director’s humble call for the media to conduct themselves like film journalists and not trolls. Raut requested the media to support his upcoming beloved film. Beyond Bollywood sees itself as a student of objective journalism. We believe that we were fairly objective in our teaser review. We like to observe dignity in our constructive criticism. However, if any text was deemed unobjective, we would like to offer our sincere apologies to the director and the producer. We assure the makers that there is never any malice in our editorial policy.

A week after the informal meet, we reflect upon Raut’s wisdom. There are few words that are perhaps more intriguing than the reaction to the 2D teaser. Early on, Raut firmly stated that his film is going to be a big screen experience, and it would be unfair to judge it based upon the 2D viewing of the teaser on mobile phones, TV sets. Raut said that he wants to capture the attention of the youth that is largely hooked onto to their mobile phones, gadgets. Despite Ramayana being one of the most popular Indian epics, Raut longed to educate and inform the youth who perhaps has only heard of the epic and not experienced it. During the informal chat, we humbly pointed out to Raut that if it is the youth that he wants to attract, then that youth is a big follower of Marvel, DC films that shine for their immersive, quality VFX.  Marvel, DC are like this colossus whose shadow will forever loom large over any other cinema that aspires to raise the bar in the genre. Raut acknowledged the impact of Marvel films and expressed a desire to attract the desi Marvel audience to his Adipurush.

Om Raut (l) at Ram Leela Maidaan in Delhi.

We respect the director for his humble views, aspirations, but our mind is currently occupied with few thoughts. Firstly, if you want to target the desi Marvel audience, then wouldn’t they have Marvel-like expectations from Adipurush 3D? We, too, firmly believe that such films are best experienced in 3D, Imax format. However, has Marvel or DC ever said that their teaser/trailer is not meant to be consumed on mobile phone or TV sets? To the best of our knowledge, most film industries across the globe release their teasers, trailers in 2D format on YouTube and other platforms.

We don’t understand the technology behind every screen/ device but in our personal experience, most mobile phones today come with 4K resolution. At times, we found a teaser/trailer more immersive than watching on a simple HD TV. We presume that most Indian households today must be having a basic HD TV. As per an article in Mint, around 210 million households in India owned a TV set in 2020.  Source: TV Universe Estimates 2020’ (TV UEs) brought out by BARC India along with the BARC Technical Committee (TechComm).

A source from business media tells us that this figure has now swelled to 250 million household. The number of Indian households with Smart TV [internet-connected TVs] are about 22 million, as per Techarc’s estimate. So, there are about 180 million households who have a basic HD TV. The number of active internet users in India stand at about 692 million [69.2 crore]. Now that’s about half the nation’s population. For a population of around 1.4 billion, the estimated mobile phone users in India are over 1.5 billion. 

So, clearly movie buffs from the 180 million basic TV households would perhaps have banked on their mobile phones to watch the Adipurush 2D teaser. The maximum theatrical audience for a film recorded in India was about 2.8 crore.

As of now, the Adipurush Hindi teaser has got over 9.2 crore views. The Telugu one has got 7.5 million [75 lakh] views. The Tamil one has fetched 15 million [1.5 crore] views. Malayalam has got 8.1 [81 lakh] million views, while the Kannada one has fetched over 328,000 views. Hope we didn’t miss out on any language in which the film will be released.  So, roughly the Adipurush 2D teaser has fetched over 12 crore [120 million] views covering across all languages. That is an impressive number. What’s interesting though is that the Hindi teaser has fetched just 1.5 million [15 lakhs] likes. The Telugu one has got 377K likes, Tamil one got 85K likes, while the Malayalam and Kannada teasers earned over 43K and 27K likes, respectively. Given the number of views each teaser got, perhaps the makers would have wished more ‘likes’. We respect their call to conceal the dislikes.

We don’t want to turn this article into any data piece but can any filmmaker sidestep the 180 million basic TV household or near 70 crore internet users for just 3 crore theatrical population?

If an Om Raut feels that his teaser and the film is not meant to be consumed on the TV or mobile phones, then maybe it would have been wise of the makers to hold special 3D trailer previews for the target audience [youth].  Of course, it’s nigh impossible to get every youth, but maybe some could have been selected through a contest with the winners being granted an opportunity to view the teaser in 3D. If no contest, then they could simply have held a special 3D screening in theatres on first come, first basis in Ayodhya, UP and other important centers. This was only a teaser. We never know the producers and the director might consider such idea for the trailer launch. Most teasers/ trailer are showcased during existing film screenings. However, given how most theatres, especially in Hindi markets are largely running empty, the makers surely wouldn’t have been able to get the views that a YouTube, mobile phone users would fetch.

Saif Ali Khan as Lankesh in Adipurush [2023]

It wasn’t the tacky VFX alone, but Adipurush teaser was also slammed for the look of the principal characters – Raghava [Prabhas], Janaki [Kriti Sanon], Lankesh [Saif Ali Khan], and Bajrang [Devdatta Nage].  The director told us that they haven’t named these characters after their legendary figures – Ram, Sita, Ravan, Hanuman, respectively- because most of them are worshipped as Gods, and we don’t address Gods by their names. But the teaser has the Jai Shri Ram chant.

A South Indian film hero without a moustache would rile the traditional audiences, and we’re fine with Raghava sporting one. However, many aren’t happy with Raghava, Bajrang having some leather wear around them. Besides, the beard of Bajrang and Lankesh is deemed as Islamic style. That was a period where there was no Islam. This has riled both the left-liberal and the far-right equally.

The director defended the character look saying, “This is my film, my vision of these characters.” We respect creative freedom, but an Adipurush is no ordinary fiction. It is retelling of Ramayana, which is held dearly by crores of Hindus over the world. Given how sensitive religious sentiments have become under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and across key Hindi belts of India, filmmakers will have to be cautious in the way they handle such subjects on the big screen. Ramayana is a matter of devotion, and already we have seen some devotees on YouTube express their anger.

Raut passionately appealed to the media to support his film, reminding all how the entire film, especially its VFX, is all done by Indian hands. India braving to tell such epic stories on a big scale is commendable, but don’t we see many Indian names in the end credits of many a Marvel or DC film? After all, Hollywood outsources VFX work to India. To be fair to Raut, the director was perhaps implying that here is a big, VFX heavy film that is ‘Made in India’ all the way. Remember, a Brahmastra [2022] is produced and distributed by foreign owners – Star Studios, Walt Disney.

Clearly, the theory that ‘my teaser/film is not meant for mobile/TV consumption’ is not so wise. Maybe Raut spoke from the heart. If not, then this is a bizarre defensive line. The arrows though have been shot. Now having declared a desire to attract the desi Marvel, digital audience, Raut has only raised the expectation bar. We hope there is enough time for Raut and co. to ring in any rectification, if required. The media will do its bit in spreading an objective word around the film, but in the end, it is Raut’s target audience [youth] that will decide the fate of Adipurush. The film is set to be released in theatres on 12 January, 2023.

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