India Box Office Preview: 'Star Wars' to Take on Bollywood Competition

Star Wars: The Force Awaken  VFX films- H 2015
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios

In a market dominated by local content, J.J. Abrams' film needs all the powers of the force to go up against not one, but two of the biggest Bollywood releases of the year.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be up against some formidable competition when it opens in India on Dec. 25, a week after its rollout in the U.S. and most international territories. 

International Weekend 12/20/15

Rentrak for Weekend of 12/20/15
Weekend Cume
1. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens $279.0M $279.0M
2. Mojin: The Lost Legend $85.0M $85.0M
3. Surprise - Journey to the West $24.0M $34.0M
4. The Good Dinosaur $9.2M $93.1M
5. The Himalayas $8.5M $8.6M
6. Spectre $6.4M $642.2M
7. Bridge of Spies $4.5M $60.4M
8. In the Heart of the Sea $3.9M $49.6M
9. The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale $3.9M $4.0M
10. Sisters $1.8M $1.8M

The J.J. Abrams film is up against not one, but two of the year's biggest Bollywood releases that opened over the weekend and are expected to continue playing well. One is superstar Shah Rukh Khan's Dilwale, which led this weekend's box office. The other film is historical epic Bajirao Mastani, starring actresses Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra (Quantico) and actor Ranveer Singh.

Dilwale reportedly collected about $9.8 million (650 million rupees) this weekend, while Bajirao Mastani reached about $4.3 million (283 million rupees). Even by Bollywood standards, two big-ticket films opening on the same weekend is a rarity, with the two titles screening on an estimated 5,000 screens on a combined basis.

India is not the only Asian country where Star Wars is facing strong local challengers. South Korea and Vietnam were the only two countries where the film didn't top the box office during its opening weekend.

While opening strongly in India as expected, both Bollywood films also landed in the U.S. top 10, reflecting the star power of Indian talent with diaspora audiences. In what has turned out to be a historic weekend at the North American box office thanks to Star Wars' record-breaking $238 million haul, Dilwale grabbed the ninth spot with $1.9 million, followed by Bajirao Mastani with $1.7 million.

The Force Awakens will get a major rollout in India, with the Walt Disney Company India releasing the film in English, along with dubbed versions in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on more than 1,000 screens.

Hollywood and foreign films only command a minority market share in India at about 10 percent, with the market being dominated by local content. According to a recent entertainment industry report by consulting firm KPMG India, the country's total domestic theatrical revenue in 2014 came to $1.5 billion, which would mean Hollywood titles probably generated about $150 million.

Despite the strong competition, KPMG India entertainment analyst Jehil Thakkar tells THR that Star Wars “can still do well” and could cross the local box-office milestone of 1 billion rupees (about $16 million) over its entire theatrical run. “The Force Awakens has the potential of longevity as it's a must-see movie,” he says.

This year, two Hollywood films, Furious 7 and Jurassic World, both from Universal, became only the second and third U.S. releases ever to cross the 1 billion-rupee mark in the country after Avatar did so in 2010.

No one was willing to share projections for the film's opening in India.

Disney's marketing muscle has meant that The Force Awakens has over 50 brand partners associated with its release in India, the same number that partnered with the studio's summer tentpole Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was considered the highest ever for any film  Hollywood or Bollywood  released in India.

Brand partners for The Force Awakens include HP computers, Amazon, Jack & Jones clothing (offering a special Star Wars collection), Hamleys toy stores, ICICI Bank (offering Star Wars branded debit cards) and Subway outlets, where staff will be sporting Star Wars T-shirts.

Disney began its campaign in December 2014, placing Star Wars branding in cinemas timed with the studio's tentpole Bollywood release PK, which set records with its estimated $100 million haul.

The Force Awakens trailers were also attached to Avengers and Disney's Bollywood musical ABCD 2 and, more recently, to Dilwale which is co-produced and distributed by Khan's banner Red Chillies Entertainment.

But for The Force Awakens, a lot depends on whether both competing Bollywood films can continue their strong early runs, according to Thakkar. "If either Dilwale or Bajirao Mastani falters in the first week, cinemas could switch screens to the better-performing film, and then perhaps some of that spill-over could also benefit Star Wars," he says.

But he also cautions that unlike typical action films, "the sci-fi fantasy genre doesn't cross over to the wider markets in non-urban areas," which is what the Universal titles managed to do.

However, Star Wars has the potential to “attract audiences across generations,” according to PVR Pictures CEO Kamal Gianchandani. The film production and distribution company is owned by India's largest cinema chain PVR Limited, which runs over 480 screens in 44 cities. Along with local titles, PVR Pictures has regularly distributed Hollywood fare such as The Twilight Saga, The Aviator and The Hurt Locker, among others.

In addition to fans who followed earlier installments of George Lucas' franchise, Gianchandani also points to its potential audience, including followers of The Big Bang Theory (whose cast includes Indian actor Kunal Nayyar), "in which Star Wars is referred to quite frequently and reverentially."

"Star Wars as a franchise is easily relatable for Indian audiences, as the core theme of the films is centered around a family saga,” Walt Disney Company India CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur tells THR. “Good versus evil has formed the essence of all Indian mythological stories. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any other movie franchise that could evoke a level of passion, enthusiasm and excitement like Star Wars does.”

The Force Awakens will see its Indian premiere on Dec. 23 in Mumbai, which is expected to be attended by top Bollywood stars and personalities “where we are planning some very fun and engaging activities on the red carpet,” says Kapur. "We are also planning to have a Stormtrooper march at one of the largest malls in the city."