As a colleague rode in a cab on her way to her destination in the capital city of India, she was surprised to see people queuing up outside a cinema hall to see an animated Punjabi film named Chaar Saahibzaade. On asking the driver what the big deal about the movie was, she was told that many Gurudwaras had bought tickets for the movie to have their patrons view it with family. The driver was all praise for a film that told the stories of Sikhism’s history through a medium that children appreciated and elders approved.
The film, directed and produced by filmmaker Harry Baweja, has caught the fancy of people not only in India, but abroad as well. So much so that the movie, which cost Baweja Rs 20 crore, has earned around Rs 70 crore globally.
Of the total Rs 70 crore collection, almost 60 per cent has come from overseas market, with North America, the UK and Australia-New Zealand territory contributing the major chunk. The movie has also done well in Europe and East India.
This makes it not only the most successful Punjabi film ever, but also, one of the best performances by an Indian animated film with box office returns of 250 per cent. Its profitability is more than most Bollywood films, like Kick, Bang Bang and Happy New Year.
The movie is the first photo realistic 3D animated film on Sikh history and is based on the real story of the sacrifices of the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of the Sikhs, and was released on November 6. It has been praised for its emotional and unbiased portrayal of one of the most important chapters of Sikh history. The film is bilingual with parts of it in Hindi and parts of it in Punjabi.
“According to the Sikh religion, real life depiction of their Gurus through dramas/films by actors is not permissible. So, I had no other option but to go in for an animated version. But, I was sure I wanted to make this movie. It is a story that I wanted to tell and put out there and so I decided, if its animation, it will be one of the best (products) India has to offer,” says Baweja.
The animation for the film has been handled by Mumbai-based Interactive Realities. The firm has more than 15 years of experience in 3D Animation and special effects and has designed pre-production for more than 10 feature films and three television serials.
Chaar Saahibzaade was released in around 350 screens in India and 75 screens abroad. After the initial response to the film, the screen count was increased to 175 screens overseas and around 450 screens in India. However, Baweja informs that the number of shows for the film almost doubled after the first week. Currently in its ninth week, the film is still running in 60-65 screens in India and around 50 screens abroad.
“While it has done good business, people have written in to me and said that the animation quality is not so good. All I have to say is that if you are going to compare the quality of the animation with the likes of Pixar, you should also consider that the budget available to me was not even 1 per cent of the budget of Hollywood animation ventures. I am very happy with the product and the response we have got with it,” asserts Baweja.
The next phase for the film is a release of the dubbed version, starting with an American English dub. The film will eventually travel to China and Japan as well. “We are in the process of locking in an overseas distribution partner for the film. In the first phase, we were targeting the Indian diaspora and so went with local distributors. Now, we want to tie up with one distributor overseas and release the film in territories like China and Japan as well,” says Baweja.
The film’s success has come at a time when the Punjabi film industry is growing year on year. Currently, industry estimates peg the volume output of the industry at 50 films a year, with an estimated box office turnover in the range of Rs 400 to 450 crore.
However, the industry is struggling due to the lack of a sustainable satellite mechanism. Unlike South Indian films and Bollywood films, the movies released in the Punjabi film industry do not have many choices for a satellite release. While the broadcast rights for Chaar Saahibzaade are yet unsold, Baweja is now being approached by overseas and domestic broadcasters for the telecast rights to the movie.