Rohan Arya, 19, is very sensitive when it comes to watching Japanese Anime. It's not cartoon, he often snaps back at people. Unlike Arya, not many of his friends and family members understood why Arya was so crazy for animated movies. But that changed completely when Patna-based Arya took them to watch recently released ‘Weathering With You’ and he didn't have to explain his choice of movies anymore.

Like Arya, many in India are keen to explore foreign cultures through the films, other than Hollywood. And that's a new business opportunity multiplexes likes of PVR and Inox are betting big on.

PVR and Bookmyshow joint venture Vkaao, which is India’s first theatre-on-demand platform is seeing foreign film releases as one of the biggest revenue churners. “In June 2019, we launched ‘Vkaao Gems’ an exclusive property to bring award-winning foreign language films to India and released this year’s Oscar nominated movies Capernaum (Arabic) and Shoplifters (Japanese) under the platform. The response for these films was phenomenal, with over 2x tickets sold as compared to the previous releases. The tipping point in this category would definitely have to be the recent release of Japanese Anime film ‘Weathering With You’,” Vaibhav Lal, co-founder and CEO, Vkaao, told BusinessLine .

How ‘Weathering With You’ entered India

Releasing in over 75 cinemas across 32 cities, ‘Weathering With You’ has seen the biggest opening for a foreign language film (non-English) ever in India with ₹6.6 million in opening box office collections. The movie sold over 30,000 tickets over the first weekend and ran at an occupancy of over 90 per cent overall.

Even other theatre chains such as Inox and Cinepolis were screening the movie.

The demand however is not the same for all genres. Audiences in India still prefer to watch only award-winning foreign films as their doorway into foreign cinema. ‘Weathering With You’ for example is 2019’s highest grossing movie in Japan and is the first anime movie in 20 years to have become Japan’s official entry to the Oscars 2020 in the Best Foreign Language Film Category. The movie created a lot of buzz globally, which was followed by an online petition by fans to bring the film to India. The petition gained momentum post the film’s trailer release and garnered over 50,000 signatures.

This was when Vkaao decided to release it in India and distribute it to other cinemas as well.

The popularity of such movies is also pretty widespread in India. Smaller towns that would typically watch only Hindi or local language cinema, are now showing their appetite for foreign films as well. “Audiences in metros have easier access to such content due to regular film festivals, but tier II and III cities are highly dependent on theatrical or on-demand releases only. Weathering With You experienced demand from users in cities like Bilaspur, Ranchi, Patna, Dehradun, Bhubaneshwar, etc. which are not even traditional Hollywood markets and where only dubbed versions of such movies are released,” Lal said.

‘Weathering With You’ was released in Japanese with English subtitles in these markets and audiences thronged to the cinemas in unexpected numbers showing the growing cinema preferences of audiences all over the country. With more such movies lined up for release this year, the market for foreign films is expected to grow exponential from here, given the small base.

The appetite for new content is giving way to all types of formats being experimented by Indian theatres, which for decades were dominated by Bollywood content. With 70-80 releases a year, Hollywood already contributes 10-15 per cent to box office revenues in a country where the domestic movie industry produces as many as 2,000 movies a year.

Will foreign language movies add to the competition created by Hollywood films is yet to be seen but till then we're just happy seeing more of quality content making its way into the country.