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Imax entered India in 2001 with the opening of Carnival Cinemas Imax Wadala in Mumbai and since then the company has seen growth, with the Imax box office up 16% in the year to date.

Imax further strengthened its presence by signing a three-picture deal with Yash Raj Films. The latest film 'Thugs of Hindostan', starring India's top two actors Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bacchhan, was released earlier this month.

The Drum spoke with Mark Welton, president, Imax Theatres to find out how the Imax brand leverage such big releases. He says, "Thugs of Hindostan marks our second partnership with Yash Raj Films and global star Aamir Khan, who is a big Imax supporter. The film is also part of a larger initiative at Imax in programming more local-language content across our global theatre network. In fact, Thugs of Hindostan marks our 20th local-language film this year, nearly double the amount of local-language titles we released in 2016.

"In addition to the film’s potential global box office success, it marks an important step in further integrating Imax into Indian blockbusters in the same way we have in Hollywood. We’re encouraged that Thugs of Hindostan continues the growth of our local-language film strategy across our global network."

Imax further aims to leverage India's long vibrant movie-going culture and the fact that it is the world’s third-largest box office market and number one in film production. 

Welton emphasizes that Imax is excited to play a key role in driving the country’s interest in cinema and has seen significant traction in the market with a stronger Imax box office every year.

He adds, "In fact, over the last two years, we’ve doubled our theatre network in the country each year and now have 39 theatres open or set to open – including 10 new theatres that opened in 2018.

"Contributing to Imax’s growth is a greater appetite among moviegoers for Hollywood blockbusters, the demand for new multiplexes, with competition driven from that, and our increased programming of more of the biggest Indian films.

"Some of the highest-grossing Imax titles of all time in India were released this year, including the Indian film Padmaavat, which has grossed over $1m, as well as Hollywood titles such as Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Mission: Impossible – Fallout." 

According to a 2018 FICCI-EY report on India's media and entertainment sector, single screens cinemas have reduced from 9,710 screens with 91% share of total screens in India in 2009 to less than a 71% share in 2017 with 6,780 screens. At the same time, multiplexes have grown at a steady rate of over 10% over the years.

The report stated that the Indian film exhibition segment, in terms of numbers of screens, was less than one-fifth in size, as compared to developed markets like China and the US. However, India stands as "one of the most highly under-penetrated markets among major countries with eight screens per million".

As per Welton, Imax keeps us with competition through partnerships. He highlights, "We have been proud to expand our partnerships with the largest theatre exhibitors in the country, including PVR, Inox and Cinépolis, to provide a premium cinematic experience to more audiences than ever before. 

"As competition increases and these theatre owners look to expand and open new multiplexes, Imax often serves as an anchor attraction that creates significant value and traffic for our partners by driving both premium ticket prices and higher attendance levels."

Imax has further adopted a 'glocalised' strategy to make the brand resonate in the country. Welton elaborates, "India is an environment where access to content is so immediate and cinemas need to raise the bar even higher to attract audiences from their couches and phones – offering a highly differentiated experience. 

"Imax is a perfect fit for this type of environment as we offer something exceptional and aspirational. This is why we are working directly with our theatre partners to cater to the unique needs of the market and provide The Imax Experience to more audiences than ever before." 

The company further wants to expand its network in India and is in active discussions with exhibitor partners to bring Imax theatres to different cities across the country. 

Welton adds, "We are also emulating our relationship with Hollywood studios and developing more and more partnerships with Indian movie studios to co-create a strong slate of Indian films for Imax. Working directly with these studios allows us to release films that cater specifically to the Indian audience and bring them the content they want to see on-screen."

Imax has already released five Indian productions in Imax so far, with Thugs of Hindostan marking its sixth, and Welton claims that all have achieved notable success internationally in markets such as North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Middle East and most recently China.