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‘Burn The Stage’ and the Rising Power of BTS’ Indian Fan Base

Here’s how the South Korean group’s documentary hitting Indian shores could lead to a live concert in the future

Riddhi Chakraborty Nov 23, 2018

BTS' 'Burn The Stage' will be screened in over 45 cities in India with more locations being added to the roster almost every day. Photo: Courtesy of BigHit Entertainment

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It’s unwise on anyone’s part to underestimate BTS’ Indian fans. The discussion around the South Korean pop juggernaut’s visiting India for a concert has been an ongoing one among fans and the events surrounding the band’s new feature film Burn The Stage: The Movie might finally shift the dream in gear.

Originally an exclusive series for YouTube Red, Burn the Stage: The Movie, is a documentary that follows BTS on their 19-city ‘Live Trilogy Episode III: The Wings Tour’ in 2017. It provides an intimate glimpse into the seven members’ lives through in-depth interviews, backstage clips, behind-the-scenes stage footage and more. Internationally, the film has bagged 1.4 million admissions since its opening on November 15th (according to its distributor Trafalgar Releasing,) smashing the record of 1.2 million held by One Direction’s 2014 film One Direction: Where We Are. Burn The Stage has since been screened in over 79 territories, with a global box office total of an estimated $14 million earned, making it the best-selling film (in the global event cinema genre) of all time.

Now Burn The Stage:The Movie‘s entry in India is particularly significant for several reasons; as the first ‘official’ BTS event in the country, it’s one of the few landmark moments of acknowledgment from the band’s company BigHit Entertainment that an audience exists here–other landmark moments include Rolling Stone India‘s exclusive interview with BTS’ leader RM in 2017 and the addition of BTS’ entire discography to Apple Music India in February this year. The second and possibly most important reason, is that there will finally be a legitimate estimate of the size of a paying audience in India. Ticket sales from the film can act as a tally to calculate a more accurate ‘fans per city’ number than music streaming apps or YouTube views. With a fresh record of purchase, the film’s release in India will give BigHit and local concert promoters an idea of the current total size of the swiftly expanding fanbase–and therefore a total number of potential customers for a future show.

The excitement leading up to November 15th was palpable among local members of ARMY (BTS’ fan club), and most couldn’t believe their cries for acknowledgement had been heard. The joy was short-lived, however, when November 14th rolled around with no pre-bookings available at multiplex INOX Leisure Limited (the movie theater chain responsible for bringing the film to Indian shores.) While the release proceeded as planned on the 15th in most other countries, Indian fans were told they had to wait longer–Burn The Stage hadn’t received a thumbs up from India’s Central Board of Film Certification. There was devastation across social media with a very frantic INOX  becoming the target of most of the fandom’s frustration.

Fans split between defending the Board and its procedures, to posting multiple Tweets of outrage. It all hit new levels of chaos when rumors about the Censor Board demanding edits be made to the film began floating around Twitter. In a statement via the Mumbai Mirror on November 17th, Tushar Karmarkar, Regional Officer of the CBFC, clarified, “It is absolute misinformation (that CBFC had asked for refinement of the film). We were merely waiting for full documentation, which was not provided. No content refinement was asked by the CBFC, except for a modification.” The modification required was simply the blurring of liquor bottles in a few scenes and a new date, November 25th, was finally announced.

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Interestingly, the entire snafu seemed to further fuel the fandom’s drive–it didn’t matter if they got the film late, they decided to view it as an opportunity to rally for more screenings across the country and push purchase numbers to new heights. When tickets finally did go online on Monday, November 19th, there was a mad scramble to try and book seats–INOX’s website crashed almost immediately. “Fans just kept on pushing for tickets at all of our locations and I, for the first time, personally experienced the true meaning of the phrase ‘sold like hot cakes,'” Saurabh Varma, Chief Marketing Officer of INOX, tells Rolling Stone India. “We received emails and calls from fans from all parts of India as well as from U.S., Nepal and many other countries. Right from the daughter of my neighbor to the teenage sons and daughters of film stars and celebs, everyone wanted to come experience the movie.” INOX confirms they sold around 25,000 tickets on the first day and with show-timings selling out across the country, they’re still being forced to increase the number of screens per city every few hours. Varma says, “We initially opened two odd shows in 36 locations all over India. In our planning this was extremely extensive and have never given so many shows to such an event. The bookings opened on Monday and everything was sold out by 3:00 pm. The fans were all over our social network, pages, and our website–all we could read was ‘we want tickets!’ Our cellphones since then have just not stopped ringing.”

The result? Burn The Stage will now be screened in over 45 cities with more locations being added to the roster almost every day. Every time you refresh Twitter or INOX’s website there’s a new screen listing and even BTS’ Indian fan base accounts are unable to keep track of them all.

Fans are buying tickets, selling tickets to other fans in case they themselves can’t attend, convincing family members to come along, and organizing events before and after screenings. “In the past, INOX has marketed and programmed a lot of screening in the past and has a viewer base who frequently demands new initiatives and events screened in various cinemas, but BTS has brought us a new fan base consisting of youth that are emerging in dozens,” says Varma. “These are groups and a massive turnout of young patrons, some of whom have flown down from far, far away just to catch a screening. I personally have been in the business for 21 years and have never seen such a euphoric response for any other show.”

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Varma further reveals INOX pursued Burn The Stage while looking for new content to screen in the country and learning more about BTS as a band. “The credit also goes to a dozen INOX guests who frequent our cinemas and begin to inquire if we would be screening Burn The Stage,” says Varma. “This made our team stand up and notice.” While Varma and his team had become aware of BTS’ global influence, they weren’t really expecting the film to blow up quite this much here–especially considering it’s a production in a foreign language. “Though we have English subtitles in the show, most of the audience are not even inquiring or considering the same as their selection criteria.”

The concept of demanding local theaters to screen a foreign film about a Korean boy band might seem outlandish to the general Indian public but it has, all said and done, incited healthy curiosity. Varma explains that it’s a phenomenon that has motivated all cinemas in India to open their minds to a branch of culture and celebrity they weren’t even aware of before. “In the past, we’ve witnessed good amount of turnouts in INOX for shows like One Direction’s and educational films that target schools and  families,” he says. “But BTS is truly beyond any comparison.” His words are simply the beginning of a pattern other countries have witnessed in the last few years; initially dismissed due to racism, toxic masculinity and homophobia, BTS are beginning to be taken seriously as a talented musical act with an organic marketing power unmatched by any other current artist. The financial angle of it all pushes past prejudice to showcase the band in a new light to new audiences and corporations, creating conversations around concerts, campaigns and more.

We won’t know exactly what will happen on November 25th or what it’s long-term effects will be. Promotions are indeed a two-way street and BigHit Entertainment will also need to consider and target India as a viable market for BTS. It’s what happened with the U.S. and due to the rate at which India consumes new music, it’s something that is very achievable here. While film tickets and concert tickets aren’t on equal footing for a concrete comparison–the differences in logistics involved for each are too great–Burn The Stage is giving Indian fans something they’ve needed for a long time even before its release: hope.

Book tickets for ‘Burn The Stage: The Movie’ here.

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