A Singapore firm is cashing in on the box office record-smashing success of Kabali, an Indian gangster movie, filmed largely in Malaysia and released late last month.
Carbon Copy Collectibles, a start- up that creates figurines of Indian cinema characters, was chosen as the official merchandise partner for the movie's global publicity campaign by Chennai-based production house V Creations.
The home-grown firm was set up in June last year by five Singaporeans: business developer Kumaresh Bala, 25; visual arts student Suraen Ramadass, 29; and engineers Dhivya Subramaniam, 27, Prakash Ramdas, 29, and Ganeshan Lingam, 29.
"We are pioneers of collectibles in the Indian cinema industry. There have been others who have tried, but the end products were not as detailed and well-received," said Mr Ramadass.
He explained that while a toy has moving parts and appeals to a younger age group, a figurine has a pose that is final. It appeals to a wider age range above 14 years of age, and is more aesthetically accurate in terms of emotions and features.
Said Mr Bala: "In Western cinema, companies like Marvel and DC have a collectibles culture. For example, they release Ironman and Batman figurines. For the Indian movie industry, most customers do not know of collectibles."
Mr Ramadass said there is already an appreciation for art within the Indian culture, evident from the temples and garments, and collectibles are just a new element.
They made first contact with the production house in January, flying to Chennai for a sales pitch that was well-received. A deal was reached after six months of negotiations.While the firm declined to disclose the start-up costs, Mr Bala said that the Kabali deal allowed them to increase production capacity by 50 per cent.
The figurines they create are based on the main characters of the movies, who are usually heroes.
For the Kabali movie, the figurine portrays the movie's hero Kabaleeswaran, played by veteran actor Rajinikanth. It features the crime lord in a grey three-piece suit, wearing sunglasses and with his hands in his pockets. Each figurine is 16.5cm tall and weighs 300g.
There are only 40,000 of these Kabali figurines worldwide, with sales having begun in mid-June. About 85 per cent of the stocks have been sold so far.
In Singapore, they are sold at Rex Cinema and on Carbon Copy Collectibles' website, for $39.90.
The Kabali figurine is the third one they have created, but the first in a tie-up with a major production house. They had two earlier projects to test the market on a smaller scale. "We created 2,000 pieces of Manik Baasha, a character from a 20-year-old movie, and released it in December last year. We also created 2,000 pieces for the 1992 movie Thevar Magan, and released them in March this year. Both were sold out within 11/2 months of release," said Mr Bala.
The two characters were sold on the firm's website, and bought mainly by customers in Singapore and Malaysia. Between 10 per cent and 20 per cent were sold to customers in other places like Britain, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
The production process, from modelling and moulding to producing the final product, is done with partners in places such as the US and Hong Kong.
Mr Bala said the learning curve was steep. "For the first two figurines, we used polyresin. But it's breakable and when we shipped overseas, one or two ended up broken. So for the Kabali one, we used polyvinyl, which can bend a bit and is more durable."
E-commerce giant Amazon bought up all the Kabali stock for India, while in Malaysia, the figurine is selling in all 10 Madura Stores, a retail outlet for Indian products.
Mr Bala added that the production house is already planning to expand this movie's line of collectible figurines. "When the movie hits a hundred days, they might want to do something different," he said.