Ae Dil Hai Mushkil dominated the North American box office for a second consecutive weekend. From November 4-6, 2016, ADHM earned $772,956 from 325 theaters ($2,378 average), bringing its total earnings after ten days to $3,516,129.
After opening to disappointing numbers, Shivaay held over reasonably well in its second weekend, retaining 42% of its first-weekend business. It earned $140,347 from 87 theaters ($1,613 average), bringing its ten-day total to $599,932.
Two big Diwali releases met very different fates at the North American box office during the weekend of October 28-30, 2016. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was a resounding success, taking in $2,091,290 from 331 theaters ($6,318 average). That’s already good enough for fourth place in North America for the year. Though Sultan‘s chart-topping $6 million total is out of reach, lifetime earnings in excess of $5 million are possible for ADHM if interest remains high. Even if business drops off quickly, $4 million is doable.
Moviegoers gave the cold shoulder to Ajay Devgn’s mountaineering thriller Shivaay, the weekend’s other new film. Opening in fewer than half as many theaters as ADHM — 143, to be exact — Shivaay earned just $332,423 ($2,325 average). That’s only the year’s 18th best opening weekend gross, despite Shivaay releasing into the ninth highest number of theaters (the same number of theaters as Baar Baar Dekho, which earned more than $600,000 its first weekend).
Karan Johar romantic dramas are as sure a bet in the United States and Canada as you’ll find. North America contributed almost 20% of ADHM‘s $11+ million worldwide total. In contrast, the US and Canada accounted for about 5% of Shivaay‘s $6 million global total. Knowing how much attention ADHM was going to get here, would it have been advisable to employ Hollywood’s international release strategy to Shivaay, preponing or postponing its North American release by a week? Heck, even opening it on Wednesday might have earned another $100,000. I don’t know if such a strategy would be feasible — though I reject piracy as a reason, since those people wouldn’t pay to go to the theater anyway — but it would certainly have allowed Shivaay to save face, if nothing else.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
M.S. Dhoni: Week 5; $3,153 from six theaters; $526 average; $1,823,682 total
Pink: Week 7; $702 from one theater; $1,248,883 total
31st October: Week 2; $261 from two theaters; $131 average; $8,490 total
WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR THIRD-ACT SPOILERS. It’s tough to talk in-depth about my feelings for this film without also revealing how the plot resolves itself. If you’re spoiler-averse, bail out after the first few paragraphs. (There’s another warning below, just before the big spoilers begin.)
Approximately two hours into Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“This Heart is Complicated“), during the performance of the emotionally charged title track, one feels the first pangs of concern. How is writer-director Karan Johar going to craft a satisfying ending to his tale of unrequited love, which to this point has been compelling and unexpected? As the song ends, Johar’s film uses narrative crutches to limp along to an ending made all the more disappointing because of the story’s squandered potential.
What Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“ADHM,” henceforth) has going for it, at least early on, is a cast of interesting characters. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) lives in London, dutifully pursuing an MBA at his dad’s request at the expense of a singing career. Ayan is absurdly wealthy, as is every other character in the film, allowing for impromptu jaunts to scenic European locales.
Ayan meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a party, and they find in each other kindred spirits fond of quoting film dialogue. A knowledge of older Bollywood movies will enhance the experience of watching ADHM, but it is not necessary. Terrific subtitle translation substitutes Western equivalents for specifically Indian references. For example, Bollywood bombshell “Sunny Leone” becomes “JLo” for the sake of international audience members. (Unfortunately, song lyrics are not subtitled in English.)
Although both are already in relationships — Alizeh with boring Faisal (Imran Abbas) and Ayan with tacky Lisa (Lisa Haydon, who is utterly hilarious in the film) — Ayan and Alizeh prefer each other’s company. Ayan begins to fall for beautiful Alizeh, but she makes it clear that she’s not interested. She’s still heartbroken over another man, Ali (Fawad Khan), and only wants Ayan’s friendship.
Ayan spends the rest of the film struggling with his unrequited feelings, distracting himself by having an affair with Saba (an incredibly sexy Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Adding Saba’s lovelorn poetry to his heartbroken music jump-starts Ayan’s singing career, propelling him out of his extended adolescence and into self-possessed adulthood.
This is where those nagging feelings begin. Ayan somehow needs to resolve his feelings for Alizeh. It would be too convenient to have Alizeh change her mind and fall for Ayan, especially since she maintains throughout that she’s not attracted to him. Finding a way to put Ayan’s feelings in narrative context presents a considerable challenge.
LAST WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE’S FINAL ACT ARE BELOW.
Unfortunately, Johar chooses the second easiest possible option: he gives Alizeh cancer. Removing Alizeh from the mortal world absolves Ayan from having to learn how to live in a world where they’re both alive yet apart. It also provides yet another frustrating example of a male writer using the death of a female character to advance the development of his male protagonist.
There are further sexist overtones to the way Ayan treats Alizeh while she is sick. He repeatedly exerts physical control over her body at the exact moment when she’s lost control of her body to cancer. Without Alizeh’s consent, Ayan removes her hat in public to reveal her hairless head. He makes her dance when she doesn’t want to. Ayan tries to kiss Alizeh, and he screams at her for rejecting his advances. He’s enraged that she won’t have sex with him, even though she doesn’t have long to live and he’s taking care of her.
That raises another point about the stupidity of the cancer subplot. Alizeh refuses to tell Ali or her family about her diagnosis, choosing to endure it alone. That’s not how cancer works. It’s an exhausting, all-hands-on-deck endurance test. Certain doctors require you to bring a guardian to help you get home from your appointment safely; they won’t let you take a cab. No one faces cancer alone willingly.
So much of ADHM is about Ayan growing out of his immaturity into the complicated realities of adult relationships, but there’s no wisdom to be found here. In the end, Johar chose the path of least resistance. He has more insight to offer than this. I’m sure of it.