Mary Kom turned in a solid opening weekend at the North American box office from September 5-7, 2014. It earned $370,277 from 139 theaters, for a per-screen average of $2,664.
While this opening weekend gross ranks tenth among Bollywood films in North America so far this year, distributors were surely hoping for more. It opened on the sixth highest number of screens, yet — of the eleven films to open in 100 or more theaters — Mary Kom‘s per-screen average was only higher than that of the disastrous Humshakals.
Mary Kom‘s performance is also underwhelming relative to another sports biopic of note: last summer’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The Farhan Akhtar racing flick opened in 140 theaters in the United States and Canada, earning $647,112 ($4,622 average) in its first weekend. Given that Priyanka Chopra has a higher international profile than Akhtar and considering Mary Kom’s more current relevance — she competed in the Olympics just two years ago, whereas Milkha Singh last competed in the 1960s — one would’ve hoped for a more comparable performance from Mary Kom.
Mardaani held up well through its third weekend in theaters. It earned $28,232 from 26 theaters ($1,086 average), bringing its North American total to $377,327.
Raja Natwarlal‘s business fell nearly 90% in its second week. From 30 theaters, it earned just $10,846 ($362 average). Its total stands at $131,105.
Singham Returns closed its fourth weekend with $9,677, bringing its total to $1,226,581. (The theater count of 127 supplied to Box Office Mojo seems incredibly high. Bollywood Hungama reports the movie as showing in 17 theaters, which is more realistic.)
In its 28th week in theaters, The Lunchbox added another $1,319 to its total earnings of $4,039,660.
What stands out most on my Top Ten list for 2013 is the diversity of genres represented. No matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s a really good movie on this list. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
In addition to the great variety on the list, all the movies mentioned are accessible to an international audience. Familiarity with Hindi movies and their structure may enhance one’s appreciation of Phata Poster Nikla Hero or Commando: A One Man Army, but a lack of prior experience shouldn’t keep Bollywood newcomers from enjoying them. In fact, Commando‘s best selling point is that it’s a martial arts action flick with a romantic dance number in the middle.
D-Day also features my single favorite scene in any movie from 2013: a heartbreaking song montage about the doomed relationship between an assassin (Arjun Rampal) and a prostitute (Shruti Haasan).
My favorite Hindi movie of 2013 offers the perfect mix of passion and drama in a beautiful setting. If I could dream up an ideal romantic movie, it would be Lootera. [Buy it on DVD here.]
Writers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bhavani Iyer took a short story by O. Henry and adapted it to depict a tumultuous time period in India, as family fortunes were dismantled in the years following partition. Imagine trying to cope with the heightened emotions of first love while your way of life is turned on its head. Such are the circumstances for Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and her beau, Varun (Ranveer Singh).
Fans of Victorian literature or contemporary period dramas like Downton Abbey: Lootera is made for you.
Chennai Express opens in theaters on August 9, 2013, to one of the largest international releases in Indian film history. That’s evident locally, as the Shahrukh Khan-Deepika Padukone action comedy plays in seven Chicago area theaters.
Given that local theaters have been running the trailer for Issaq, I’m a little surprised that the retelling of Romeo & Juliet isn’t opening in Chicago. Then again, my regular theater — the Cantera — is still showing the trailer for Gippi, which released in May, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.
Only one of last weekend’s new releases sticks around for a second week. The slick thriller D-Day carries over for just one showing per day at both the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. Auf Wiedersehen, Ramaiya Vastavaiya.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag also carries over for another week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. The timing of its release was unfortunate since it seems to be getting crowded out of theaters by an abundance of newly-released Hollywood fare. It looks like the gripping biopic won’t even get as long a run in the Chicago area as Raanjhanaa, even though Bhaag Milkha Bhaag beat the romance’s opening weekend tally by over $200,000 in its opening weekend in the U.S.
American audiences are used to seeing biographies of famous people whose histories we already know: Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, etc. It’s delightful to come across a personal story that is totally fresh, at least to audiences outside of India. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a fine tribute to a man whose life deserves to be made into a movie.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag begins at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar) leads the field in the 400 meters until he turns to look behind him, a move inexplicable to those watching the race. He finishes the race in fourth place. Milkha subsequently turns down an opportunity to lead an Indian delegation to Pakistan to compete in a friendly race, despite being India’s most famous athlete.
Milkha’s coach from his Army days explains that his pupil turned down the offer not out of embarrassment for having lost the race. Rather, he blames Pakistan for the deaths of his parents thirteen years earlier, during the riots that followed partition. The last words young Milkha heard his father say were, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!” (“Run Milkha Run!”). Those were the same words his national team coach yelled during the Olympics that caused Milkha to turn, expecting to see the swordsman on horseback that he ran from as a boy.
The Army coach, Gurudev (Pawan Malhotra, who gives a touching performance), narrates Milkha’s history to his national team coach, Ranveer (Yograj Singh), and a government representative while on a train ride to Milkha’s home, where they hope to convince Milkha to change his mind and lead the Indian delegation to Pakistan. The significant events of Milkha’s life are told out of sequence, but flashbacks flow seamlessly from one time period to the next.
Though the film is primarily populated with male characters — Milkha’s friends, competitors, fellow soldiers, and coaches — women play a significant role in directing Milkha’s destiny. His decision to join the army is spurred by a desire to impress a young woman, Biro (Sonam Kapoor). At the time, the army supplied the athletes for the Indian Olympic team, so Biro’s part in getting Milkha into the military is critical. Kapoor and Akhtar share a sweet chemistry together.
It’s just as important to Milkha to make his older sister, Isri (Divya Dutta) proud, since she raised him following the deaths of their parents. Dutta is powerful in the film, particularly during a scene in which Isri and Milkha are reunited in a refuge camp.
A third female influence in Milkha’s life is Stella (Rebecca Breeds), an Australian woman he meets at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. The consequences of their brief fling lead Milkha to rededicate himself to his training, setting up an impressive time-lapse jump rope sequence that highlights the amazing physical transformation Akhtar underwent for his role. Breeds does a super job, and her scenes with Akhtar are incredibly sexy.
The trip to Australia is one of the few speed bumps in the film. The abrupt transition into the new setting is perhaps meant to emphasize how out of place Milkha feels in a foreign country, but it just feels clunky. A country-western style dance number in an Aussie bar is awkward, and the song isn’t very good either. It could’ve been cut from the film without being missed.
Other scenes that could’ve been cut feature a beautiful Indian Olympic swimmer named Perizaad (Meesha Shafi). While her role in Milkha’s real life may have been important, scenes of her flirting with Milkha don’t move the story forward.
Apart from a few unnecessary scenes, the film earns its 188 minute runtime. Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra paces the story well and includes some clever shots to pack in as much information as possible. For example, a closeup of a hand holding a stopwatch occupies the right half of the screen, while Milkha breaks through the finish line again and again. Each time, the stopwatch shows Milkha’s time improving.
Of course, the Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is nothing without Akhtar, and he is spectacular. His physical transformation is impressive, but more so is the way he adapts Milkha depending on the situation. He gives a complete picture of Milkha in his various roles: little brother, lover, soldier, champion. It’s a joy to watch.
By following some of the typical structure of sports movies, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is easily accessible to any audience, regardless of whether one has previously heard of Milkha Singh before or not. Here’s hoping international audiences give this film a chance. Milkha Singh is someone worth knowing.
After earning $314,958 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters, Lootera carries over for a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.
Both the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17 are holding over Raanjhanaa for a fourth week, with U.S. earnings of $875,051 so far. The South Barrington 30 gives a seventh week to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Its U.S. earnings stand at $3,807,488.