In other news, Amazon Prime dumped nearly a quarter of its free Indian films last week. Unfortunately, the 22 movies that were lost were many of the best Bollywood titles available on the service, including Kai Po Che!, Siddharth, and Wake Up Sid.
Though this is obviously just the result of a batch of contracts reaching their termination date, it feels like a sign of lean times ahead at the service. Amazon Prime rarely adds Bollywood content to its free library, and the movies that are available are older or of little renown. Amazon Prime offers just three titles released since 2014, and the lone 2015 film isn’t even listed at IMDb. Point being, the Indian films available for free with Amazon Prime are a nice perk but not reason alone to sign up for the service.
The weekend of April 25-27, 2014, was terrible for new Hindi films in the United States and Canada but great for 2 States.
Of the three new films that released in India on April 25 — Revolver Rani, Samrat & Co., and Kaanchi — only Kaanchi made the trip overseas. Even then, it only opened in the U.S., not Canada. From twenty-eight American theaters, it earned just $14,694. Its first weekend per-screen average of $525 was among the worst of the year so far.
On the other hand, 2 States performed very well in its second weekend in North American theaters. It earned $418,064 from 133 theaters (up from 131 last week) for a per-screen average of $3,143. That brings its total earnings to $1,706,309, moving it ahead of Queen into second place on the list of highest grossing Hindi films in North America in 2014, behind The Lunchbox.
Now in its ninth week of release, The Lunchbox earned $303,292 from 176 theaters ($1,723 average per screen). Total earnings stand at $2,591,410.
Other Hindi films showing in a handful of theaters included:
Queen: Week 8; $4,339 from three screens; $1,416,230 total
The romantic comedy/family drama 2 States produced the best opening weekend for a Hindi film in North America in 2014. During the weekend of April 18-20, it earned $1,026,353 from 131 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Its per-screen average of $7,835 is the year’s second highest, behind the opening weekend of The Lunchbox.
Since the release of Queen on March 7, the North American box office has been hostile territory for newly released Hindi films. The mean opening weekend per-screen average for Hindi films (besides Queen) released between March 7 and April 11 was just $1,085. Between January 10 and February 28 (excepting the anomalously high opening weekend average of The Lunchbox), the mean per-screen average was $3,469.
Queen averaged $4,154 in its debut weekend and went on to dominate in both per-screen average and gross earnings for the next four weeks. It remains to be seen if 2 States heralds a revitalization of audience interest in new Bollywood fare, or if it will follow Queen‘s path and dominate the box office until the next big thing comes along (probably Akshay Kumar’s Holiday on June 6).
In its seventh week of release, Queen continued to beat the mean opening weekend per-screen average of new movies released from March 7 to April 11. It earned $13,291 from nine theaters for an average of $1,477. Its total North American earnings stand at $1,408,129.
The Lunchbox continued its impressive run as it expanded into 156 North American theaters. It earned $343,242 over the weekend, bringing its total to $2,135,144.
In its second weekend in theaters, Bhoothnath Returns earned $23,956 from twenty-three screens, bringing its total to $139,032.
Main Tera Hero closed out its third weekend by earning $5,344 from eleven screens. Its total earnings stand at $274,673.
One of the most hotly anticipated Bollywood films of the year opens in the Chicago area on April 18, 2014. 2 States stars Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt as a pair of young people trying to build a relationship despite the objections of their parents.
It’s worth noting that the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles — one of two local theaters to carry Bollywood movies virtually every week — is no longer managed by Phoenix Big Cinemas, and its present closure may be permanent. If so, that makes the South Barrington 30 the most reliable place to find Hindi films in the Chicago area, followed by the Cantera 17 and River East 21.
Bhoothnath’s return to theaters was less than triumphant. The sequel failed to make a splash in its first weekend in North American theaters, earning only about a quarter of what the original did back in 2008.
The original Bhoothnath debuted on May 9, 2008. The supernatural family flick earned $330,246 from sixty-four North American theaters in its opening weekend for an impressive average of $5,160 per screen. It finished in 20th place in the overall U.S. box office for that weekend.
The surprise success story of the weekend was the incredible performance of the Telugu film Race Gurram. In the United States alone, it earned $844,101 from sixty-six screens. That’s an average of $12,789 per screen!
Over the weekend, The Lunchbox became the highest grossing Hindi film of 2014 thus far. The $270,977 it earned from 122 theaters brought its total haul to $1,655,071. With dozens of theaters scheduled to program the movie over the next few months, expect that total to grow significantly.
In its second weekend, Main Tera Hero earned $45,282 from forty-six theaters ($984 average). Its total earnings stand at $252,966.
Queen‘s glorious run appears to be nearing its end. It earned $36,092 from twenty screens ($1,805 average) in its sixth weekend in theaters, bringing its total earnings to $1,385,453.
Bhoothnath Returns is only intermittently entertaining, because writer-director Nitesh Tiwari fails to take his target audience into account. Why does a film geared toward children have a runtime of 155 minutes? And why are so many of those minutes devoted to discussions of how to file paperwork?
2008’s Bhoothnath (“Lord of Ghosts“) starred Amitabh Bachchan as the titular not-so-scary ghost. The sequel finds Bhoothnath the target of jokes up in Ghost World — which looks a lot like Hogwarts — due to his inability to scare children.
Bhoothnath returns to earth to redeem his reputation, only to run into another fearless kid who can see him, even though no one else can. Savvy street urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) teams up with Bhoothnath, solving the problems of other earth-bound ghosts and earning money. As their friendship grows, Bhoothnath realizes that Akhrot’s future will never be secure while murderous thugs like Bhau (Boman Irani) run the government. Thus is born India’s first campaign to elect a ghost to political office.
For a while, the discussions of the bureaucratic technicalities surrounded Bhoothnath’s run are entertaining, aided by Sanjay Mishra’s funny performance as Bhoothnath’s lawyer. As the second half of the film rolls on, the story gets bogged down in heavy-handed patriotic speeches and lengthy montages depicting differing versions of what will happen on election day.
There is a surfeit of montages in Bhoothnath Returns. Instead of briefly panning the camera across the festively decorated grounds before Bhoothnath’s big rally, Tiwari devotes in excess of a minute to a sped-up version of the decoration of the rally grounds. When the movie is already so long, why devote more than a few seconds to something no one cares about?
The movie’s strangest sequence also takes place in montage form. As Bhoothnath comes to grips with depth of India’s problems, the song “Sahib” plays accompanied by a montage of photos of desperate, starving people. It’s very grim for a movie geared toward kids, especially since the impoverished state of Akhrot’s own neighborhood is already established.
It’s also hypocritical. Earlier in the film, Akhrot derisively mentions making money from foreign tourists looking to experience Slumdog Millionaire in person. How is turning images of peoples’ suffering into a music video in a major motion picture any different?
The film’s tedious heavy-handedness rankles because it detracts from an otherwise cute movie. Irani’s villain is the right mix of sinister and clownish. Bachchan is both grudging and caring as he puts up with his willful young friend.
Bhalerao does a terrific job as Akhrot, cracking wise but never coming off as a jerk. The young actor is great in a touching scene in which Akhrot tries to conceal the risks of their venture from Bhoothnath.
All the fine performances can’t keep Bhoothnath Returns from turning into a glorified public service announcement. Encouraging people to vote is a worthy goal, but it has to be done within the context of the story.
The pro-voting message comes across clearly through the story of Bhoothnath Returns, but Tiwari doesn’t leave well-enough alone, tacking on at least twenty minutes of condescending speeches. Jarring celebrity cameos by Ranbir Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, and Shahrukh Khan — whose presence is the only one that makes a lick of narrative sense — just add to the feeling that Bhoothnath Returns is as much an overly long PSA as it is a movie.
The trailers for three very different films all opening in April, 2014, are now out. First up is Jal, an interesting-looking festival film about a water diviner trying to solve a drought. It opens in India on April 4, but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll open in the U.S. on the same day.
The family friendly supernatural comedy sequel Bhoothnath Returns releases the following weekend, on April 11. I wasn’t crazy about the original Bhoothnath, but a new crew behind the camera and Boman Irani in front of the camera give me hope.
April 18 is the release date for 2 States, a romantic drama starring Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor. With the movie’s central conflict driven by the cultural differences between the two lead character’s families — a Tamil Brahmin family from Chennai and a Punjabi family from Delhi — I’m not sure how well the story will translate outside of India to an audience without the preexisting knowledge of what those differences are. We’ll have to wait and see.