2015 offered up a satisfying mix of sweet, intimate stories and dark thrills and chills. Here are my picks for the best Bollywood movies of 2015. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
The year ended on a triumphant note with the release of the historical epic romance Bajirao Mastani. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s colorful, lavish style demands to be seen on the big screen.
Two smaller Hindi films that played at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival prove that big budgets aren’t necessary to make a great movie. Haraamkhor and Dhanak depict the struggles of childhood in very different ways, with Dhanak being easily the sweetest film of the year.
Early 2015 saw the release of two great revenge thrillers: Badlapur and NH10. While Badlapur explores the toll that a lingering desire for vengeance takes on a grieving husband (Varun Dhawan), NH10 is a race against the clock for a woman (Anushka Sharma) trying to defeat the men out to kill her.
In contrast to such dark fare, Piku lovingly and humorously explores the tense relationship between an adult daughter (Deepika Padukone) who hits the road with her ailing father (Amitabh Bachchan).
A pair of top-notch crime thrillers also made the list. Talvar‘s unique story structure sets apart this real-life murder mystery. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! put a modern, stylish twist on a classic Indian literary detective.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha is as charming as can be, telling the tale of a loser (Ayushmann Khurrana) rebelling against his marriage to an accomplished woman (Bhumi Pednekar) who fails to fit his beauty standards. So much care went into the story that it is impossible not to fall in love with these young adults trying to grow under enormous family pressure.
My favorite movie of 2015 is a big budget, multi-starrer that nevertheless tells a smart, contemporary family story. Too often, Bollywood spectacle films are “check your brain at the door” affairs, full of bombast but devoid of substance. Director Zoya Akhtar brings together an A-list cast — including Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar, and Anil Kapoor — for a film that is fun and romantic, but also contains insightful critiques of the respect (or lack thereof) accorded women in modern Indian society. Director Akhtar takes the opportunity this big-budget blockbuster affords her and uses the platform to inform as well as entertain. For that reason, my favorite Hindi film of 2015 is Dil Dhadakne Do.
(Update: I watched Masaan after posting this list. Were I to re-do my rankings, I’d place Masaan in 9th place, between Dhanak and Haraamkhor.)
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a ton of new additions to the catalog. Netflix kicked off 2016 by adding seventeen (!) Hindi movies to the streaming catalog, along with a number of movies in other Indian languages, most notably director Mani Ratnam’s 2015 Tamil hit OK Kanmani. I added a category for films in other Indian languages at the bottom of my Netflix page. (January 2 update: Dum Laga Ke Haisha is also now on Netflix!)
Here’s a list of all the Bollywood films added to Netflix today:
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and Piku are two of my favorite movies of 2015, and I can’t wait to check out Randeep Hooda in Main Aur Charles, which didn’t open in US theaters. A number of these films — like Katiyabaaz and Kshay — were hits on the festival circuit, and this is the first opportunity for a wide audience to see them. Same for the Gujarati film The Good Road, India’s official submission to the 86th Oscars, which was also added today.
Piku just knocked the pants off of every other Hindi movie to open in North America in 2015 so far and set a high bar for future releases. During its first weekend — from May 8-10, 2015 — Piku earned $938,938 from 117 theaters, an average of $8,025 per screen.
Mother’s Day Sunday drove huge crowds to the theater for the family comedy starring Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone. At least one showing at my local cinema sold out of tickets, which is almost unheard of. In one weekend, Piku earned $200,000 more than Baby — now the second highest earner of 2015 — earned from four weeks in North American theaters. Piku‘s strong earnings and positive word of mouth should make the team behind Bombay Velvet nervous ahead of its release on Friday, May 15.
[Rentrak reports to Bollywood Hungama weekend earnings figures for Piku that are about $150,000 less than the above figures reported by Box Office Mojo. I tend to prioritize Box Office Mojo’s figures when they have them available for Hindi movies. Either way, Piku earned a helluva a lot of money.]
In its second weekend, Gabbar is Back took in another $109,705 from 92 theaters ($1,192 average), bringing its North American total to $490,385.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
Gabbar is Back had a good opening weekend in North America by 2015 standards, which isn’t saying much. During the weekend of May 1-3, 2015, Gabbar is Back earned $270,101 from 120 theaters ($2,251 average). That’s the fifth highest opening of the year, although it opened in the third highest number of theaters.
As with Mr. X, Gabbar is Back proved vastly more popular in Canada than in the US. In Canada, Gabbar is Back took in $64,224 from 13 theaters, meaning that nearly a quarter of the film’s earnings came from just a tenth of its total North American theaters. The difference in the countries’ per-screen averages is even more stark: $4,940 in Canada versus $1,924 in the US.
Gabbar is Back‘s opening weekend total is $164,850 less than what Baby — Akshay Kumar’s other 2015 release — earned in its opening weekend in January. Given the caliber of Bollywood movies releasing this month, Gabbar is Back is more likely to flame out fast in theaters rather than burn slowly. Baby earned 60% of its total haul in its first weekend, so a similar performance by Gabbar is Back would place its final North American tally at around $450,000.
In its fifth weekend, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! added another $4,529 from five theaters ($906 average) to bring its US total to $605,436.
Dharam Sankat Mein spent a fourth weekend in one theater, taking in $374 to bring its total to $13,339.
Fox Star Studios probably wishes the North American box office reports for Mr. X would disappear, because the numbers are awful. In its second weekend, Mr. X earned $7,572 from 17 theaters ($445 average), bringing its total earnings to $48,213. Considering Mr. X‘s opening weekend average of $400 per screen and Week 2’s $445, each of those stalwart 17 theaters will be lucky to have earned $1,000 total from ten days of showing of Mr. X.
As in its opening weekend, Mr. X proved vastly more popular in Canada in Week 2 than in the US. It earned $6,283 from ten Canadian theaters ($628 average), but just $1,289 from seven American theaters ($184 average).
On the other hand, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! performed very well in its fourth weekend. DBB brought in another $20,846 from 11 theaters ($1,895 average), bringing its reported North American total to $598,376 (though I suspect that’s a bit low). What’s notable about DBB‘s fourth weekend earnings is that they are more than double that of Badlapur, which reported the next highest fourth weekend returns this year ($7,905). Eight Hindi movies have run for at least four weeks in North American theaters in 2015.
Other Hindi films showing in North America during the weekend of April 24-26, 2015:
Nanak Shah Fakir: Week 2; $14,656 from 9 theaters ($1,628 average); $90,901 total
Dharam Sankat Mein: Week 3; $2,179 from 4 theaters ($545 average); $12,809 total
The recent release of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! inspired me to take a look at the US box office history for all of the Yash Raj Films releases from the past decade. I based my analysis on data provided by Box Office Mojo and Bollywood Hungama (which in turn uses information from Rentrak).
Looking at the total grosses of all films, it looks like there’s a slight trend upward in total box office, over time. (The orange line represents a simple linear regression of all data.)
You might notice that one film did disproportionately well in late 2013. That’s Dhoom 3, which raked in about $8M. Remove this outlier from the equation, and the other YRF releases are actually on a gentle decline in total box office take.
Despite the stagnancy of total box office dollars, YRF’s widest releases are being shown in more US theaters than ever.
A flat box office and more theaters means that opening weekend averages per screen are also trending downward, even when including Dhoom 3 in the calculations. Blockbusters have been immune to the trend, but the underperformers are doing worse than ever. The last four Yash Raj movies released in 2014 (Bewakoofiyaan, Mardaani, Daawat-e-Ishq, and Kill Dil) each came in at under $2,000 per screen.
Taking into account that average ticket prices have also climbed almost $2 (from $6.41 in 2005 to $8.17 in 2014, according to Box Office Mojo), this lack of growth in box office also means that fewer tickets are being sold for each Yash Raj Films release, on average.
The good news for YRF is that Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! bucked recent trends, averaging about $4,000 per screen in US theaters in its opening weekend. That puts it on par with films from the studio’s most reliable period, 2007-08.
For the remainder of 2015, Yash Raj Films has only one film officially planned for release: Fan, starring Shahrukh Khan. Yet Fan‘s release date has been changed multiple times, and it’s not currently listed on Bollywood Hungama’s release calendar. The surprise success of the romantic comedy Dum Laga Ke Haisha in India prompted Yash Raj Films to create an international trailer for the movie, renaming it My Big Fat Bride. There’s a chance that it could open in US while Fan is completed — though its star, Ayushmann Khurrana, isn’t a guaranteed money maker like Shahrukh Khan.
Even if Yash Raj Films doesn’t release another movie in 2015, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! has nudged the studio’s fortunes in the US back in the right direction.
Author’s note: My thanks to Box Office Mojo, Bollywood Hungama, and Rentrak for the raw information. Note: there’s no reliable box office data for a pair of 2010 releases — Badmaash Company and Pyaar Impossible — so I couldn’t take them into account in this analysis.
Mr. X wasn’t just invisible onscreen, but at the North American box office as well. Emraan Hashmi’s latest tanked hard in its opening weekend, from April 17-19, 2015. According to Box Office Mojo, Mr. X earned $30,097 from 52 theaters ($579 average). Considering the higher ticket prices that accompanied 3D showings of the film in some theaters, that total is atrocious.
The opening weekend figures for Mr. Xreported by Bollywood Hungama are broken out by country, and that’s where the story gets really interesting. Of the $24,806 from 62 North American theaters ($400 average) Bollywood Hungama reports for Mr. X, $13,528 came from 52 theaters in the U.S. and $11,278 came from 10 theaters in Canada. That means that Mr. X was vastly more popular in Canada, with per-screen average earnings of $1,128 compared to an average of just $260 in the U.S.
Further proof of Mr. X‘s failure is that it got beat by another Hindi movie that didn’t even have an IMDb page until five days after it opened in theaters. Nanak Shah Fakir posted opening weekend earnings of $47,727 from 50 theaters ($955 average).
Also trouncing Mr. X was Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, now in its third week of release. According to Bollywood Hungama, it added another $50,038 from 31 theaters ($1,614 average). Bollywood Hungama reports total North American earnings for DBB of $568,398, which is less than the total earnings Box Office Mojo reported for the movie after its second weekend ($579,055). However, Box Office Mojo doesn’t presently have any DBB Week 3 data at all. My hunch is that DBB has earned more than $600,000 in North America by this point, but I can’t prove it.
Somehow, Dharam Sankat Mein lingered for a second weekend in six North American theaters, adding another $1,413 ($236 average) to bring its total to $9,948.