I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Hulu with today’s premiere of the Hindi Hotstar Special medical drama series Human (also available in Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu).
A major snowstorm on the east coast of the United States didn’t deter Bollywood fans from heading to the theater during the weekend of January 22-24, 2016. Airlift posted massive opening weekend returns of $815,933 from 98 theaters. That makes for a per-screen average of $8,326, the best of any film that played in North America over the weekend.
The weekend’s other new release, Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, didn’t fare as well. It earned just $22,204 from 31 theaters in the US and Canada, for a paltry $716 average per screen.
Also over the weekend, Wazir crossed the $1 million mark in North America. In its third weekend of release, it earned another $43,048 from 35 theaters ($1,230 average), bringing its total to $1,086,910. With Airlift due to cross the million dollar mark momentarily, and with the Telugu film Nannaku Prematho‘s two-week total standing at $1,920,343, the new year is off to a spectacular start for Indian movies in North America.
Other Hindi films still in theaters:
Bajirao Mastani: Week 6; $26,906 from 16 theaters; $1,682 average; $6,530,042 total
Dilwale: Week 6; $243 from one theater; $4,865,684 total
With no new Hindi films in North American theaters, all eyes were on the second-weekend returns of Wazir. From January 15-17, 2016, Wazir earned another $238,524 from 92 theaters ($2,593 average), bringing its total to $949,729.
Over the weekend, the Telugu movie Nannaku Prematho became the first Indian film of 2016 to cross the $1 million mark in the United States. Since its opening on January 12, Nannaku Prematho has earned $1,577,709 from 165 theaters.
Other Hindi films showing in the US and Canada:
Bajirao Mastani: Week 5; $98,520 from 36 theaters; $2,737 average; $6,545,299 total
Dilwale: Week 5; $14,705 from 11 theaters; $1,337 average; $4,859,719 total
Wazir had a very good opening weekend in the United States and Canada. From January 8-10, 2016, the thriller earned $575,908 from 127 theaters ($4,535 average) in North America. That would have qualified as the tenth best opening weekend of 2015. Stars Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan have reason to be proud.
Bajirao Mastani continued its impressive run, adding another $244,694 from 302 theaters ($810 average) in its fourth weekend of release. That brings its total North American earnings to $6,281,558.
Dilwale nears the end of its run in the US and Canada after four weeks, adding another $46,175 from 39 theaters ($1,184 average) to bring its total to $4,829,934.
Looking back at last year’s box office data, I noticed something interesting: only 42 Hindi films released in North America in 2015. That’s ten fewer than in 2014, and it puts a stop to an upward trend that’s been happening since 2011, when 36 Bollywood films released here.
Distributors likely realized that not every film released into Indian theaters merits an international release. It’s worth noting that, in 2015, only two of the Hindi films released here departed theaters after just one week, as opposed to nine films in 2014 and ten in 2013.
Bajirao Mastani and Dilwale closed out their third weekend in theaters, finalizing the North American box office rankings for Bollywood films released in 2015. From January 1-3, 2016, Bajirao Mastani earned $772,775 from 304 theaters ($2,542 average). During the same period, Dilwale earned $308,149 from 133 theaters ($2,317 average).
The ten highest earning Bollywood films of 2015 in North America were:
Bajrangi Bhaijaan had the best opening weekend in 2015, both in terms of total gross ($2,613,192) and per-screen average ($9,468). Bajirao Mastani has already proven to have the best longevity of any 2015 release, having nearly quadrupled its opening weekend total in just three weeks.
2015 set a new benchmark for blockbuster releases, with both Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo opening in more than 300 theaters in North America (304 and 310, respectively). Though PK (296) and Bang Bang (292) came close in 2014, it’s worth noting how rapid this increase in theater counts has been. The widest release in 2013 was Dhoom 3 on 239 screens, and 2012’s biggest release, Talaash, opened in just 172 theaters. More people than ever before can watch Bollywood films on the big screen in the United States and Canada.
It’s also worth noting that all of the films in the 2015 top ten were released between May and December. Shahrukh Khan’s Fan — scheduled for release on April 15 — should easily make it into the 2016 top ten, but it remains to be seen if any of the other Bollywood flicks opening in the first third of the year will prove to be breakout hits. Do any of the films on this list seem like contenders to you?
Dilwale is a generic Frankenstein cobbled together from elements of countless other Bollywood comedies and romantic dramas, lurching from one predictable plot point to the next. Given the talent and budget at director Rohit Shetty’s disposal, the result is disappointing.
Shahrukh Khan plays Raj, a man absurdly devoted to the happiness of his younger brother, Veer (Varun Dhawan), so much so that he tears up and starts to shake whenever anyone mentions having a younger brother. Raj’s big secret is that he was adopted and is not Veer’s biological brother.
So Shahrukh plays a character with the same name as the one he made famous in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, with the same backstory as the one he played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. See what I mean about Frankenstein?
When Veer falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ishita (Kriti Sanon) — whom he calls Ishu just so he can repeatedly say, “Ishu, this is a big issue” — it prompts Raj to flashback to his own failed romance.
With no scene transition of which to speak, we are transported fifteen years into the past, when “Raj” went by the name Kaali and worked as a gangster in Bulgaria. There he meets a lovely artist named Meera (Kajol, Shakrukh’s love interest both DDLJ and K3G), and they break each other’s hearts. Surely this can’t be the last we see of Meera, right?
The plot unfolds predictably, as obstacles arise in Veer’s and Raj’s paths to romance. These obstacles would disappear if Raj and Meera would stop withholding information that is unpleasant but not earth-shattering, but writer Yunus Sajawal can’t seem to think of a better way to delay the inevitable happy ending for more than two-and-a-half hours.
Further dragging out the film is a ridiculous anti-drug subplot that could not have been handled with any less subtlety. Boman Irani plays the world’s cuddliest drug kingpin, King. When King’s men try to strongarm a barkeep named Uncle Joe into dealing their goods — by banging a huge bag of weed on the cashier stand, in front of everyone in the bar — Uncle Joe responds with some incredibly direct dialogue (courtesy of writers Sajid-Farhad): “I won’t sell your drugs here. Youngsters come here to have fun.”
The “Drugs are bad, m’kay?” subplot reaches its hypocritical crescendo when Veer, his sidekick Siddhu (Varun Sharma), and well-meaning miscreant Mani (Johnny Lever), get completely drunk on booze and self-righteousness while burning a bag of King’s drugs.
Siddhu is the fourth comic role I’ve seen Sharma play, which I think gives me enough information to definitively say that Varun Sharma is not funny.
But being funny isn’t really the point in Dilwale, where roles are cast not by suitability but by similarity. Need some outrageous older comic bit players? Hire Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Does the bad guy need a bald right-hand man? Hire Pradeep Kabra.
The whole movie is uninspired because the point is not to do anything unique or innovative but to evoke memories of earlier, better films starring the same people. The only way Shetty could have tried any less hard would be not to have made the movie at all.
By only looking to the past for inspiration, Dilwale winds up peppered with sexist insults. Siddhu repeatedly steals from Veer, but he’s forgiven because he says that he only did it so that he could take his girlfriend to the movies and out for coffee. The incident is brushed off by the men onscreen, who agree that women are greedy and high-maintenance.
Jokes are also made about Kajol’s weight, based on the assumption that she — like all women — is perpetually dieting. What is this, a Cathy comic strip from 1982? Beyond being tacky and outdated, the jokes are undermined by the fact that Kajol is stunning. Her gorgeousness is the movie’s lone selling point.
There is a stretch of a few minutes when Kajol saves a scene that should be stupid, and one briefly thinks, “Ooh, this could get interesting.” That hope is short-lived when Meera falls in love with Raj just because he loves her. To quote Cathy, “Ack!”
Kajol is better than this. Shahrukh is usually better than this. Varun is definitely better than this. Kriti’s character is so level-headed that she seems like she wandered onto the wrong set. Dilwale is not the Kajol-Shahrukh romantic reunion we deserve.
This is the year’s biggest weekend for Bollywood movies. Two potential blockbusters — Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani — open on December 18, 2015, in the United States — the same day that the new Star Wars movie hits theaters. Oops.
Both Hindi movies are getting a wide release in the States, though it remains to be seen just how big a bite Chewbacca will take out of their potential profits. I’m also imagining the following scenario playing out in a lot of American homes this weekend:
Parents: “Kids, we’re going to the movies tonight.”
Kids: “Yay, Star Wars!!”
Parents: “No, Dilwale.”