The two latest Hindi films to open in North America did quite well in their first weekend in theaters. Let’s start with the wider release of the two: Baar Baar Dekho, starring Katrina Kaif and Sidharth Malhotra. During the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, Baar Baar Dekho earned $609,640 from 143 theaters, an average of $4,263 per theater. Those numbers are significantly better than figures for Kaif’s other 2016 romance, Fitoor, which co-starred Aditya Roy Kapur. Baar Baar Dekho has already earned more than Fitoor did in its entire run ($513,879) despite the fact that it opened in twenty fewer theaters.
By a very different metric, the weekend’s other new release — the golf comedy Freaky Ali — also posted good numbers. Freaky Ali earned $42,637 from 42 theaters ($1,015 average). That may not sound like much, but Bollywood movies that open in fewer than 50 theaters in North America are lucky to earn $20,000 in their opening weekend. The second highest opening weekend gross among the Under-50 club this year was Mastizaade, which earned $28,529 from 46 theaters. A final tally for Freaky Ali in the $60,000 range would be commendable.
Naam Hai Akira didn’t fare nearly as well as the new releases. Its business fell by 88% from last weekend, with returns of just $15,364 from 66 theaters ($233 average). Ouch. Its total earnings after two weekends are $210,865.
Rustom continues its impressive run into its fifth week, earning $17,335 from sixteen theaters ($1,083). Total earnings of $1,900,485 rank Akshay Kumar’s Rustom in fourth place for the year, just ahead of Kumar’s Airlift.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
The action flick Naam Hai Akira posted opening weekend numbers that were okay, but a bit on the low side. During the weekend of September 2-4, 2016, the movie earned $131,735 from 87 North American theaters ($1,514 average). Including Monday’s Labor Day holiday, which is celebrated in both the United States and Canada (I had to look that up), Box Office Mojo reports total earnings for Naam Hai Akira of $166,658.
The reason why Naam Hai Akira‘s numbers are slightly disappointing is that it opened in more than the median number of theaters for the year (85) but earned less than the median opening weekend gross (around $145,000). While that’s less than a $15,000 difference, Naam Hai Akira was way off when it came to the median opening weekend per-theater average of more than $2,000 per theater. Basically, the film didn’t warrant such a wide release. Somewhere in the 70-75 theater range would’ve been more appropriate.
Here’s where things get interesting. The four movies that have the 15th-18th (out of 34) widest opening weekend releases of 2016 in North America are Jai Gangaajal, Neerja, Naam Hai Akira, and Sarbjit — all movies marketed on the strength of their female lead character or actress. They all released within a range of 83-93 theaters. Neerja had a huge opening weekend and expanded into a total of 135 theaters the following week. However, the other three grossed less than the median in their opening weekends with underwhelming per-theater averages ($1,569 for Sarbjit and $1,277 for Jai Gangaajal). The sad fact is that most female-led Bollywood movies aren’t big enough draws here to justify the theatrical footprint they currently receive.
In cheerier news, Rustom has by now overtaken Airlift as the fourth highest earning Hindi film of 2016 in North America. 3-day weekend earnings of $68,932 from 33 theaters ($2,089 average) brought its total to $1,853,818 — less than $5,000 behind Airlift‘s total earnings.
Over the weekend, Happy Bhag Jayegi accomplished a feat I wrote about last week, becoming the eighth Bollywood movie of the year to double its opening weekend earnings over the course of its theatrical run. It earned another $25,775 from twelve theaters ($2,148 average), bringing its three-weekend total to $333,938.
In its second weekend, A Flying Jatt‘s business fell by more than 80% from its opening weekend. It earned $19,867 from 27 theaters ($736 average), bringing its total to $174,055.
Mohenjo Daro stuck around for a fourth weekend in eight theaters, earning $5,625 ($703 average). Its total stands at $1,237,504, surpassing Udta Punjab for eighth place for the year.
The action flick Naam Hai Akira — starring Sonakshi Sinha — opens in the Chicago area on September 2, 2016. In India, the film is releasing as simply Akira. If you’re going to have a separate international title, why not make it in English in the hopes of attracting a wider audience, especially since the movie has such an evocative poster?
The opening weekend performance of A Flying Jatt in the United States and Canada wasn’t exactly super. From August 26-28, 2016, the Tiger Shroff movie earned $107,439 from 79 theaters ($1,360 average). Limited Thursday preview showings added another $3,286 to its total. Though not entirely unexpected — Hindi-film audiences tend to steer clear of indigenously produced fare deemed “kid-friendly,” despite the recent success of Hollywood kids movies in India — distributors had to have hoped for a bit more. Shroff’s April release, Baaghi, earned more than twice as much as A Flying Jatt in its opening weekend from just seventeen more theaters. This lackluster performance is shame because A Flying Jatt is really entertaining.
Happy Bhag Jayegi held over very well in its second weekend in North America, earning $52,933 from 33 theaters ($1,604 average). That’s a drop of about 64% from last weekend, which is the ninth best Week 1-Week 2 hold over rate for the year. Its total currently stands at $284,554. If Happy Bhag Jayegi is able to double the amount it earned in its opening weekend — and it needs less than $28,000 to do so — it will be just the eighth Bollywood movie to accomplish that feat in North America this year.
Rustom continued its impressive run, posting the weekend’s highest returns among the Hindi films still in theaters. It earned $139,130 from 74 theaters ($1,880 average). That brings its total after three weekends to $1,731,184 — fifth place for the year so far.
In contrast, Mohenjo Daro limped through its third weekend, earning just $16,342 from 21 theaters ($778 average). Its North American total stands at $1,227,519 — ranking it in ninth place despite getting the third widest release of 2016. It needs $7,320 to overtake Udta Punjab for eighth place.
Last weekend’s new release, Happy Bhag Jayegi, only carries over at MovieMax. Construction projects at multiple Chicago area theaters will limit the number of screens available for the remainder of the year, so Bollywood movies aren’t going to stick around for as long as they would have in the past. If a movie interests you, plan on seeing it in the first week.
Happy Bhag Jayegi turned in a perfectly respectable opening weekend in North American theaters. From August 19-21, 2016, the romantic comedy earned $156,110 from 77 theaters, an average of $2,027 per theater.
In its second weekend in North American theaters, Rustom extended last weekend‘s narrow victory over Mohenjo Daro by a large margin. Rustom earned $359,432 from 118 theaters ($3,046 average). Those earnings are down just 53% from last weekend — one of the best retention rates of the year. Rustom‘s total earnings stand at $1,444,888.
Mohenjo Daro didn’t hold up nearly as well. It earned $166,308 from 164 theaters ($1,014 average) in its second weekend, down about 77% from last weekend (which is almost exactly the median Weekend 1-Weekend 2 drop for 2016 releases). That decline is better than Fitoor‘s 87% plunge but worse than Fan‘s 74% drop. Mohenjo Daro‘s total stands at $1,145,847, putting it in ninth place for the year — not good enough for a movie that opened in more than 200 theaters.
Sultan held on for a seventh week in two theaters, earning $1,247 ($624 average) to bring its total to $6,191,282.
You might think that the woman named Happy would be the main character in a movie titled Happy Bhag Jayegi (“Happy Will Run Away“). You’d be wrong.
Happy (Diana Penty) is a plot catalyst rather than a real character. She exists to cause problems that other people must fix, ostensibly in the name of getting Happy what she wants, but really in order to advance their own character development.
Of the film’s four major characters, Happy is introduced third, ten minutes into the film. The first character we meet is Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol), the film’s true protagonist on whose emotional growth the story depends.
Bilal’s father is a prominent Pakistani politician determined to make his son follow in his footsteps and “change the future of Pakistan.” Bilal meekly walks his predetermined path, too timid to speak up for what he really wants.
The Ahmeds visit Amritsar for an agricultural summit aimed at fostering ties between the neighboring countries. Elsewhere in town, a local goon/politician named Bagga (Jimmy Shergill) takes the stage to perform at a celebration before his upcoming wedding. His bride-to-be — Happy, appearing onscreen for the first time — waits until the show is underway before secretly leaping out of a window into the back of a truck. Only instead of landing in the vehicle owned by a friend of her boyfriend, Guddu (Ali Fazal), she mistakenly jumps into a truck taking goods from the agricultural summit to the Ahmed family home in Lahore.
Bilal scrambles to find a way to get Happy back home without creating an international incident (and without his father finding out), but Happy won’t leave unless her marriage to Guddu is secured. Bilal enlists the help of his fiancée, Zoya (Momal Sheikh), and the police constable, Afridi (Piyush Mishra), to pull off a complicated cross-border scheme.
Happy meets the minimum requirements for a generic Bollywood romantic comedy female lead in that she’s beautiful and feisty, with a penchant for drinking and a domineering attitude that make her irresistible to male Bollywood romantic comedy characters. But that’s all there is to her.
In contrast, Zoya is refreshingly complex. Bilal’s childhood friend and the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Zoya and Bilal have been betrothed since birth. She views Happy as a problem to be solved, but Bilal’s infatuation with the interloper makes Zoya question whether her own romance with him is one-sided. She doesn’t want to be a constant reminder to Bilal of the choices he wasn’t allowed to make for himself. Yet Zoya is a team player, and she doesn’t let her doubts interfere with her duties, nor does she resort to trickery to keep Bilal and Happy apart.
Another unfortunate feature of Happy’s character is her lack of agency. After making her fateful leap into the truck, she spends most of the film in jail, in hiding, or kidnapped. When she receives her father’s blessing at the end, it’s not because of anything she’s done but because of the actions of one of the men.
It’s also worth pointing out that, after Happy runs away, both Guddu and Bagga continue to express their desire to marry her. However, her father grabs a gun and says he’s going to kill her. Even if he doesn’t mean it literally, it’s not the kind of joke you can make when women and men who elope are still murdered by their families with alarming regularity in Pakistan and India.
Unlike the cookie-cutter title character, the men in Happy Bhag Jayegi are thoughtfully written. Bilal has spent his life resisting his future in politics only for Happy’s plight to show him that he’s a good leader. Guddu’s future is as amorphous as Bilal’s is fixed, plaguing the young lover with doubts about his ability to provide for his beloved. Bagga is a goon, but also a decent guy who genuinely cares for Happy.
The performances from the likeable cast are generally quite good. It’s clear that Penty is capable of more than the material she was given. The plot unfolds at a decent clip and heads in some unexpected directions.
One more knock against Happy Bhag Jayegi may only be relevant to international viewers. Many of the jokes are wordplay humor, especially involving the different meanings of words in Urdu versus Punjabi or Hindi. These jokes aren’t translated with context, so it’s impossible tell what’s supposed to be funny.
There are the elements of a good movie present in Happy Bhag Jayegi. If only the title didn’t feel like a bait-and-switch.
Diana Penty plays a runaway bride in the romantic comedy Happy Bhag Jayegi, the only new Bollywood film opening in the Chicago area on August 19, 2016. Penty’s co-stars include Abhay Deol, Jimmy Shergill, and Ali Fazal.
Rustom gets a second weekend in all six of the theaters in which it opened last week (and with more showings per day than Mohenjo Daro): River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, Woodridge 18, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include: