It was a slow weekend for Bollywood movies at the North American box office, thanks to an absence of new titles and competition from Rajnikanth’s Tamil-Telugu blockbuster Lingaa (which earned $1,343,151 from 136 theaters in the United States and Canada).
Action Jackson added just $19,753 from 50 theaters ($395 average), bringing its two-week total to $215,002. AJ‘s business dropped nearly 89% from Week 1 to Week 2.
Happy Ending added another $580 from two theaters in its fourth weekend, bringing its total North American earnings to $247,511.
In its third weekend, Ungli added $328 from two theaters to bring its total earnings to $78,864. Those two theaters — one in the U.S. and one in Canada — posted very different returns. The Canadian theater contributed $322 to the total, while the American theater earned just $6. That means that, over the course of the whole weekend, only one person watched Ungli (and likely purchased a matinee priced ticket). Wow.
Action Jackson just posted the latest in the string of lousy box office performances by Bollywood movies in North America. Since the release of Happy New Year on October 24, 2014, all but two of the newly released Hindi movies have fallen short on a key performance metric.
That metric is per-screen average: the average amount earned by individual theaters showing a particular movie in a particular weekend. In North America in 2014, the median opening weekend per-screen average of the fifty Hindi movies for which I have reliable data is $1,971.
Here are the opening weekend per-screen averages of all the movies that have released here since HNY:
Action Jackson: $1,374 ($171,795 from 125 theaters)
Kill Dil opened with a per-screen average a few dollars above the median, and Bhopal‘s average was one of the highest of the year. Granted, Bhopal was a limited release that never played in more than two theaters at once.
There’s another factor to consider that makes many of these low per-screen averages look even worse in context: theater count. The median opening weekend theater count for Hindi films in North America in 2014 is 70.5. Given their comparatively low theater counts, distributors obviously didn’t expect Super Nani and Roar to take the box office by storm (they were right).
However, distributors were clearly expecting much more from star-driven films Happy Ending and Action Jackson. Both movies fall in the upper quartile of this year’s opening weekend theater counts (123 theaters and above). You don’t open in that many theaters unless you think you’ve got a hit on your hands.
It’s worth noting that the only other film in that upper quartile to earn less than the median per-screen average in its first weekend is Humshakals, Saif Ali Khan’s only other release in 2014 besides Happy Ending. Unless he’s planning to make Love Aaj Kal 2, opening weekend theater counts of fewer than 100 seem more reasonable for Khan in North America.
It’s as though most of the Bollywood fan base in the United States and Canada decided to take Fall off and stay home until Aamir Khan’s P.K. opens on December 19. Here’s hoping that film can close out 2014 with a bang.
The Indo-Canadian English-language comedy Dr. Cabbie gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Chakkiligintha (Telugu w/no subtitles) at Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and MovieMax, which is also showing Undile Manchi Kalam Mundu Munduna (Telugu), Dolphins (Malayalam), and Kaaviya Thalaivan (Tamil).
How sad that the weakest element in a movie about a screenwriter is the screenplay. Despite sporadic funny bits and good performances, Happy Ending takes too long to reach its own happy ending.
Saif Ali Khan plays Yudi, a bestselling author who’s been coasting on his fame in Los Angeles for the last six years. When his money runs out, Yudi’s last option is to write a screenplay for Armaan (Govinda), an aging superstar who wants to appeal to a younger audience with a romantic comedy — or “romedy,” as Armaan calls it — that rips off various Hollywood films.
At the same time, Yudi is plagued by woman troubles. He can’t seem to break up with his cheerfully possessive girlfriend, Vishakha (Kalki Koechlin), and he’s jealous of the hot new author at his publishing house, Aanchal (Ileana D’Cruz).
Throughout the film, Yudi is visited by his chubby, hairy alter ego, Yogi (also Khan). Yogi gives Yudi advice, usually by making references to movie formulas. The characters repeatedly look into the camera and acknowledge the audience. At the film’s mid-point — when things are going well for Yudi — Yogi mentions that this is typically when things go wrong. The payoff for this pronouncement is delayed until after the intermission break.
Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. — who also wrote the screenplay — try to add a visual element to the screenwriting references by introducing some scenes with accompanying on-screen text listing the scene number and plot point. This only happens four or five times in the movie, so it’s not enough to qualify as a recurring theme. It just feels like a half-baked idea.
For all of the attention paid to screenwriting references, little attention was paid to story structure. There is no conflict in Happy Ending — besides the general question of whether or not Yudi will set aside his partying ways in favor of a mature romantic relationship — and there are no stakes. Yudi’s money problems are permanently resolved with an advance from Armaan, who doesn’t seem to care that Yudi isn’t making progress on the screenplay.
Vishakha gets a lot of screentime in the first half of the film. The upside is that Koechlin is quite funny in the role. The downside is that her relationship with Yudi is dead in the water, and she’s not crazy enough to endanger him. It wastes time that should’ve been spent on the budding relationship between Yudi and Aanchal.
Yudi and Aanchal don’t spend any meaningful time together until nearly an hour into the film. That is a shame, because D’Cruz is the best part of Happy Ending. She’s as funny as Koechlin, but with a relaxed charm. I wish someone in Hollywood would cast her on a TV show so I could watch her every week.
Yet even Aanchal’s scenes with Yudi are as slow and overwritten as the rest of the film. There are some genuine laughs — many generated by Khan, who’s a fine leading man — but they are separated by vast stretches where nothing much happens. Despite all its references to screenwriting, Happy Ending feels like a first draft.
The trailer for Saif Ali Khan’s Happy Ending is out in advance of its theatrical release on November 21, 2014. Since the trailer lacks English subtitles, I can’t make heads or tails of the movie’s plot.
Notice the extreme sexualization of all of the women in the trailer who are cast in background roles. (Ileana D’Cruz and Kalki Koechlin are exceptions since their sexuality is integrated into their characters.) Then notice that none of those hypersexualized women are Indian.