The other big streaming news this week comes from Hotstar (or Disney+Hotstar, as it’s known in India). The service revealed seven major releases that will skip theaters and debut directly on Hotstar in the coming months. In addition to the previously announced July 24 digital release of Sushant Singh Rajput’s Dil Bechara, the other titles include Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj: The Pride of India, Abhishek Bachchan’s The Big Bull, Alia Bhatt’s Sadak 2, Vidyut Jammwal’s Khuda Haafiz, and Kunal Khemu’s Lootcase.
The upcoming release of Tiger Shroff’s A Flying Jatt got me thinking about just how hard it is to launch a career as a Bollywood hero abroad. It’s difficult enough to succeed in India, but even more so overseas, where fans aren’t bombarded with the same kind of media saturation. That’s assuming that a distributor is even willing to put your film in theaters. Although Arjun Kapoor is a star now, his first picture — Ishaqzaade — didn’t release in the United States.
A Flying Jatt is Shroff’s third release since his 2014 debut, a promising sign for his Bollywood career prospects (at least for a while). I looked at some of his contemporaries from 2010 on to see how they’ve fared since their debuts. I only considered actors who launched under similar circumstances to Shroff: first-time actors without previously established entertainment careers (regional films, singing, TV, etc.) who were the sole male lead in their film, as opposed to, say, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra who launched together in Student of the Year. Also, the hopeful hero’s film needed to be released in the United States (which excludes Kapoor and Saqib Saleem).
That leaves us with six contenders, including Shroff. Here they are, in order of their debuts:
Debut film: Band Baaja Baaraat
Release date: December 10, 2010
US box office: $71,374
Of the 32 films that released in US theaters in 2010 for which I have data, Band Baaja Baaraat ranked 30th in total gross. That early hiccup didn’t hinder Singh’s rise to stardom. His most recent film — Bajirao Mastani — earned $6,653,317 last year.
Debut: Ramaiya Vastavaiya
Release date: July 19, 2013
U.S. box office: $52,200
While $52,000 is nothing to crow about, Kumar’s followup film — Loveshhuda — made just $1,787 in the US earlier this year. Might be time to accept that this dog won’t hunt.
Debut: Karle Pyaar Karle
Release date: January 17, 2014
US box office: $3,110
I have an inexplicable fondness for Karle Pyaar Karle because of how hilariously horrible it is, and Shiv Darshan is especially awful in it. The only reason I don’t recommend the movie is because it’s racist near the end (also, I have no idea where to find it). You may not have a future as an actor, Shiv, but I’ll always remember you.
Release date: May 23, 2014
US box office: $63,172
While Heropanti wasn’t a hit here, Shroff’s followup — Baaghi — made $437,243 earlier this year. If A Flying Jatt can come close to that, it bodes well for Shroff’s longevity.
Debut: Lekar Hum Deewana Dil
Release date: July 4, 2014
US box office: $10,529
Even after rereading my review of Lekar Hum Deewana Dil, I still have no recollection of having seen it. That’s the kind of impression Armaan Jain made on me: none at all.
Release date: September 11, 2015
US box office: $83,973 Hero did comparatively well for a debut film, but Pancholi’s personal/legal problems could make studios consider him a liability, especially if he’s ever convicted of a crime related to Jiah Khan’s suicide. The jury’s still out on Pancholi, in more ways than one.
Katti Batti opened with an average box office performance in the United States. From September 18-20, 2015, it earned $191,361 from 127 theaters ($1,507 average). Given the bad word of mouth surrounding the film — it has a 4.5 user rating at IMDb — its potential for growth is limited.
Welcome Back came in second place for the weekend, earning another $53,836 from 58 theaters ($928 average). Its three-week North American total stands at $1,350,174.
Hero‘s earnings took a nose dive in its second week of release, falling nearly 90% from its opening weekend total. In its second weekend, it earned a mere $6,641 from 19 theaters, an average of just $350 per screen. The romantic drama has earned a total of $83,973 in the US and Canada.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
It’s hard to launch new Bollywood stars abroad, as confirmed by the opening weekend returns of Hero. During the weekend of September 11-13, 2015, Hero earned $57,407 from 52 US and Canadian theaters ($1,104 average).
The most direct comparison for the debuts of Sooraj “Son of Aditya” Pancholi and Athiya “Daughter of Suniel” Shetty is last year’s Heropanti, which launched Tiger “Son of Jackie” Shroff. Heropanti‘s launch was more modest, opening in just 20 theaters, from which it earned $31,556. Its $1,578 average is quite a bit better than Hero‘s, especially considering that Salman Khan was heavily involved in Hero‘s marketing.
The weekend’s other new release of note in the States, Meet the Patels, got off to a monstrous start. From five theaters, it earned $75,597, for a per-screen average of $15,119. It will expand into more theaters in the coming weeks.
Welcome Back‘s continued success reminds us that the reason there are so many sequels in Bollywood (and Hollywood) is because they make money. In its second weekend in North American theaters, the followup to 2007’s Welcome earned another $222,273 from 125 theaters ($1,778 average). Its total earnings of $1,234,179 rank it fifth for the year. Of the three Bollywood sequels to release here in 2015, ABCD 2 is presently the lowest ranked at sixth place.
Phantom has all but disappeared from the charts, earning just $9,973 from 18 theaters ($554 average) in its third weekend of release. Its total North American earnings stand at $487,978.
In its ninth weekend, Bajrangi Bhaijaan earned $6,261 from six theaters ($1,044 average), bringing its total to $8,110,964. Drishyam took in another $1,701 from three theaters ($567 average), bringing its seven-week total to $739,005.
Hero is a tired action romance that becomes increasingly immature as the story progresses. It’s not the sparkling debut that newbie actors Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty were hoping for.
The film has the stamp of its producer, Salman Khan, all over it. Pancholi plays a miniature version of a character Khan has played many times before: a morally, sexually pure hooligan who fights his way out of trouble.
Sooraj (Pancholi) is the son of a mobster, Pasha (Aditya Pancholi, his real-life father), and is himself a goon of sorts. Sooraj only steals from other gangsters, and he distributes his stolen gains to people in need, occasionally springing for a night of dancing with his crew.
It’s at a club that he meets Radha (Shetty), a truly awful person. She’s mean, vain, stuck-up, pouty, and stupid. She is also very pretty, which explains why Sooraj makes time to scold her for being a snob instead of blowing her off, altogether.
Facing jail time, Pasha has Sooraj kidnap the daughter of the police Inspector General (Tigmanshu Dulia). Of course, the daughter is Radha. Sooraj and his boys pose as police, and she unquestioningly accompanies them to a safe house in the mountains. Only after she and Sooraj have fallen in love does she discover his true identity.
The kidnapping plot ends in the first half of the film. It’s during the second half, when Sooraj and Radha try to make their love work in the real world, that things get really stupid. There’s a ridiculous subplot about Radha’s brother inventing a fake boyfriend for her, who turns out to be very real and connected to the underworld.
Radha’s disapproving father is the real obstacle, and that gets at the heart of what’s wrong with Hero. Sooraj and Radha seem much younger than the characters they are meant to portray, who are ostensibly of legal drinking age (which is 25 in Mumbai). They act more like a pair of foolish 16-year-olds, convinced that they are Romeo & Juliet born anew.
Instead of talking with her father about her feelings privately, Radha declares them in front of a packed courtroom. When that doesn’t work, she and Sooraj stage a musical production that culminates in her threatening to kill herself unless her dad approves the relationship.
At a time when “women-centric” films are all the rage, Radha is a disappointing throwback. She’s not only restrained by her father’s wishes, but she lacks initiative of her own. When a man standing right next to her points a gun at Sooraj, she doesn’t even reach out to stop him. Her contribution is simply to shriek, “Sooraj!” while her beloved dodges bullets.
Compounding the problem of the movie’s feeling of immaturity is Pancholi’s youthful appearance. At 25, he’s baby-faced enough that he’d be playing high school roles in the US. He’s also short, which makes him appear even younger alongside the giants he fights. Instead of jumping into a leading role, it would fun to see him play the hot-headed younger brother or sidekick to an established actor.
Hero‘s redeeming factors are director Nikhil Advani and cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray. The movie is really beautiful, especially during the first half. An opening shot of boats anchored on Mumbai’s waterfront is stunning. Advani’s affinity for contrast makes shots of the colorfully dressed characters cavorting on a snowy mountainside a treat to watch.
If only Advani weren’t saddled with an outdated template (Hero is a remake of Subhash Ghai’s 1983 film of the same name) and an aging actor-producer set on crowning his successor. Here’s hoping Advani’s next film, Katti Batti, comes with less baggage.
Two new movies of interest to Bollywood fans hit Chicago area theaters on September 11, 2015. The Salman Khan production Hero features the big screen debuts of star kids Sooraj Pancholi (son of Aditya Pancholi) and Athiya Shetty (daughter of Suniel Shetty).
The weekend’s other new release is the hilarious documentary Meet the Patels. It follows actor Ravi Patel as his parents try to find him a suitable potential bride. I really, really like this movie.
Meet the Patels opens on Friday at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago and the South Barrington 30. As added incentive, the Patel parents will be holding in-person Q&A sessions after the Friday evening show at the Music Box and the Saturday evening show at the South Barrington 30. Meet the Patels opens in more and more theaters over the coming weeks, so click here for a list of locations and release dates. The movie has a runtime of 1 hr. 28 min. Seriously, go see it.