There’s a reason why studios and distributors don’t release movies the weekend before a major holiday: nobody goes to the theater. Case in point, the weekend of October 21-23, 2016 (the weekend before Diwali). The five Hindi films showing in North American theaters — including one new release — earned a combined total of just $31,223.
M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story accounted for the lion’s share of the above total, earning $18,952 from nineteen theaters ($997 average). Its total after four weekends in North American theaters is $1,816,166. It may stick around for a fifth weekend in a few theaters, but its run is just about over.
Pink closed out its sixth weekend with $6,409 from six theaters ($1,068 average). Its total of $1,246,384 ranks it in ninth place for the year in North America.
The lone new release — 31st October — only managed to finish in third place for the weekend, with $5,625 from seventeen theaters ($331 average). It’s one of the rare instances of a Hindi film opening in more theaters in Canada than the United States: ten in Canada versus seven in the US. Not that it mattered. 31st October had the third worst opening weekend of the year.
Mirzya closed out its third week with $209 from one American theater. Its final total is $84,035: 29th place for the year, after releasing into the 14th highest number of theaters. Ack.
Last on the list is MSG The Warrior: Lion Heart, which earned $29 from one Canadian theater. Until now, I’d never seen a movie in its second weekend of release earn less than 1% of what it earned in its first weekend. Kudos, MSG 3. It closes out its theatrical run with total North American earnings of $4,243.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh likes to tout the records he achieves, but he might not want to brag about his latest: 2016’s worst opening weekend per-theater average for a Hindi film in North America. Singh’s new vanity project — MSG The Warrior: Lion Heart — earned a grand total of $3,353 from 23 theaters during the weekend of October 14-16, 2016. That’s a per-theater average of $146 for a whole weekend’s worth of shows. MSGTW:LH safely bested Loveshhuda‘s lowest opening weekend gross of $1,399, but that film only released in eight theaters, starred a couple of noobs, and wasn’t the third in a series.
M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story had the best weekend of any of the Hindi films still in theaters, earning another $78,995 from 79 theaters ($1,000 average). Its total stands at $1,779,768, ranking it in sixth place for the year.
In its fifth weekend, Pink earned $13,512 from twelve theaters ($1,126 average). That amount plus its weekday earnings were enough to push it past Udta Punjab into tenth place for the year, with total earnings of $1,236,038. It needs just $3,736 to wrest ninth place from Mohenjo Daro.
Mirzya‘s business fell by 92% in its second weekend, with earnings of $4,200 from fifteen theaters ($280 average). More than thirty percent of its $82,801 total came from a handful of Canadian theaters: sixteen theaters in the film’s opening weekend and six in its second weekend.
Well, I guess I was wrong about no new Indian films opening in the Chicago area before October 28. A week after its Indian theatrical release, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles is picking up MSG: The Warrior Lion Heart, the third film by controversial religious figure Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Enjoy this delightful plot synopsis from the film’s Wikipedia page.
The story is about a medieval warrior who fights for the honor of his land and the dignity of the womenfolk. The story travels centuries apart as he emerges in another role as a modern Indian equivalent of James Bond, a stylish top secret agent. The marauding aliens run amok, as they are hundreds of years ahead in technology. Lionheart is their only stumbling block in their march to overpower planet Earth.
I didn’t think things could get much crazier than the original MSG, but I guess I underestimated the self-styled Saint. Feast your eyes upon the trailer for MSG: The Warrior Lion Heart, which opens on Friday at MovieMax.
If you’re squeamish, you may not want to look at the gruesome opening weekend numbers for Mirzya in North America. From October 7-9, 2016, Mirzya earned $54,717 from 111 theaters ($493 average). The modern adaptation of a Punjabi folktale fared significantly better in Canada, which contributed 28% of the gross earnings ($15,111) from 14% of the total theaters (16). The per-theater average in Canada was $944, versus $417 in the United States. [Update: Sumit Chadha of Reliance Entertainment told me via Twitter that the total number of theaters was 95 — 79 in the US and 16 in Canada. That would make the US per-theater average $501 and the combined average $575. Even with the revised numbers, Canada’s contribution was still outsized.]
It is really, really hard to launch new Bollywood stars in North America. Heck, even films starring well known supporting actors in lead roles struggle to make money here (looking at you, Banjo). Thus, it made absolutely zero sense to release Mirzya — which stars newbies Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher — into 111 theaters. The ceiling is simply too low. Even if Mirzya had earned the exact same amount from half as many theaters, that would have only boosted its per-theater average to about $1,000, which is still way below average.
Every other Hindi film to open in more than 100 theaters here this year earned at least $250,000 in its first weekend, with per-theater averages greater than $2,000. As enjoyable as Mirzya is, it was never going to hit those benchmarks. Better to have started with a smaller footprint and added theaters based on demand. With no such demand, this opening weekend just looks awful.
M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story held up okay in its second weekend. It earned another $277,863 from 259 theaters ($1,073 average). Its total earnings of $1,611,755 rank it in seventh place for the year so far in North America. Its second-weekend business fell about 75% from its opening weekend, a sharper drop than the six films ranked above it on this year’s list, including Fan, which saw its second-weekend business drop by 74%. M.S. Dhoni also earned $76,000 less than Fan did in its second weekend, despite showing in ten more theaters.
Pink continued to put up a fight in its fourth weekend in North America. It earned another $31,019 from 22 theaters ($1,410 average), bringing its total earnings to $1,210,483. It needs less than $25,000 to overtake Udta Punjab for tenth place for the year, and less than $30,000 to bump Mohenjo Daro out of ninth place.
Baar Baar Dekho stuck around for a fifth weekend in one theater, earning $340 and bringing its total to $981,226.
Mirzya is a feast for the eyes and ears, an ambitious tale of doomed love. Sadly, the lovers leave something to be desired.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra weaves past and present together in a story written by Gulzar and based on the Punjabi folktale Mirza Sahiban. For the sake of an international audience who may be unfamiliar with the folktale, the characters in Mirzya freely quote Shakespeare’ Romeo and Juliet, just so we all know where this is going.
As children, Munish and Suchitra are inseparable. He chivalrously carries her schoolbag, even though she’s several inches taller than him. Suchitra lies to save Munish when he forgets his homework yet again, literally taking a hit from the teacher for him. Munish can’t bear to see Suchitra harmed, but the revenge he takes upon the teacher leads to the two being separated.
Many years later, Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) is engaged to rich, handsome Karan (Anuj Choudhry). Scenes from Suchitra’s adult life are intercut with a fantastical series of flashbacks from ancient times. In these flashbacks, Suchitra is Sahiba, princess of a tribe of warriors. As the strongest men compete for her hand in marriage, Sahiba’s gaze favors a bold archer named Mirzya (Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of Anil Kapoor), an outsider of whom her family disapproves.
The present-day Mirzya is Adil, a groom at Karan’s stable. Karan tasks Adil with teaching Suchitra how to ride a horse. For no apparent reason, Suchitra assumes that Adil is really Munish. Of course, she is correct.
Everything about Mirzya is visually stunning, from the cast to the costumes to the settings. The vast, rocky valley to which Mirzya and Sahiba escape looks like it was made to be the preferred setting for lovers on the run. When the screen isn’t saturated in the brightly colored costumes of lithe dancers, austere greys evoke the heartache to come.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack is a wonder, mixing traditional melodies with modern metal and jazz riffs. Mehra turns up the volume during song numbers, then dramatically cuts out all other sounds save footsteps or the flapping of a bird’s wings once the song ends. The effect is thrilling.
Unfortunately, the central love story has problems, chiefly relating to the ages of the characters when significant events take place. When Munish and Suchitra reunite as adults, they are far too old to enter into such an obviously doomed relationship without awareness of the consequences, both for themselves and for others. It’s easy to forget that Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers in their story, at that histrionic age where couples are one day professing to love each other like no people have ever loved before, only to break up the following week when Juliet catches Romeo making out with another girl at the homecoming dance.
Even in the original Mirza Sahiban, the two childhood companions don’t fall in love until adolescence, the age at which they are first able to experience feelings of sexual attraction. By contrast, Munish and Suchitra are separated at the age of nine, before they have the physical capacity to experience those feelings for one another. Yet, as soon as they meet as adults, they fall into a romantic attraction, despite having only previously had a platonic childhood relationship.
This raises an important question of whether the triumph of destiny is always the most satisfying outcome when it comes to storytelling. Why does destiny necessarily trump experience? Before her fateful reunion with Munish, Suchitra is totally in love with Karan, who seems like a nice guy. They are attracted to one another and enjoy each others company. This isn’t a forced marriage.
There’s also no sense that Suchitra is pining for Munish. Had she never met him, it seems likely she would have married Karan and lived happily ever after with him in his gigantic palace. Would that have perhaps been the more interesting outcome: one member of a fated pair taking action to end a deadly reincarnation cycle, allowing them and their families to live in peace?
Gulzar’s retelling of the myth doesn’t give a compelling reason why Suchitra should be with Munish. Then again, the characters are hardly more than archetypes, so it’s difficult to ascribe motivations to any of them beyond carrying out their expected roles. Light character development also makes it hard to get much sense of Kher’s or Kapoor’s potential, both of them acting in their Hindi film debuts.
Despite all that, there are reasons why stories of doomed love endure, and Mirzya is about as beautiful to look at and listen to as can be. A familiar story allows the audience to enjoy other elements of the film, even at the expense of the plot.