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.
Te3n‘s North American debut fell a little short of expectations. During the weekend of June 10-12, 2016, the Amitabh Bachchan thriller earned $250,677 from 116 theaters ($2,161 average). It released into the seventh largest number of theaters for the year, but its opening weekend total was only ninth best, and its opening weekend average just eleventh best. Distributor Reliance Films was probably hoping for numbers closer to what Bachchan earned in January with another thriller, Wazir, which opened with $575,908 from 127 theaters ($4,535 average).
Housefull 3 held over well in its second weekend of release. Its business fell by about two-thirds, which is actually good for this year. A movie only has to retain 20% of its opening weekend business to place in the top half of Bollywood films released in North America in 2016. The comedy added another $224,510 from 112 theaters ($2,005 average) to bring its total to $1,139,998. Thus far, Housefull 3 is performing on par with its predecessors.
I’ve written before about how — though the United States and Canada are considered one North American territory for box office reporting purposes — the countries have different taste in Bollywood films, and this weekend provided the best evidence of that yet. Canadians ignored the new release Te3n and turned out for two-week-old Housefull 3 at a margin of nearly two-to-one. Here’s the subset of Canadian data broken out from the totals above:
Housefull 3: $51,837 from fourteen theaters ($3,703 average)
Te3n: $22,088 from twelve theaters ($1,841 average)
Damn, Canadians love their broad comedies almost as much as they love their action movies! In contrast, Te3n averaged $2,198 per screen in the US, and Housefull 3 averaged $1,762.
Sarbjit played for a fourth weekend in one theater, earning $386 to bring its total to $244,274.
Housefull 3 couldn’t top the success of Housefull 2 in North America. During the weekend of June 3-5, 2016, Housefull 3 earned $674,890 from 137 theaters ($4,926 average). That’s the fourth best weekend for a Hindi film in North America in 2016, but it’s $170,000 less than what Housefull 2 earned in its opening weekend in 2012. In fact, Housefull 3 earned just $30,000 more than what the original Housefull earned when it debuted on 55 fewer screens back in 2010.
Like its predecessors, Housefull 3 is going to earn over a million bucks in the United States and Canada, probably in the $1,350,000 range. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it does clarify expectations for a potential fourth Housefull film.
The weekend’s highest grossing Indian film was the Telugu movie A..Aa, which opened in 126 American theaters on Thursday and earned $1,669,292 ($13,248 average over its first four days).
Other Hindi films still in US theaters:
Sarbjit: Week 3; $2,350 from seven theaters; $336 average; $242,790 total
Azhar: Week 4; $16 from one theater; $193,099 total
Baaghi: Week 6; $10 from one theater; $437,243 total
Egads, a third Housefull movie hits Chicago area theaters on June 3, 2016. Boman Irani returns as the same character, but with a new set of daughters — Jacqueline Fernandez, Lisa Haydon, and Nargis Fakhri — with a new set of beaus — Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, and Abhishek Bachchan. The Housefull movies push the boundaries of what can legitimately be considered a sequel.
Hindi films languished at the North American box office over the weekend, overshadowed by big budget Hollywood releases. From May 27-29, 2016, the four Bollywood movies still showing here earned a combined total of just $32,643. Theaters can’t wait for Friday’s release of Housefull 3, which will undoubtedly follow in its predecessors’ footsteps and earn over a million bucks.
The lion’s share of the weekend’s earnings went to Sarbjit, which took in $31,594 from 37 theaters ($854 average) in its second weekend of release. It posted a 76% drop in business from its first weekend, which is still better than Azhar‘s 85% plunge. Sarbjit‘s total North American earnings stand at $230,613.
Other Hindi movies still playing in the United States:
Azhar: Week 3; $960 from four theaters; $280 average; $191,847 total
Baaghi: Week 5; $69 from one theater; $437,098 total
1920 London: Week 4; $20 from one theater; $24,854 total
No new Hindi films are releasing in the Chicago area on May 27, 2016, which is probably a good thing with theaters devoting as many screens as possible to the new Alice in Wonderland and X-Men sequels. MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington are carrying over Azhar and Sarbjit, which also gets a second weekend at the Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.
Other Indian movies showing in Chicagoland over Memorial Day weekend:
Last week, I wrote of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: “Even her lowest earning movies are average performers compared to the rest of the field.” That proved true once again with Sarbjit, which earned $130,199 from 83 theaters ($1,569 average) in North America during the weekend of May 20-22, 2016. It had the tenth best opening weekend of 2016 out of a field of 21 films.
While that opening weekend performance seems okay, by a number of metrics, it’s not. Sarbjit debuted a week after another biopic — the Emraan Hashmi-starrer Azhar — earned almost the exact same amount ($127,266) from 32 fewer theaters, with a per-screen average of $2,495. Sarbjit‘s 83 theaters represent the lowest number of opening weekend screens for one of Rai Bachchan’s movies since 2008’s Sarkar Raj opened in 70 North American theaters. More significantly, Sarbjit‘s opening weekend total is Rai Bachchan’s lowest since 2003’s Kuch Naa Kaho, and that film only released in 32 theaters.
There could be multiple contributing factors at play, such as audience fatigue from consecutive biopics, or the fact that Rai Bachchan became the face of promotions for a movie in which she doesn’t even play the title character, but there’s something more going on here. Rai Bachchan’s presence in a movie no longer guarantees a $1 million haul, the way it did during her heyday. Surely she’ll have better luck with her next project: director Karan Johar’s multi-starrer Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
In its second weekend, Azhar‘s business fell 85% from its opening weekend. Azhar earned $19,130 from 35 theaters ($547 average), bringing its total to $185,695.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
Baaghi: Week 4; $3,329 from six theaters; $555 average; $435,687 total
Much of the press before the release of Sarbjit focused on whether superstar Aishwarya Rai Bachchan would overshadow the actor playing the film’s title character, Randeep Hooda. Rai Bachchan is the dominant presence in the movie, not because of her performance but because the story is tilted in her favor, at the expense of Sarbjit and the other important figures in his life.
Hooda’s character is Sarbjit Singh, a Punjabi farmer in a small town on the Indian border with Pakistan. He’s married to the woman of his dreams, Sukh (Richa Chadda), with whom he has two young daughters. He shares the family home with his father and his sister, Dalbir (Rai Bachchan).
Dalbir has survived her share of heartbreak. Her only child was stillborn, and her marriage went south not long after due to her husband’s violent jealousy over her close relationship with her younger brother, whom she essentially raised.
Jovial Sarbjit gets drunk with his friend one night and unwittingly stumbles across the Pakistani border. Soldiers arrest Sarbjit on the suspicion of spying, and they torture him into confessing to be terrorist Ranjit Singh.
It takes eight months for Dalbir and Sukh to find out what has happened to Sarbjit, after a sympathetic jailer mails a letter to them on the farmer’s behalf. By then, Sarbjit has been moved to a Lahore prison and sentenced to death.
A lengthy Pakistani judicial process affords Dalbir decades to find a way to free her brother. When Indian politicians are reluctant to intervene — if not outright dismissive — she rallies public support to pressure them into action. Dalbir’s endeavor begins with Sarbjit’s capture in 1990 and lasts long enough to see the advent of the Internet and cell phone technology to further spread her message.
Dalbir’s quest reveals the ways in which the Indian and Pakistani governments use prisoners as proxies in their ongoing conflict. An execution of a Pakistani prisoner in India can easily spur a retaliatory execution in Pakistan. Political offices change hands numerous times during Sarbjit’s incarceration, and every change delays progress to free him.
Dalbir’s story has interesting parallel’s with Sarbjit’s. He’s driven somewhat insane through years of torture and solitary confinement, and she also loses herself as his imprisonment drags on.
Yet, it’s weird the way the story — written by Utkarshini Vashishtha and Rajesh Beri, and directed by Omung Kumar — prioritizes Dalbir’s relationship with Sarbjit over all others. If my brother is ever wrongly imprisoned by a hostile foreign government and we finally get the chance to see him after eighteen years, I’m letting his wife walk through the door first.
So much emphasis is placed on Dalbir that other subplots aren’t fully explored. When they are addressed, it comes too late. About five minutes after I wrote a note wondering how Sarbjit’s younger daughter Poonam (Ankita Shrivastav) feels about spending her whole life protesting on behalf of a father she doesn’t know, Poonam has her one and only meltdown. It would’ve been nice for the sisters to have at least one conversation about how their father’s imprisonment has affected them.
The story focus is further problematic because Rai Bachchan isn’t the best actor in the cast. She conveys Dalbir’s pain, but too often she resorts to shouting to make her point, even when in front of a microphone. Piercing screams aren’t the only way to show anger.
Chadda’s restrained performance is more compelling. Her stoicism begs for more screen time, a window into how this woman perseveres with her beloved husband unjustly imprisoned, leaving her forced to raise two children on her own.
Hooda is terrific as Sarbjit. He loses a troubling amount of weight as the story progresses, but his most interesting trait is the way his speech changes. Dental hygiene isn’t high on his captor’s priority list, and you can almost judge the level of tooth decay by the way Sarbjit sounds.
The movie’s torture scenes are horrific, the conditions of Sarbjit’s imprisonment barbaric. Apart from the kindly jailer and a human rights lawyer (Darshan Kumar), most Pakistani characters are convinced of Sarbjit’s guilt and happy to see him suffer.
Some scenes need more explanation in order to help the narrative flow. Given the way Sarbjit’s fate is tied to world events, it would have been smoother to show the family learning about things like nuclear tests and terrorist attacks directly, rather than inserting stock news footage as Kumar does.
Though an imperfect movie, Sarbjit is an interesting cautionary tale about the hidden casualties of ongoing tension between India and Pakistan. The song “Meherbaan” is excellent. And Hooda and Chadda are so talented that they are impossible to overshadow completely.
[Update: In a recent interview, Richa Chadda revealed her disappointment that many of the scenes she filmed for Sarbjit were cut from the final version. That goes a long way to explaining why I found the story so unbalanced.]
Another Bollywood biopic comes to Chicago area theaters on May 20, 2016. In Sarbjit, Randeep Hooda plays an Indian farmer imprisoned for accidentally crossing the border into Pakistan. The story is told from the perspective of the main character’s sister, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.