Jai Gangaajal failed to light up the North American box office in its opening weekend. From March 4-6, 2016, it earned $118,758 from 93 theaters ($1,277 average). Jai Gangaajal‘s earnings were by no means terrible, just lower than one expects from a movie featuring Priyanka Chopra, Bollywood’s most recognizable star in the United States.
Also keep in mind that Jai Gangaajal was only the second highest-earning Hindi film of the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, finishing behind Neerja in its third week of release. Neerja earned $167,727 from 113 theaters ($1,484 average), bringing its total to $1,526,679.
Other Hindi movies showing in North America include:
Airlift: Week 7; $965 from one theater; $1,857,440 total
The weekend of February 26-28, 2016, provides a good picture of the state of the Bollywood market in North America. Attendance is often all or nothing, with audiences flocking to certain movies while avoiding others like the plague.
Neerja is a perfect example of a high-demand film. In its second weekend of release, Neerja actually added 47 new theaters. It earned $450,086 from a total of 135 theaters in the United States and Canada, a per-screen average of $3,334. Its North American total stands at $1,248,463, which is already more than double what it earned in its opening weekend.
On the flip side is the weekend’s new release, Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive. It earned a mere $18,450 from 62 theaters, an average of just $298 per screen. Considering that my local theater ran the movie 12 times over the weekend with an average ticket price of $10, that per-screen average means that most showings had an audience of fewer than three people.
TBL 2‘s failure was so predictable that it makes the decision to release it into 62 theaters here mind-boggling. But this year has been replete with bad decision upon bad decision, and we’re only two months into 2016. It seems that the lessons of 2015 have already been forgotten.
Last year was noteworthy because 42 Hindi films released in North American theaters, a drop of about 20% from 2014’s peak of 52 theatrically released Hindi movies. Yet the total box office returns for all Bollywood fare in North America grew steadily, increasing by approximately 11% on movies released in 2014, which itself improved on 2013’s total by 12%. Total theater count also grew at a similar pace, up by about 8% from 2014, which itself grew by approximately 5% from 2013. It’s evident that overall industry growth depends more on increased access to theatrical releases, not an increased volume of titles available.
Another key point is that, in 2015, just five theatrical releases failed to earn at least $30,000 in their opening weekend. That was down from 13 titles in 2014 and ten in 2014. Yet, just two months into 2016, we’ve already had five titles earn under $30,000 in their opening weekends! How many more obvious duds have to bomb before studios and distributors realize not every Bollywood movie merits an international theatrical release?
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
Airlift: Week 6; $7,771 from six theaters; $1,295 average; $1,854,787 total
Fitoor: Week 3; $2,171 from five theaters; $434 average; $513,879 total
Loveshhuda: Week 2; $200 from two theaters; $100 average; $1,787 total
The comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive starts out strong, but the story doesn’t have enough momentum to sustain laughs. Two films in this franchise are enough.
Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive (TBL 2, henceforth) begins in 2009. Manish Paul plays Abhishek Sharma, the real-life writer and director of both movies. Abhishek (the character) gets the greenlight to make his first film — Tere Bin Laden — after he spots Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh), a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. There’s a helpful refresher on the first film, which proved to be enough of a hit to merit a followup.
Shortly after production on the sequel begins, the real Bin Laden is assassinated by the United States. This puts the kibosh on Abhishek’s movie but not Paddi’s career as a lookalike. With no body or video proof of Bin Laden’s death, an inept terrorist organization in Pakistan wants Paddi so they can claim that Bin Laden is with them, alive and well. Meanwhile, the US wants to recreate the assassination, substituting video of Paddi’s murder as footage of Bin Laden’s death.
The early stages of TBL 2 are full of great bits. Ali Zafar — the star of Tere Bin Laden — appears in a funny cameo, playing an egomaniacal, womanizing version of himself. The Pakistani terror organization stages its own version of the Olympics, with games like the Bomb Relay and Landmine Jump. If you blow yourself up, you win!
The sharpest barbs are reserved for the Americans. Their drone control room is set up like an arcade, complete with coin-operated remote weapons. The “Chief of Invasions” is a man named David DoSomething, played by Sikander Kher in white-face makeup and a blond comb-over wig. Kher’s southern accent is deliberately hilarious.
In order to dupe Paddi and Abhishek, David dons brown-face makeup to pose as David Chadha, an NRI Hollywood producer. He quickly masters Hindi, though he mispronounces his last name as “cheddar.”
The movie acknowledges just how racist this is gambit is, with David consulting a makeup chart featuring a range of ethnically appropriate skin tones. When President Obama (Iman Crosson) sees David in his desi avatar, he quips, “I see you painted your white-ass face brown.” Considering that TBL 2 released on the same day as Gods of Egypt — a Hollywood film featuring no Egyptian actors — the digs seem deserved.
Though supporting characters like David, his female assistant Junior (Mya Uyeda), and President Obama are funny, they often feel better suited for a sketch comedy show rather than a feature film. There’s something missing from TBL 2 that causes it to slow down as soon as all of the characters are introduced.
One potential explanation that there’s no B-story in the plot. Elements such as Abhishek’s abandoned career as a confectioner and his fraught friendship with Paddi are introduced but don’t go anywhere. The story needs an anchor or emotional hook of some sort. Jokes aren’t enough.
TBL 2‘s strongest attribute is its subtitling and localization. It’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film. For example, the Hindi word “jalebi” is translated as “churro,” substituting a piped, fried sweet popular in India for one popular in the U.S. Kudos to the TBL 2 translation team, the real stars of the film!
One new Hindi film opens in the Chicago area on February 26, 2016, and it’s unfortunately not Aligarh. Instead, we get the comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive. I liked the 2010 original, but its leading man — Ali Zafar — is replaced in the sequel by Manish Paul.