Even with so many good titles now on Netflix — Shanghai, Company, and the underrated comedy The Shaukeens among them — the new addition I am most excited about is the batshit crazy 2003 crime caper Boom. Katrina Kaif’s film debut costars Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, a Bo Derek-obsessed Amitabh Bachchan, and Jackie Shroff, whose character has a secretary that lives under his desk. You have to see Boom to believe it, it’s just that insane.
For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check out Instant Watcher.
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.
This has been a lousy year for Yash Raj Films. Hopes were undoubtedly high after the titanic success of Dhoom 3 at the end of 2013, but none of the five films released by the company in 2014 has made much of a blip on the radar in North America.
Kill Dil‘s performance from November 14-16, 2014, cements that trend. During its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, Kill Dil earned $172,001 from 87 theaters, a per-screen average of $1,977.
To put this performance in context, the median number of opening weekend theaters for Hindi films in North America this year is 70, and the median per-screen average earnings are $2,022. All but one of the films released by Yash Raj Films this year opened in more theaters than the median (Bewakoofiyaan didn’t), but only one earned more than the median per-screen average (Gunday). Here’s how each Yash Raj film performed in its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada this year:
Gunday: $548,350 from 150 theaters; $3,656 average
Bewakoofiyaan: $67,738 from 66 theaters; $1,026 average
Mardaani: $168,997 from 86 theaters; $1,965 average
Kill Dil: $172,001 from 87 theaters; $1,977 average
While none of these performances — except for Bewakoofiyaan — is disastrous, the studio and theaters surely expected more. Even Gunday was likely expected to earn $1 million (it fell short with $887,675 total). The name Yash Raj carries enough clout to command a significant number of screens, but the return on those screens should be higher given the studio’s profile and the emerging young stars and veteran talent the company casts.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
Happy New Year: Week 4; $64,792 from 45 theaters; $1,440 average; $3,702,530 total
Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain: Week 2; $5,794 from two theaters; $2,897 average; $12,110 total
The Shaukeens: Week 2; $735 from six theaters; $123 average; $75,546 total
It was the second bad weekend in a row for new Hindi films widely released in the United States and Canada. From November 7-9, 2014, The Shaukeens earned $52,377 from 75 theaters, a pathetic per-screen average of $698. The comedy suffered from a confusing, limited marketing campaign. Posters for the movie prominently featured Akshay Kumar, but his role was billed as a cameo (it’s more than that). The trailer didn’t run in local theaters, so few people likely knew the movie was even coming out. Given all that, the choice to release it into 75 theaters in North America — a relatively high number — is baffling.
On the other hand, the drama Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain performed very well in its debut on a single screen in New York, from which it earned $5,948. The film opens in Los Angeles on Friday and Chicago on November 28 before releasing in India on December 5.
The weekend’s other surprise came from the Hindi-Punjabi-English film Chaar Sahibzaade, an animated depiction of Sikh history. It earned $89,131 from just 15 theaters (none of them in the Chicago area), an average of $5,942 per screen.
In its third weekend, Happy New Year added another $361,148 from 106 theaters ($3,407 average), bringing its North American total to $3,559,926.
The Shaukeens (“The Romantics“) is more than just a cute story about a trio of sexagenarians who refuse to act their age. With its unique story structure and top-notch performances, it’s one of the best Bollywood comedies in recent memory.
Akshay Kumar plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, which opens with a Kumar dance number. His narration explains that he has an integral part in the story of three lonely Delhi men who get into trouble while looking for love in Mauritius.
The three men are Lali (Anupam Kher), a shoe store owner whose religious wife won’t put out; KD (Annu Kapoor), a lecherous bachelor; and Pinky (Piyush Mishra), a widowed spice merchant too shy to talk to the pretty massage parlor owner across the street.
After being rejected by some local prostitutes for being too old, the guys try their luck while on vacation in Mauritius. They rent a house from a beautiful young woman, Ahana (Lisa Haydon), who returns early from her own trip after she breaks up with her boyfriend.
Ahana is gorgeous, but she’s a kook. She’s an aspiring fashion designer who makes hats from used toothpicks and decorates a pair of sunglasses with painted toenail clippings. Her emotions change minute-to-minute, driven by the numbers of likes she’s getting on Facebook. Haydon is just as funny as Ahana as she was in her foul-mouthed performance in Queen.
When Ahana discovers that Akshay is in town filming a movie, she asks rhetorically, “Who do I have to sleep with to meet Akshay Kumar?” The guys take this offer seriously and start trying to unite Ahana with her celebrity crush in order to cash in on the reward.
The version of Akshay Kumar in the movie is an alcoholic jerk who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an actor. While the guys try to weasel their way into his company for Ahana’s sake, Akshay tries to impress an eccentric, award-winning director (played by Subrat Dutta), who has Akshay practice his lines with a chihuahua. For reference, Akshay has a card with photos of himself displaying different emotions. It’s hilarious, and I want one.
Every few years, Kumar takes a break from wacky slapstick roles and loud action flicks to do a movie that reminds you that he can really act. This is one of those movies. He plays everything totally straight, and he’s so funny as a result.
Kher, Kapoor, and Mishra share a great camaraderie. Their characters are distinct and balance each other out, but they’re all equally over their heads in their romantic pursuit of Ahana. KD is sleazy in an endearing kind of way. As the least educated of the group, Pinky gets the most jokes made at his expense, but he also gets the funniest bits. Who forgets to pack a swimsuit for a beach vacation?!
The story includes some weird breaks in form throughout, including a dream sequence, a hallucinatory dance number, and a single instance of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue delivery. Director Abhishek Sharma and writer Tigmanshu Dhulia go far enough to keep audience members on their toes without pushing them away.
The Shaukeens released with relatively little fanfare, which is a shame. This is a movie sure to amuse anyone who appreciates a well-told story and who is sick of formulaic movies.
[Update: A comment below by Dr. Lunch reminded me of a point I wanted to make. The Shaukeens will feel accessible to international audience members because it’s plotted a lot like a 1980s Hollywood comedy. Also working in its favor is that it’s light on references to other Bollywood movies, a common source of jokes in Hindi films that can create a barrier for those without a depth of Bollywood knowledge.]
I hope I get over my disappointment that Rang Rasiya isn’t opening in the Chicago area in time to enjoy The Shaukeens, which hits theaters on November 7, 2014. The remake of the 1982 film Shaukeen stars Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor, and Piyush Mishra as a trio of older guys infatuated with Lisa Haydon, who herself pines for Akshay Kumar.