I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of 2018’s biggest flop, Thugs of Hindostan. To be fair, it’s not a terrible movie, despite its dismal box office performance. It’s the perfect thing to keep your kids occupied for a few hours since they’ve been out of school for nearly two weeks, and I know you parents are stressing because you’ve run out of ideas for how to entertain them. The movie’s available in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu and in standard and 4K Ultra High Definition. Here are links to the various versions:
Kedarnath had quite a good opening weekend in North America — fifteenth best in a field of 53 Hindi and multilingual films released here this year, in fact. From December 7-9, 2018, the romantic drama earned $374,964 from 117 theaters ($3,205 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.
It’s showing was all the more impressive given that 2.0 had another great weekend as well, taking in $788,976 from 288 theaters ($2,740 average). The multilingual sci-fi sequel is on the brink of crossing the $5 million mark here, with $4,870,335 in total earnings across all languages so far.
Ayushmann Khurrana’s two films are still going strong, with Badhaai Ho earning $16,181 from 13 theaters ($1,245 average) in its eighth weekend of release. Its total stands at $3,312,100. In its tenth weekend of release, Andhadhun took in $6,398 from five theaters ($1,280 average), bringing its total to $1,368,448.
And then there’s Thugs of Hindostan. In its fifth weekend, it earned $770 from two theaters — one in the United States and one in Canada. The US’s contribution to that total? $10. Imagine a weekend of screenings at that US theater, all empty except for one person sitting alone in one of those showings (okay, maybe two people if it was a matinée). Thugs of Hindostan is stuck just shy of $2 million, with $1,982,112 in total North American earnings.
Rajinikanth’s 2.0 did blockbuster numbers in its opening weekend in North America, as expected. From November 30-December 2, 2018, the multilingual sci-fi sequel took in $2,770,738 from 315 theaters ($8,796 average), according to 143 Cinema. Adding in returns from Wednesday night preview shows and a full day of screenings on Thursday brought its total to $3,753,667 by the end of Sunday. By this point, 2.0 has already cleared $4 million here.
Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:
Badhaai Ho: Week 7; $25,002 from 17 theaters; $1,471 average; $3,284,458 total
Andhadhun: Week 9; $9,437 from seven theaters; $1,348 average; $1,356,669 total
Pickin’s are slim for Chicago area Bollywood fans this long Thanksgiving weekend. For the holiday period beginning Thursday, November 22, 2018, there are just two options: Thugs of Hindostan and Badhaai Ho, both showing at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington. That’s it.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
That second-weekend total represents an 87% drop from its first weekend, which almost never happens for Hindi movies that get wide releases in North America. A notable exception is 2018’s other major flop, Race 3, which ranks just ahead of Thugs on the 1st-to-2nd-weekend holdover list with a drop of 85%. The median 1st-to-2nd-weekend business drop for the year is 75%, but the movies that fall below that mark overwhelmingly release in fewer than 100 theaters. The only other exception this year is Aiyaary, which debuted in 152 theaters, but even it only saw its business fall by about 77% — a healthy number by comparison.
Cinemas fared much better with a pair of older Hindi titles. Five-week-old Badhaai Ho took in $81,850 from 33 theaters ($2,480 average), bringing its total to an amazing $3,122,493. Seven-week-old Andhadhun earned $19,686 from ten theaters ($1,969 average), for total earnings of $1,303,946.
Other Bollywood movies still showing in US theaters:
Baazaar: Week 4; $398 from two theaters; $199 average; $326,384 total
Namaste England: Week 5; $10 from one theater; $109,698
Thugs of Hindostan‘s opening weekend was not great considering it released in the most theaters of any Hindi movie in North America this year. From November 9-11, 2018, it earned $1,185,386 from 377 theaters ($3,144 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Adding $264,462 from opening day collections on Thursday brings the swashbuckler’s 4-day total to $1,449,848. Its Friday-Sunday total is only fourth best for the year, even though 35 of those theaters charged higher ticket prices to show Thugs on their IMAX screens.
Thugs‘ per-screen average reveals the extent of audience disinterest in this title. $3,144 is just the 16th best opening weekend per-screen average for a Hindi film in North America this year. Adding in the returns from Thursday only brings the average up to $3,846. While one might dismiss this as a case of over-saturation, none of the other Hindi movies to release in more than 300 theaters this year fared as poorly. Padmaavat had an opening weekend PSA of $11,860. Sanju averaged $7,650 per screen. Even Race 3 averaged $5,385 per screen in its first weekend.
Will this poor performance affect the release calendar for the rest of the month? Other studios had all but ceded the territory between now and 2.0‘s release on November 29, assuming that Thugs of Hindostan would be a hot ticket for at least the next two weeks. The Sunny Deol-Preity Zinta comedy Bhaiaji Superhit looks even more likely to release here now on November 23, which would make it the only new release to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Last-minute release date changes aren’t unusual in Bollywood, so maybe some scrappy distributor can pull things together in a jiff to take advantage of this unexpected lull.
Despite its novelty as a rare Bollywood seafaring epic, Thugs of Hindostan is done in by predictable character development and a familiar plot focused too heavily on its male protagonists.
The film begins promisingly enough, with Ronit Roy playing the leader of the last Indian kingdom to resist takeover by the British East India Company in 1795. After instructing his young daughter Zafira (played by fierce little Deshna Dugad) on the importance of protecting her homeland, King Mirza plans to attack the Brits at dawn, but the Company’s merciless lead officer Clive (Lloyd Owen) attacks first. Only Zafira escapes with the help of the royal family’s devoted bodyguard, Kattappa…er, Khudabaksh (Amitabh Bachchan).
Fast-forwarding eleven years introduces the swaggering trickster Firangi (Aamir Khan). Firangi’s name means “foreigner,” explaining his willingness to pit Indians against Indians and Brits against Indians, all in the name of making a buck. He has no allegiance to the burgeoning resistance movement threatening the Company, making him the perfect spy to gather information on behalf of Clive’s second-in-command, Officer Powell (Gavin Marshall, who coordinated the circus acts for Dhoom 3, which also starred Khan and was directed by Thugs director Vijay Krishna Acharya).
The rebel leader “Azaad” (“Free”) is really Khudabaksh, assisted by grown up Zafira (Fatima Sana Shaikh), who’s become a deadly fighter. The name Azaad is confusing, because it’s hard to tell when the rebel army shouts the word if they’re cheering for the man specifically or the concept of freedom, generally. This is significant because the first character we see in the movie is Zafira as a girl. Thugs should be her revenge saga, but Khudabaksh appears to get all the credit for attacking the Brits — unless the masses really are cheering for freedom and not just for him. Either way, crown princess Zafira winds up playing second fiddle to her bodyguard.
As is the case for many Hindi films, the challenge in Thugs is weighing the needs of the story against the needs of the stars. The stars’ needs clearly trump the narrative in this case. Without Khan or Bachchan — and perhaps with an actress with a longer resume than Shaikh’s — Zafira would be the main character. But one feels a calculus governing the whole plot, and that’s ensuring that the biggest stars get the most screentime. For example, Khan must be onscreen for three-fourths of the movie (I’m estimating), Bachchan for less (but he gets more dramatic entrances), etc. That limits the scope of what other characters are able to do and diminishes their importance.
That calculus is responsible for the absurdly lazy incorporation of Katrina Kaif’s dancer character Suraiyya into the plot. She’s summoned out of the ether as the screenplay demands, with no attempt to make her feel like a person who exists when she’s not onscreen. She’s a character designed for item numbers, nothing more. It’s a shame because Kaif is captivating in her brief dialogue scenes, and there had to have been some way to further utilize the grace and athleticism she displays in the songs “Suraiyya” and “Manzoor-e-Khuda”.
Shaikh is likewise underutilized, despite having the most compelling emotional arc. She and Kaif share a nice moment in which their characters discuss the dangers of revolutionary action (after telling Khan’s chatterbox character to shut up). The film’s high point is a touching scene in which Zafira mourns her family, and Khudabaksh sings her to sleep as he did when she was a girl. The film is lessened for putting Zafira’s thirst for vengeance second to the question of whether Khan’s Captain Jack Sparrow-lite character will finally become a good person (of course he will).
One point in Thugs of Hindostan‘s favor is that they cast British actors who don’t sound ridiculous speaking Hindi, which is not common practice in Bollywood. There are good supporting performances by Roy, Sharat Saxena, and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Firangi’s psychic sidekick. Ila Arun has the only other female role of note, giving a funny turn as Jaitumbi, a potion-maker with a crush on the much-younger Firangi.
Thugs of Hindostan has one of the biggest budgets of all time for a Bollywood film, and it gets quite a lot of value for the money. Battle scenes are fun and clever, set against stunning backdrops. The leather armor worn by Zafira and Khudabashk is gorgeous, designed by Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma. Dance numbers are grand in scale.
High production values coupled with decent story pacing are enough to maintain interest while watching Thugs of Hindostan, even if its narrative deficiencies make it ultimately forgettable.
One of the year’s most lavish Bollywood productions hits Chicago area theaters on November 8, 2018. The sea-faring adventure Thugs of Hindostan stars Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Fatima Sana Shaikh, and Katrina Kaif as pirates.
Local theatrical options for Bollywood fans as of this Friday include Badhaai Ho at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18, with MovieMax and the South Barrington 24 holding over Baazaar and Andhadhunas well.
Other Indian movies showing in Chicago area theaters this weekend: