It was a slow weekend for Bollywood movies at the North American box office, thanks to an absence of new titles and competition from Rajnikanth’s Tamil-Telugu blockbuster Lingaa (which earned $1,343,151 from 136 theaters in the United States and Canada).
Action Jackson added just $19,753 from 50 theaters ($395 average), bringing its two-week total to $215,002. AJ‘s business dropped nearly 89% from Week 1 to Week 2.
Happy Ending added another $580 from two theaters in its fourth weekend, bringing its total North American earnings to $247,511.
In its third weekend, Ungli added $328 from two theaters to bring its total earnings to $78,864. Those two theaters — one in the U.S. and one in Canada — posted very different returns. The Canadian theater contributed $322 to the total, while the American theater earned just $6. That means that, over the course of the whole weekend, only one person watched Ungli (and likely purchased a matinee priced ticket). Wow.
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.
The Indo-Canadian English-language comedy Dr. Cabbie gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Chakkiligintha (Telugu w/no subtitles) at Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and MovieMax, which is also showing Undile Manchi Kalam Mundu Munduna (Telugu), Dolphins (Malayalam), and Kaaviya Thalaivan (Tamil).
Ungli feels like a movie where the creators decided to base a movie on a particular topic, but forgot they needed to actually tell a story in the process. There’s no flow to the plot, and it’s unclear who the main character is. Note to filmmakers: the audience won’t hear your message if they are asleep.
The Ungli Gang — with “ungli” translating as “the middle finger,” as far as I could tell — are an odd assortment of people dedicated to exposing corruption in Mumbai. The gang members are journalist Abhay (Randeep Hooda), doctor Maya (Kangana Ranaut), mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi), and computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam).
Their first caper is to kidnap a trio of crooked pension officers. They convince the men that the phony bombs strapped to their chests will explode unless they keep running around a track, like a boring version of the movie Speed. Police and media are called to the track, where the officer’s corruption is exposed.
The caper earns the gang the kind of widespread public acclaim that never happens in real life, with news reports showing people cheering, “We love Ungli Gang!” Writer-director Rensil D’Silva relies heavily on man-on-the-street news footage — one of my biggest movie pet peeves — to bulk up a thin story.
After a single successful prank, the Mumbai police commissioner freaks out and assigns an officer to hunt down The Ungli Gang. That officer is ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt), a man with a reputation for… something or other. It’s never explained what.
Kale recruits his informally adopted son, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) — the classic Bollywood loafer with a heart of gold — to infiltrate the gang. This doesn’t happen until forty-five minutes or so into the film, at which point Hooda’s character loses his position as the ostensible main character to Nikhil.
In the span of twenty minutes, Nikhil joins the gang, learns their backstory — they want vengeance for their injured CrossFit instructor (seriously) — frolics in a montage about friendship, and betrays them to Kale. I’m not a criminal mastermind, but if someone begged to join my gang, then injured himself just minutes before participating in his first job, I’d be suspicious.
If Nikhil is the character who needs to evolve during the course of the film, why doesn’t he become a major player until the movie’s halfway over? How did this disparate group of vigilantes become experts in espionage? Why is their motivation for vigilantism kept a secret until the second half of the movie? Why isn’t their quest for justice the main goal of the story rather than Nikhil’s slow journey to discover that — shocker! — police officers are fallible?
Shoehorned into the disorganized story are two useless romantic subplots. Bumbling Abhay can’t get the attention of his pretty coworker, Teesta (Neha Dhupia), which makes sense only if she has never actually looked at him. Nikhil woos Maya simply because she’s the only woman in the gang.
Before that, Nikhil smooches another female character who’s never seen again. He tells her that he has a reputation for kissing, a preposterously direct reference to Hashmi’s willingness to lock lips onscreen. Just because Hashmi is willing to do it doesn’t mean that it makes sense in the context of the story. It’s the single laziest element in a film replete with shortcuts and ticked boxes on a checklist.