Thursday 1 January 2015

An end of year success for Hindi Cinema

Back in the multiplexes and as per usual unnoticed by any of the critical fraternity and sorority, a Hindi film PK opened in 30 cinemas a week or so ago and, after ten days had taken $1.6 million. It stars Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, formerly seen in Lagaan, among many others, and last seen by me at least in Dhoom3, a film which featured one astonishing dance number, a tap extravaganza choreographed by Aussie boy Dein Perry. Supercinephile Barrie Pattison sent in a quick note suggesting readers might like to know before inevitably, usually after three weeks max, the film comes off because people are buying $2 bootleg knockoffs all over town. Adrienne McKibbins, nonpareil Hindi cinema expert has sent in this note about the phenomena of the three Khans, the superstars of Hindi cinema

For those of the sub continent, or those dedicated to Hindi film the following will be well known. To others it may be of interest in light of a new Hindi film, called PK, recently released  worldwide on the 19th December. It made the Australian top ten box office at no 7 in the first week.

Hindi cinema is dominated by three actors named Khan. They are Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. They are not related.   In the case of Salman & Aamir they have been in the industry since the late 80s , for Shah Rukh Khan it was the early 90s. These three actors are as different in styles and approach as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Johnny Depp. What they have in common is a name, Khan, they are all in their late 40s, and they are forces to reckon with in Hindi cinema,  generating considerable  finance for the industry and themselves.  It was reported recently that Shah Rukh Khan was the second richest actor in the world after Jerry Seinfield. Although Khan has his own production house and earns substantially from endorsements, a comparison of the rupee and the dollar  would suggest this result very surprising. Shah Rukh Khan is also part owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders a very successful cricket team (in the last couple of years) in the IPL.

Aamir and Salman are both industry insiders, or children of the industry. Salman's father, Salim Khan was one of the writing duo the other, Javed Akhtar, who wrote many of Amitabh Bachchan's greatest films, establishing his " angry young man image" They also wrote SHOLAY one of Indian cinema's most famous films. Aamir's father was a producer and his  uncle a producer and director. He appeared as a child star in a couple of films.

On the other hand Shah Rukh Khan is the outsider, he came from Delhi with virtually no industry connections after working in theatre and then finding fame on television. Until recently Shah Rukh Khan has been the actor with the biggest overseas openings. His fan base is enormous outside India. It is also said that his following is almost double that of Tom Cruise at his peak. In terms of Hindi cinema there is no doubt that Shah Rukh Khan is indeed a phenomena, hence the often heard cliché " the most famous actor you have never heard of!"

However because of their names and their fame in India, the Indian press/media continually compares and pits them against each other. Every time a film is released from one of these stars it is compared in box office revenue against the last release of the other two. There have also been endless articles about who is the number one Khan. Something that seems a totally useless exercise as all three have their own very loyal audiences and on the whole not making comparable films.**

However, because of their individual positions of power at the box office, all three tend to have a favourite individual release dates. Aamir & Shah Rukh tend to make one big film per year, Salman is more prolific (but the quality is often lower). Shah Rukh Khan tends to release his film on the Diwale holiday each year as he did this year with Happy New Year.  Where usually there are 3 to 5 releases each week, there is rarely another release on the day SRK or Aamir releases their films, as no one wants to compete.  Salman releases his big film on the Eid holiday. In 2014 it was an extremely silly super hero film, KICK , in which Salman wore a mask that barely disguised him and jumped onto British double-decker buses from buildings in Poland. Nonetheless, the film did enormous business.

Aamir Khan's date is the Christmas holidays, last year it was number three in the Dhoom franchise Dhoom 3, which became one of the biggest money makers of Hindi cinema. That is until his Christmas release this year PK.

PK is now the biggest money maker of Hindi cinema. However it would seem that a lot of  box office calculations, do not take in the number of screens and prints released. PK occupied more screens in Australia and New Zealand than any previous Hindi film. Although Hindi films rarely market to an audience outside the Diaspora, who all know when the film is coming, the ante has been upped in recent years with considerably wider distribution and print numbers and saturation marketing inside and sometimes outside India.  Shah Rukh Khan did a substantial stage tour outside India with the cast and crew of Happy New Year prior to its release. Music from Hindi films is always released some time prior to the opening of the film. This often includes videos of songs specially edited for advanced screening.

PK, also had something else in its favour apart from it being a new Aamir Khan film. The film is directed by Raj Kumar Hirani a director with a track record of zero commercial or critical failure. His previous films include Munna Bhai MBBS 2003, Lage Raho Munna Bhai 2006, 3 Idiots 2009 (which also starred Aamir Khan), on all three films he was the director, writer and editor, on PK he is also credited as a producer along with Vinod Chopra.  Although not prolific, all his films have been enormously anticipated, particularly PK in which the topic of the film and the character Aamir was playing were very much a secret until the film's release. Even the trailer did not really give away the essence of the film. So the curiosity combined with the names of Hirani and Aamir were bound to give the film a bumper opening  in India as well as overseas.

It now remains to be seen how the next release of a Khan film will be upped in terms of hype, promotion and distribution. Shah Rukh Khan's Diwale release for 2015 has already been announced. Salman's Eid release was announced 1st January. A review of PK will be on the Hindicin webpage  shortly. It is still running in cinemas in Australia.

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