The best screenplays and films are the ones that pull you back from the brink with a well-calibrated dose of lightness/relief just when a dark narrative is about to tip over into a depressing quicksand. A great example of this: that cult classic, The Shawshank Redemption.
In life and business, as in the movies, the Great Scriptwriter up there too sometimes throws us lifelines that we can cling on to, and dare to hope for a happier future. And so it is that even as we grapple with a stagnant box office and incessant external irritants like an unresponsive (read regressive) policy environment, vandalism on our sets and theatres or being held to ransom by frivolous, publicity-seeking litigation, we are occasionally bolstered by positive and inspirational tidings from the box office.
If the year started with us celebrating Dangal’s triumphant run at the ticket counter, April-end had us astounded by the Baahubali: The Conclusion phenomenon that saw just the dubbed Hindi version alone sail past the Rs.500-crore mark at the domestic box office. We now have another most welcome shot-in-the-arm with Dangal doing business in the region of Rs.1,200 crore (and counting) in China. Yeah, you read that right and to reassure you that there was no typo in the preceding sentence, following the best practices of financial institutions the world over, let us repeat the same in words: Rupees One Thousand and Two Hundred Crore only!
Dangal is now the highest-grossing non-Hollywood film in China, by some margin, an achievement all the more remarkable because, let’s face it, the relationship between our two countries is not exactly one marked by great mutual fondness or trust.
And while the destination i.e. the top line achieved by Dangal is awe-inspiring and path-breaking, no less noteworthy is the journey the film took in getting there. To fully appreciate that, let’s track the trajectory of the film’s collections here in India, as also further east in China, as below:
The way to read this table is – in its second weekend at the Indian box office, Dangal earned
Rs.70.82 crore, taking its ongoing cumulative figure to Rs.263.82 crore. In China, on the other hand, the film’s takings from the second weekend were Rs.206.86 crore, leading to a tally of Rs.369.36 crore after 10 days in Chinese theatres.
Having got a hang of the numbers, we can now truly appreciate the immense stickiness of the film as also the power of the most important determinant of a film’s longevity, be it in Sholapur or Shanghai – word of mouth.
That is clearly visibly from the fact that even though Dangal’s final China tally may well end up being almost four times what it earned in India, during the initial phase Indian collections were well ahead of the corresponding Chinese figures on all parameters – first day, first weekend as also the first week.
However, come the second weekend, Dangal literally took off in China, so much so that it earned more during that weekend than it had in the preceding 10 days combined. Nor was that upsurge restricted to that weekend alone; in fact, the 3rd weekend was even better with collections in excess of `207 crore. It is worth noting here that much like they do in India, films in China too tend to earn a substantial proportion of their lifetime business during their first week in theatres, particularly the opening weekend.
So Dangal’s trajectory at the Chinese box office isn’t at odds only with its Indian theatrical journey, it has gone against the grain of that market too. And that can only be attributed to a very positive response to, and a very vocal advocacy of, the film by those who saw it – an audience that also includes the country’s President, Xi Jinping!
Another significant facet of Dangal’s remarkable Chinese conquest is that here we have a bona fide domestic Hindi blockbuster genuinely crossing over to megahit status in a foreign market without banking on a substantial Indian diaspora.
In the past, we’ve seen instances of domestic hits doing well in certain overseas territories with a strong desi population, or a film like The Lunchbox performing very well abroad without achieving massive success at home. Such converse experiences gave rise to two conflicting theories on how best to attract the foreign film-goer. One, pander to their preconceived notions of Indian exotica (read poverty tourism) or two, underline the USPs of commercial Indian films (read a somewhat over-the-top mishmash of various genres with elaborate song-and-dance sequences).
With this tale of a Haryanvi father’s efforts to mould his daughters into world-beating wrestlers resonating so emphatically both at home and in China, Dangal tell us that that there may be a third route to winning over a foreign audience: a film that remains true to its milieu while exploring universal themes.
Finally, since the government’s enabling ‘Make In India’ thrust doesn’t seem to apply to the film industry, another lesson from Dangal may be that we are better served trying to Make For China!