Indian films continue to dominate Chinese box office, from works of Raj Kapoor to Aamir Khan
Following Aamir Khan's meeting with Turkey's First Lady, the RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya accused the actor of forging bonds with 'enemy countries', also referring to his widespread appeal in China.
Aamir Khan's recent meeting with Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan created considerable political stir in India. Many factions branded it as an anti-national move.
The RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya recently released a detailed article on how Khan's public stance essentially eroded months of efforts by other Bollywood A-listers like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, John Abraham, and Kangana Ranaut to advocate films on nationalism and promote love for India.
The article further accuses the likes of Aamir of forging bonds with "enemy countries". Even the title of the piece (Dragon ka pyara Khan, roughly translating to The Dragon's beloved Khan) hints at the actor's widespread appeal in China.
Be that as it may, the Indian film industry's pull over the Chinese box office has always been prevalent.
One of the earliest Indian films to earn the big bucks in Chinese domestic markets was Raj Kapoor's 1951 Indian classic Awara. At a time when socialist structures and nation-building was at the helm of art, Kapoor's on-screen heroes and their struggles to survive resonated with the Chinese sentiment.
Nasir Hussain's 1971 drama Caravan, featuring Jeetendra and Asha Parekh in the lead roles also made an indelible mark. Dubbed into Chinese by the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio in 1980, Caravan's melodious soundtrack (composed by RD Burman) added to the film's appeal.
Contemporary examples include the works of Aamir, Shah Rukh, and Salman Khan. Akshay Kumar's recent spate of nationalistic films such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, and Padman have made the actor a bankable name in China.
However, Aamir's reach amidst the Chinese audiences eclipses his colleagues'. Having earned the beloved nickname of Mishu (Uncle) from his Chinese fan-base, Aamir's "break-out" role came with 2001's Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India. But it took another decade for his work to tap a wider Chinese radar.
Khan's 3 Idiots in 2011 made a total of 14 million yuan at the Chinese box office. As per reports, his next projects like Dhoom 3 (2014) garnered approximately 20 million yuan and PK (2015) another 118 million. But his position as a top-earner was firmly established by the record-breaking earnings of Dangal, which raked in 87 million yuan within its first week, closing at 1.3 billion yuan, making it the highest-grossing Indian movie in China so far.
Dangal's unprecedented success set the ball rolling for other Indian film producers to market their productions in China. Secret Superstar (another of Aamir's films) opened in 2018 earned over 747 million yuan in China ticket sales, accounting for 60 percent of its global box office and crossed the 80 million yuan in ticket sales it raked in, in India.
Irrfan Khan's Hindi Medium and Salman's Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Ayushmann Khurrana's Andhadhun (collected 324 million yuan) followed suit to become top-grossing films, earning 208 million and 283 million yuan, respectively.
Indian filmmaker R Balki (director and writer of Padman) attributes the cultural similarity behind India and China as a possible factor behind the films working so well in the Chinese market. South China Morning Post quotes Balki as saying, “The emotions of Indians and Chinese are similar. They connect with the Indian characters.” He further analyses that both nations have a tendency to focus on their traditional, conservative social norms and consequently love films with a strong social message.
Additionally, this mass appeal for Indian films does not restrict itself to Bollywood. South Indian productions like Baahubali 2 made a whopping 7.7 billion yuan at the Chinese box office. Rajinikanth's Kabali and Enthiran were also released in China. Atlee's 2017 drama Mersal was also dubbed in Mandarin and released a year later.
However, this growing competition from foreign films has made Chinese producers amply cautious to bolster domestic products. With $ 9.74 billion in box office revenue (as of 2018), China is the world's fastest-growing film industry. Since 2019, the domestic film industry has proven a tough contender to its foreign counterparts (mainly the American and Indian) within the Chinese box office.
One such example is Ne Zha, the first domestically-produced animated film to rank high in the earnings chart, bringing in approximately 5 billion yuan in the first six months of its July 2019 opening. Meanwhile the Chinese science fiction blockbuster The Wandering Earth capitalised on the Chinese New Year holiday during February last year, making more than 2 billion yuan in a single week.
(All images from Twitter)
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