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Retrofit: Will ‘My Name is Khan’ survive the vagaries of the BO?

Guest Column
Retrofit: Will ‘My Name is Khan’ survive the vagaries of the BO?

Author | Sandeep Bamzai | Wednesday, Feb 17,2010 7:10 AM

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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Will ‘My Name is Khan’ survive the vagaries of the BO?

Friday after Friday, the fate of stars and their bankrollers – the producers and bulge bracket distributors – is decided on the Box Office across the world. Hit ya flop is an adage as old as the hills in B Town. First day first show has become the centrifuge of all conversations in B Town more than ever with the emergence of the paradigm game changers – the multiplex and overseas market. So, the focal point is not just on first day first show, but increasingly on the opening weekend, on the lines of the US. With many Yash Raj films like ‘Fanaa’, ‘Dhoom 2’, and more recently, with ‘3 Idiots’, a new term was introduced in the lexicon of B Town - the Rs 100 crore gross BO collection over the first week. Gone are the days of 100 days and silver jubilee and golden jubilees. Rajendra Kumar, for instance, was known as Jubilee Kumar.

Amitabh Bachchan in his prime used to have his movies running forever and several concurrently at that. I remember Yash Chopra once telling me that - this is when ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya…’ became a monster hit in the mid-90s - he had never seen so much money in his life. That I thought was a staggering comment for a man who has the best body of work in Hindi cinema. People think of him only as the purveyor of chiffon romances, but Yashji has made ‘Waqt’, ‘Ittefaq’, ‘Aadmi Aur Insaan’, ‘Deewar’, ‘Trishul’, ‘Kaala Pathar’, ‘Mashaal’ and many more – seminal cinema, which has left deep imprints in the minds of the savants of celluloid.

But cinema's commercial landscape has changed indelibly in recent times. The big bang opening weekend determines the course of the film. Ticket price inflation has added to the cash registers and the contours of calculating collections have metamorphosed. Greater Mumbai and National Capital Region - Delhi now contribute as much as 50 per cent of all Box Office revenues. The monetisation of overseas territories is another tectonic shift. Something that did not exist earlier. Yash Chopra and Karan Johar's cinema has opened new vistas as non-resident Indians have begun to flock to Hindi films in disparate destinations. Between Greater Mumbai, NCR-Delhi and overseas territories, the battle is pretty much won.

On Saturday, I went to watch ‘My Name is Khan’ at a Gurgaon multiplex, which normally is cheaper than others, but to my dismay, ticket prices had been jacked up for the Fox Searchlight release. Anyway, once that was out of the way, I enjoyed the movie immensely. Maybe the Mama Jenny Wilhelmina, Georgia sequences were overdone, but the movie was taut and endearing. I loved it. It was vintage SRK, but in a new more sensitive avatar. I liked him in ‘Chak De’ as well, but here was an extremely restrained and emotive SRK. The row behind us hated the film, probably because they failed to understand the nuances. The typical - yeh to bakwas hai - litany was heard. And there and then I thought to myself; will this movie be a gangbuster hit? Will everybody take to this film and accept the line – ‘My Name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist’? My fear was that this movie would be rejected by the masses and appreciated by the classes, aka multiplexes in prominent urban agglomerates. Of course, the NRIs would flock to the theatres because SRK is a big draw with them. With this bitter sweet taste about the film, I picked up the ToI on Monday morning and saw - After ‘3 Idiots’, ‘MNIK’ adds to BO bonanza. Film critic Nikhat Kazmi gave details of how ‘MNIK’, despite all the problems with its release in Maharashtra owing to the Sena's call for a ban on the film, had done exceedingly well at the BO.

The same afternoon, I read a more illuminating piece on rediff.com by Syed Firdaus Ashraf. It said that - "My Name is Khan opened with a bang at the box office, earning a whopping Rs 85 crore ($18 million), but it saw a drop in business from Monday as the word of the mouth was not good enough to sustain the film. Though many critics loved it and so did the classes, the masses overall seem to be in a rejection mode. Says Komal Nahta, a Bollywood trade analyst, "On the whole, ‘My Name Is Khan’ is far from entertaining and also too boring for the general masses. For the heavy budget at which it has been made, it will keep its worldwide distributors (Fox Searchlight) in the red. Business in big cities, especially in South India, Muslim centres and overseas will be better, but it will be below the mark in North India as also in smaller centres and single-screen cinemas. It may be appreciated by the class audience, but the masses will reject the film."

Once the Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray gave the clarion call to shun the film, the buzz reached fever pitch. Sena wanted Shah Rukh Khan to apologise to the nation after he argued for Pakistani players' induction in the IPL. This created a furore and Thackeray ordered Shiv Sainiks to see that the film was not released in Mumbai and Maharashtra. It then became a political hot potato as the ruling alliance in the State tried its level best to ensure that the film's screening took place uninterrupted. Rediff.com went on to say - "The curiosity value is over, it seems. The picture has suffered a considerable drop in collections on Monday," said Vinod Mirani, another Bollywood trade analyst. Added Amod Mehra, another trade analyst, "At this moment, it appears the film will not be able to recover the cost because it has been sold at a high price."

Asked about critics loving the film and some of them even giving five stars rating, Mehra said, "Earlier, there were paid previews of the film, now there is paid review of the film." A very dangerous and telling comment of the prevailing system, naysayers notwithstanding, the film had a spectacular opening for the first weekend. Now, this was an interesting and refreshing departure from what was being reported everywhere. Let us understand that ‘MNIK’ was a very expensive film. Fox Star had paid a bomb for it (Rs 90 crore). The film was promoted very aggressively by SRK himself and the troika of Kajol, Karan Johar and SRK were practically parked in television studios. I think they were on NDTV every single night, if I am not mistaken.

On Tuesday morning, I saw another story in ET with the headline – My name is chasing 3 idiots. Was the Fox, Johar, SRK publicity machinery in overdrive? But ET's story had the same cryptic message that the rediff story had earlier. It said, "Film analysts believe the movie has done very well internationally, though in India it did better in urban centres than in smaller centres." Nahata was quoted here as well, saying more or less the same thing that he had said to rediff - It did much better in international markets compared with domestic market. Taran Adarsh, another film analyst mirrored this opinion in the story. At this point, I thought what the hell, let us check businessofcinema.com, which is more or less accurate about ground zero as far as BO is concerned.

This what it reported – ‘My Name Is Khan’ has grossed Rs 902 million (Rs 90.2 crore) worldwide in its opening weekend. Even the fact that it was a non-holiday 3-day weekend vis-à-vis both the previous high grossing films, which had 4-day Christmas weekends, did not prove to be a deterrent for Shah Rukh Khan. The movie has smashed existing global opening records in every country in which it was released this weekend. ‘My Name is Khan’ has scorched screens worldwide and raked in Rs 902 million (Rs 90.2 crore) ($19 million) worldwide in three days, making it the biggest ever three-day collection worldwide ever.

"The most exciting part is that the worldwide collections jumped every day from Friday to Saturday to Sunday. This shows that the audience is absolutely loving Rizvan and Mandira," says Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios. Sunday GBO in markets like the US, Australia, the UK and the Middle East set new records for the biggest single day internationally for a Bollywood movie. Just to give a sense of scale, the overall weekend collections of ‘MNIK’ have been double of closest competitor ‘3 Idiots’ worldwide. Sanford Panitch, President of FIP, was esctatic over the results, saying, "While initially driven by the power of this extraordinary cast and director, it is ‘My Name Is Khan’ as a film that has captivated audiences everywhere we have opened. An incredible start to this powerful and moving film. In India, despite the issues in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Indore and other centres on Friday and part of Saturday, the film has opened exceptionally well. In states where the film opened normally, including Delhi-UP, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, the collections have been the highest ever.”

An accurate assessment of the situation. Yes, the film hit the bulls eye on the opening weekend, but its complex storyline has not been grasped by all and sundry. There is another trendline emerging here, if ‘MNIK’ has actually fared badly after its stunning opening. That Hindi film audiences are not willing to accept too much of terror and the Islamic backdrop. Look at what happened to ‘Kurbaan’. Then again, a couple of swallows don't a summer make. After all, ‘New York’ did very well. But Kabir Khan's handling of the plot was subtle and diffused till the second half when it exploded in your face. Again, ‘New York’ was lapped up by urban audiences and it was the first movie to be released after the multiplex-producer stand-off. The dam just burst and a fresh casting did the trick.

After ‘Chak De’, ‘MNIK’ is SRK's greatest acting performance. Week one and week two will determine its fate and future course. B Town is merciless, replete with crabs. I remember Subhash Ghai built up ‘Yaadein’ to such an extent that the world expected the Hrithik and Kareena pairing to deliver a blockbuster. The movie, sorry, gobbledygook, crashed and Ghai has never been the same again. Ask Akshay Kumar, he will tell you that you cannot take the audience for granted. Not for a day or a moment.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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