Mumbai: Even before its release in Indian theatres on 23 January, Slumdog Millionaire has become the biggest film about India, to be filmed in India—and its early international success has emboldened its local distributor to plan a bigger release in India.
As of 19 January, the film was running in 601 theatres in the US, and had collected $42.7 million (Rs207 crore today) in gross box office earnings. Across the world, the film, made on a budget of $15 million, has already earned $50.4 million, including £1.75 million (around Rs12.65 crore) in the UK in the first week of release there in January.
Winning ways: Dev Patel (left) and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire.The film has so far earned $50.4 million across the world.
In its ninth week in America, its reach is much wider than that of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.’s Chandni Chowk to China, which is the biggest Indian film release worldwide, running in 125 screens across the US and Canada.
Going by these figures, and following four awards at the Golden Globes given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association including one for A.R. Rahman (best music), its India distributor, Fox Star Studios India, decided to rethink its strategy in the last week.
Initially, it was planned as a staple multiplex release with 250 prints across 50 or so cities in two versions—the original English, and Slumdog Crorepati in Hindi. Vijay Singh, chief operating officer, Fox Star Studios India, said, “We want to promote Slumdog Millionaire as a Bollywood/Indian film because it deals with Indian people, it has great Bollywood-style music and drama. The initial plan was to have 250 prints out in 50-plus cities, but considering its new importance, we are going with a little more than 400 prints in 80-plus cities across India.” Of 400, about 320 prints will be in Hindi. Singh says a series of paid previews are also scheduled on Thursday in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
But considering the hype and laurels that Slumdog Millionaire has already received the world over, why didn’t the distributors follow the precedent of Ghajini? The Aamir Khan starrer recently broke new release records for an Indian film, with 1,550 prints worldwide; it had grossed Rs227 crore by 18 January.
Singh says these two films can’t be compared. “In the US, Slumdog worked largely through word of mouth. Within two weeks, it picked up momentum—its journey has been similar to that of Sideways (2004), Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Juno (2007). It comes to India after being in the news, and there’s no reason why 400-plus prints shouldn’t be enough for it to be successful in India,” Singh said.
In October, Slumdog Millionaire almost became a DVD-only film. Warner Independent, a part of Warner Brothers, which was supposed to distribute the film, was closed down. But later in the month, Fox Searchlight picked it up and it was released in the US on 12 November.
Shekhar Kapur, director of Bandit Queen (1994) and Elizabeth (1998), who has worked with both Hollywood and British producers, has keenly followed the fortunes of Slumdog Millionaire ever since it was released in November.
Kapur speaks highly of the film’s artistic merit, but says that its importance in India lies elsewhere. “What’s most relevant is that Slumdog is the most successful ‘Indian’ film ever. The novel Q&A on which it is based was written by an Indian diplomat. The cast is Indian as is the style and the story. It was directed by a British director and funded by a European company, but so what? Chandni Chowk to China is also funded by Warner Brothers; Hrithik Roshan’s forthcoming Kites is going to be substantially in English; foreign crews are very common in Indian films now,” Kapur said.
The film has surpassed the record held by Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2002) as the highest grossing film shot in India. It made close to $35 million worldwide. Earlier Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) grossed $52.7 million, which included the cost of DVD rights and television broadcast rights.
Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik, who grows up in a slum in Juhu, Mumbai, and braves the worst kind of urban poverty and adversity to win the Indian version of the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Anil Kapoor stars as the show’s host and Dev Patel, a UK-born Indian actor, and Freida Pinto, a Mumbai-based model, play the lead roles of Jamal and Latika. With music by Rahman, and a sensibility which is very Indian and Bollywood, industry watchers predict it is going to be received well at the box office. “People will be curious to see what the hype is all about, and the first weekend should reap good returns at the box office,” says Komal Nahta, trade analyst and editor of The Film Street Journal.
But even before its release, the film has also already received its share of brickbats in India, most notably from film star Amitabh Bachchan who criticized the film in his blog, saying it portrays India in a poor light. Bachchan wrote: “...if SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”
Given that everything that Bachchan says makes news in India, it will fuel curiosity about the film. The film premieres in India on 22 January. Major members of the film’s crew, including British director Danny Boyle, who received the Golden Globe for best director, drama; writer Simon Beaufuoy; music director Rahman and co-director, India, Delhi-based Loveleen Tandan, arrive in Mumbai on Tuesday to celebrate the premiere.