India’s highest grossing film, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion opened to a lukewarm response in China this weekend. The S.S Rajamouli directed war epic, that has made more than Rs500 crore in lifetime box office earnings in India, managed about $7.63 million (Rs51.20 crore) in China over the first three days.
This is not a patch on the opening weekend earnings of some recent Indian film blockbusters in China—Aamir Khan’s musical production Secret Superstar had made over $27 million (Rs182 crore) when it opened in China earlier this year, Irrfan Khan-starrer Hindi Medium had collected $15 million (Rs105 crore) while Khan’s sports drama Dangal had earned $13 million (Rs92 crore). Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan that made it to China this year, almost three years after its theatrical showcasing in India made $8 million (Rs56 crore) in the first three days. Baahubali was released in 7,000 screens in China.
Trade website Box Office India said the film needs to hit the $20 million mark for the Chinese distributors to recover the cost of releasing the film in China, which does not look easy after the opening weekend. “All the Indian films that have worked in China, be it Dangal, Secret Superstar or Bajrangi Bhaijaan, were all riding on the emotional, socially relevant wave," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema referring to the narrative themes of the Indian success stories in China. While Dangal, set in rural India, focused on a father-daughter relationship, Secret Superstar was about a young small-town girl struggling to break away from the patriarchal shackles of Indian society and her own home. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, meanwhile, was the story of a golden-hearted simpleton who takes a small child lost in India back home to Pakistan.
Baahubali 2, meanwhile, is a fantastical retelling of the Indian epic legends that revolve around the triumph of good over evil, packed with heavy-duty action and melodrama.
“The audience in China is looking for slice-of-life stories from India. If they wanted action-oriented movies with great graphics and special effects, Hollywood would be the best bet," said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai.
To be sure, Hollywood has already tapped and conquered the China market. Apart from ensuring on-ground presence (even an American studio like Universal Pictures has an office in Shanghai today), to counter the 34 foreign film quota in their country, companies, including China Film Corp., have started co-producing Hollywood films like The Fate of the Furious, ensuring a smoother release and better returns in the key market. The list of top ten highest grossing films in China includes three Hollywood films, The Fate of the Furious, Furious 7 and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
The larger-than-life vibe of films like Baahubali, may be overwhelming for India but industry experts say the Chinese are already used to bigger and better scale in their favourite Hollywood offerings. What they seek from India, are more slice-of-life, sentimental stories, as opposed to the grandeur and visual effects which, for example, Marvel’s superhero flick Avengers: Infinity War releasing next week in the country, will provide them.
“The real-life emotions that the Chinese seek are more intrinsic to Bollywood," Pillai said. “It’s nobody’s fault but the south Indian style of cinema is still very mass-based and commercial," he added.
All figures have been sourced from movie websites Bollywood Hungama and Box Office India.