‘Dangal’ beats out ‘Guardians’ to become box-office champion

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/15 17:23:39

Promotional material for Dangal Photo: IC


Earning 233.93 million yuan ($32.46 million) over the weekend, Indian sports film Dangal topped the Chinese mainland box-office charts, surpassing the former No.1 holder Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2's take of 128.81 million yuan.

As of Monday afternoon, Dangal has collected a total of 425 million yuan. It is currently the highest-earning Indian film in China and estimates place it on the path to eventually exceed the total box-office take of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - which premiered on May 5, the same day as Dangal - which has made 558 million yuan so far. 

Rise from a humble beginning

Indian films traditionally haven't performed all that well in the Chinese mainland. About one or two Indian films are imported each year earning an average box office of around about 20 million yuan. Of all these imported Indian films, 2013 sci-fi romance drama PK was the highest-earner with 118 million yuan. 

Considering the previous performance of Indian films, expectations for Dangal were low when it premiered. The film was given a nationwide screen share of 13.3 percent on its first day. While this was the highest screen share given to an Indian film on its opening day, it was still less than a third of Guardians' 44 percent.

However, as word of mouth grew, so too did the film's screen share, reaching 22.2 percent by its sixth day. While this share dipped to 21.3 percent on Thursday and 14.7 percent on Friday as room was made for new films, it quickly rose back to 27.5 percent on Sunday, the film's 10th day in mainland theaters.

Increasingly positive reviews from audiences were the major force behind this increasing screen share. Before Dangal went to the Chinese theaters, it already had a high grade of 8.8/10 on Douban, and, according to a report on jiemian.com, the grade rose to 9.3/10 on May 9.

"Went to see Dangal yesterday. Overheard it to be a good film and had nothing to do, so I decided to check it out, and it turned out to be really worth it," Ma Junjie, a 22-year-old netizen from Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, posted on Sina Weibo. Having the impression that Indian films were all about singing and dancing, Ma said Dangal was the first Indian film that she watched from beginning to end.  

Ma later told the Global Times that what moved her the most was the film's message of chasing your dreams. "It's the type of thing that is easier said than done," she noted.

Though Dangal and The Fate of the Furious, currently the highest-earning foreign movie in China, are very different films, there is a very similar reason behind their high box-office takes: People who normally don't see films get their interest piqued when everyone they know is talking about a film.

"Aamir Khan put on and lost weight for the film, the resurgence of Indian film in China, the cut 20 minutes of content from the Chinese mainland version… various topics about the film had gone viral in the media and on social networks, making the film a social phenomenon," Beijing Daily reported on Thursday while predicting that Dangal would become a major box-office force over the weekend. 

Chen Changye, a film industry insider who once commented that The Fate of the Furious had divided the Chinese audience into two groups - those who had watched the film and those had not, agreed that Dangal is making a similar phenomenon.

"The fever for Dangal is not just spreading among filmgoers who go to the cinema regularly... the praise for the film and its simple story has inspired everyone to head to theaters," Chen noted.

Voices from China

Dangal isn't just the highest-earning Indian films of all time in China, it is also one of the highest-graded as well. The film currently has a 9.2/10 on Chinese media review site Douban and an 8.6/10 on Chinese film site Mtime, a little less than 3 Idiots' 8.8/10.

Like Ma, the majority of Chinese audiences who have seen Dangal have given it the thumbs up. Even Chinese mainland director Feng Xiaogang, who tends to be very critical of films, posted on Sina Weibo that he "watched the film with some 20 friends. When it finally reached the closing credits, a couple of them sprinted out to finally use the toilet. The opinion was unanimous: a good film!"

Yin Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University, also posted that while Dangal is a "mainstream sports film" it has reached the level of a work of art. "This should be a lesson for domestic Chinese films… China has many sports champions but not a single good sports film. This is something worth thinking about."

Sun Jiashan, a research fellow at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, shared a similar point of view.

"Dangal has given us an example for why we should give more room to Chinese medium- and small-budget films," Sun wrote in an editorial for the Global Times.  

However, not all the reactions to the film have been positive.

Changjinlu Shushu, a netizen from Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, wrote on Douban that since Dangal is about a former wrestling champion who trains his own daughters to become wrestlers, Shushu is not sure that it's a good thing if "parents impose their dreams onto their children?"

Netizen Gundanba Danbao from Beijing had a similar opinion. "The realization of feminism is not built on self awareness but is achieved under the force of the father," he wrote, adding that the film also twists the spirit of sports so that winning is the only thing that matters.

Some have refuted these opinions.

"It takes place in India, one of the nations in the world where women have the lowest social position. We need to look at it another way: The logic here is that you have the gift and ability to lead your life but because of a lack of good guidance, you end up becoming a tool for fertility in a male-dominated society," Diyingren, a film blogger wrote on Sina Weibo.

Newspaper headline: New contender

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