Box office gods

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-4 19:08:01

Indian comedy unexpected success in China

Imported Indian films in China over the past six years


A poster for P.K. starring Aamir Khan (L) and Anushka Sharma Photo: CFP

A film earning 85.74 million yuan ($13.83 million) in 13 days. While this number may not seem all that much when looked at alone, but when you take into account that the current box office of the still-in-theaters Indian comedy P.K. is almost twice the total revenue of the five Indian films imported to China over the past six years, including 3 Idiots, that's quite an accomplishment. 

Theatrical black horse

Re-titled as Wodegeshen'a! (oh my God in Chinese), satirical sci-fi comedy P.K. came into theaters without making much of a sound. Even with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China beforehand and the film's leading actor Aamir Khan promotional tour in the mainland, the film only earned around 5.5 million yuan on its first day. 

P.K.'s peak daily box office came on May 30, a week after its premier on May 22, earning 9.23 million yuan. Good critic reviews and positive word of mouth has enabled the film's box office to continue to grow. 

It's worth noting that P.K. is not the highest rated Indian film in China. Looking at and, two of the most visited domestic websites on film, 2009 comedy 3 Idiots ranks first at No.1, followed by 2010 drama My Name is Khan, while P.K. sits at third with a 8.3/10 on Douban and 7.9/10 on Mtime.

Film researcher Yuan Wentai sees good timing as the major reason behind the film's box office boom.

While 3 Idiots was brought to the mainland two years after its premier in India, Yuan pointed out that P.K. was only half a year behind. Also while 3 Idiots chose to release at the end of the year in December, a time when China's strongest blockbusters head to cinemas, the films that are competing with P.K. right now have been relatively weak. The week before Stand by Me Doraemon hit theaters on May 28 saw few strong competitors.

"Films running during this same period were only low quality domestic productions like Love Without Distance. Hollywood blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was released earlier, was not able to monopolize the market because of disappointing reviews, which created a good opportunity for P.K.," Yuan commented. 

Hooray for Bollywood

The film's success has kicked off a new round of discussion on Indian films, as well as comparisons between Chinese and Indian productions. As of Thursday there have been over 3 million searches for "Wodegeshen'a"and 480,000 search results for "Indu dianying"(Indian films)  on, China's most used online search engine.

Netizens have been coming up with new memes such as "Indian films are several blocks ahead of Chinese films" and "Indian film kills Chinese films," many of which have become headlines for a number of online reports and discussions.

Once lining up for earlier Indian films like Caravan (1971), Chen Shan, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, told the Global Times that he felt Indian films have managed to upgrade themselves very quickly.

Commenting that he felt P.K. was fresh and new, Chen feels this is because Indian films "have a strong ability to absorb nutrition" from the West and Hollywood.

Being able to hold on to its original culture while applying modern cinematography that is able to be accepted by global audience is a combination that Chen sees as the best part of the Indian film industry.

In comparison, Chen noted that many Chinese films tend to lose themselves during the process of learning from the West.

Look at the development of the Indian and Chinese film industries, it's not difficult to see some similarities.

As early as 2012, the overseas section of the People's Daily published an article written by Zhang Huiyu analyzing Indian films.

According to the article, the blossoming success of the Indian film industry comes down to government support and talented filmmakers. 

"Developing at the same pace as Chinese films, Indian films were recognized as a formal industry by the government at the turn of the century, which allowed them to get investment through legal channels and solved the problem of filmmakers needing to seek financial support from organized crime elements that started in the 1980s," Zhang wrote.

He added that government policies such as tax breaks and reduced ticket prices also played a part. "Under such conditions, the Indian film gradually went from small studio productions to big company productions, setting up Hollywood-style companies like UTV."

A sharp sense when it came to examining social issues and the courage to present these problems has made Zhang think quite highly of Indian filmmakers. "Many Indian films do not avoid social conflicts between different classes, city and town, religions, and genders… these films always stay in touch with a quickly changing Indian society, which is exactly what the rapidly developing Chinese film industry lacks."

This courage to tackle issues has been highly regarded in China. A recent report from argues that while many nations wouldn't dare to discuss religious issues, P.K. satires almost every religion in India.

"Indian films are bold when it comes to themes, especially controversial themes, no matter if they be racial, religious or political issues. This boldness has become a symbol of Indian film," the article said.  

Unknown future

While Hollywood blockbusters continue to do well in China, audience fatigue for what is starting to become the "same old, same old" is starting to set in.

"Heroic blockbusters are what shown the most in China. It's like food. When you eat the same dish for a long time, you get bored of it," Yuan said, adding that Chinese moviegoers' increasing demand for a variety of choices is creating an opportunity for Indian films, as well as films from other nations to expand in the country.

As for whether P.K. will go down as a turning point for acceptance of Indian film in China, Yuan is still uncertain. "It's only a single case," Yuan said, adding that while Aamir Khan has a certain box office appeal in China, actors like him are few and far between. 

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