Similar cultures help Bollywood win applause from Chinese
Published: Feb 27, 2023 09:06 PM
Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

More than 10 years after its release in India in 2012, English Vinglish, starring late Indian actress Sridevi, premiered in the Chinese mainland on Friday. Although its box-office performance was not ideal due to a low screen rate, solid reviews allowed the film to continue the high bar set by other Indian films released in China, the world's largest film market.

According to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan, the screen rate of English Vinglish on Sunday was only 0.7 percent, which looks a little poor. But in fact, on Friday and Saturday, three competitive Chinese films A Guilty Conscience, Like Father and Son and Mammoth and the English language film The Son (2022) also premiered in the mainland. Additionally, the film also had to go up against domestic blockbusters such as The Wandering Earth II and Full River Red, so the nearly 11-year-old Indian film had little chance to make a big wave.

Since the film has been released in theaters in India on October 5, 2012, this debut in China is more like a tribute commemorating the fifth anniversary of Sridevi's death. Another Indian film starring Sridevi, Mom, was also released in the mainland on May 10, 2019. Cited as the "First Female Superstar" of Indian cinema, Sridevi, whose real name was Shree Amma Yanger Ayyappan, was one of the most celebrated Indian actresses.

In English Vinglish, Sridevi plays a naive housewife who decides to take English lessons in the US after being mocked by her husband and daughter. She gains confidence in herself after making friends in her new class. The film was shortlisted as India's official entry for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category for 2013.

Many Chinese netizens gave thumbs-up to the woman's inspirational story and the splendid acting of the protagonist. On Chinese media review platform Douban, the film has a high score of 8.2/10. 

"We are excited for the audience in China to marvel at this masterpiece showcasing one of the most memorable performances by the late Bollywood superstar Sridevi," said Kumar Ahuja, COO of Eros International, adding that Indian films have gradually gained a foothold in the competitive Chinese movie market.

This is quite right. More importantly, the similarities in culture in Indian films mean they are able to resonate with Chinese audiences more easily, making Bollywood films an important channel for people-to-people exchanges between China and India. Shared topics that have gained attention in both countries cover education, family and personal growth. 

Since the release of Bollywood comedy blockbuster 3 idiots in 2011, Indian films including PK in 2015, Secret Superstar and Dangal in 2017 have performed well. Dangal grossed 1.30 billion yuan ($186.5 million), becoming the highest earning Indian film in China so far. It triggered heated discussions about family education on social media in China. 

Driven by the craze of Dangal, a variety of Indian films swept into the market. Indian comedy-drama films including Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Pad Man all gained good reviews. 

Bollywood films have also performed well in the international market. Pathaan starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan experienced a breakthrough after being released in North America and the UK. It has won the title of "007 in Bollywood." If Pathaan had been able to make it to Chinese market, it may have performed better than the current lukewarm Marvel films - Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.