If you think that Dangal was the first film to make an impact in China, think again! India’s filmy affair with the mainland has quite an interesting history to it. With Akshay Kumar’s Toilet Ek Prem Katha releasing on Chinese screens on the 8th of July under the banner ‘Toilet Hero’, let’s take a look at how these filmmakers and their films are remaking history today!
While Bollywood has travelled across many exotic locations, can its next destination be China? Chinese and Indian film directors believe so, and the result so far has been promising. It all started in 1951 when Director Raj Kapoor released the film Awara to a global audience. Loved and respected globally, the film became the second highest grosser in the year and also became a hit with fan groups falling in love with the song Awaara Hoon. Later, this feat was followed by the 1971 blockbuster, Caravan which became an instant commercial success in China. The love for cinema today goes beyond boundaries. With recent Bollywood films like Lagaan, 3 idiots, PK, Dangal, Tubelight and more breaking box office records in China, the 2 countries seem closer than ever on the big screen!
Chinese filmgoers are no strangers to Bollywood. With a new wave of content-driven films setting an all-time high in the industry, this perhaps is just the beginning of an impressive cinematic collaboration in the making. Despite political tensions being on the rise, collaborations have not been far behind. As much as 3 Indo-Chinese projects have been undertaken in 2015. Kung Fu Yoga, one of the three films alone grabbed $244 million in China through collaboration between Martial Arts legend and renowned Director Jackie Chan and Bollywood actor Sonu Sood.
The success of Dangal has begun a new race in the industry, a race for filmmakers to capture the essence of the Chinese markets and take their films to even greater heights. How big a deal is this?
In India, the widest possible release a single film can get is 5000 screens. The film Dangal opened in 9000 theatres in China, a country which has more than 40,000 screens for the public - A figure that is more than double the number of screens in India. Apart from that, strong-content driven films that resonate with the Chinese culture are also seeing acceptance in the country. Akshay Kumar’s Toilet Ek Prem Katha is all set to release on the 8th of June across 4300 screens in China. Another example of cultural acceptance is Hindi Medium, a 2017 comedy drama film that follows the struggles an Indian couple faces to send their daughter to a good school – A struggle that resonates with Chinese parents and their children.
But while all seems to be going well, it is important to note that not all films that become popular in India would necessarily be a hit in China. Baahubali: The Beginning, a 2015 blockbuster that collected $9.48 million in the opening day only grossed a total of $7.49 million in China overall. Why so? Because the Chinese moviegoers struggled to understand the traditional Indian cultural elements, clichéd plots and sudden dance routines – cinematic features that don’t really strike a chord with the Chinese audiences.
Another point to note is China’s film quota system that restricts the import of foreign films to just 34 titles in a given year. Out of this fixed quota, nearly 75% of the films originate in Hollywood. With more and more interesting and impactful Bollywood films gaining popularity in the mainland, China can now utilize this powerful resource to extract concessions from Hollywood in their next film treaty negotiations. This powerful tool can also strengthen the foreign policies and relationships of both the governments. Interesting films that cater to multi-lingual and multi-cultural influences are on a rise today.
In the recent Wuhan summit between PM Modi and President Xi, the Chinese President had commented that he liked watching the Bollywood blockbuster film Dangal and stated –
“It would be a good idea if more Indian films came to China and more Chinese films traveled to India.”
Amidst political angst, cultural and military differences, Chinese and Indians have found a peaceful culture of its own on the big screen – Cinema being the fuel.