M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, a biopic of Indian cricketing legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni, bowled over audiences at the local and international box office this weekend. From Fox International Productions and Fox Star Studios, the sports drama grossed $14M on 4,200 screens at home to score the No. 2 opening of 2016, behind Salman Khan’s Sultan which released in July. That’s particularly notable because M.S. Dhoni has no major marquee stars. It landed in the Top 10 international films this frame and, in the U.S., joins Sultan and Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan as the only Bollywood movies of 2016 to break $1M in the first weekend.
Brand names such as Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan can roundly be counted on to top one another and beat their own previous records in India and across the diaspora, but it’s rare that a film whose subject matter is the main draw hits it so far out of the park (or ground, in cricket terms). It helps that Dhoni is a rock star of a cricket captain — and that the film has met with strong reviews. Anticipation was so high that the original trailer generated more than 23M views. That level of eyeballs is generally reserved for the Khans. Check out the subtitled trailer above.
Described as “a man who India has come to see as the one who shaped the collective dreams of a billion countrymen” — having led the national team to World Cup victory in 2011 — Dhoni is a contemporary sporting legend. The film recounts his life from the dusty roads of his origins in Ranchi to the sacred grounds of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
M.S. Dhoni hails from director Neeraj Pandey and is led by Sushant Singh Rajput, a relative newcomer who appeared in Aamir Khan’s PK, the highest-grossing Bollywood movie of all time. The film marked the third-biggest opening weekend ever for Fox Star in India.
Rohit Sharma, Head of International Sales & Distribution at Fox Star Studios India, told Deadline last week, “The two most popular forms of entertainment for Indians across the globe are Bollywood movies and cricket. This film is a combination of both.”
Outside India, Dhoni generated an estimated 21.91 crores ($3.3M) to rank as the fourth-biggest Indian offshore opener of 2016. And that is despite it not playing in Pakistan, a massive cricketing country and India’s main rival in the sport. Amid the strained political climate over attacks in the disputed Kashmir territory, there have been reports the film was banned in Pakistan, though the local censor board has said it was not submitted for consideration. (Indian film producers association the IMPPA has recently banned Pakistani actors, singers and technicians from working in India.)
Release markets during the weekend did include the UK, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Germany and North America. In the latter, it played to $1.2M on a sizable 256 screens. Dhoni himself visited New York for a press conference on September 15, and a contest was organized with winners from all over the U.S. paying their own way for the chance to meet him.