Ahead of this past weekend, Bollywood was set for a showdown of superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s romantic musical action comedy Dilwale and period war action romance drama Bajirao Mastani starring Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. It was expected before the weekend that SRK would have the majority of screens and come out on top — and I expected the movie to be among the top international players in a weekend where Star Wars would dominate everywhere else.
Any movie with Bollywood mega-stars is an event that grabs the country, but the effect of having two at the same time appears to have divided it. Both films ended up ranking at about No. 4 and No. 5 globally for the weekend. That’s as compared to, say, Salman Khan’s recent Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which debuted to $31M and No. 2 on the international charts. This should be of concern for a major date next year when SRK goes up against his sometime rival/sometime pal, Salman Khan on the lucrative Eid holiday. It also comes just ahead of Star Wars‘ debut in India — one of three markets Disney held back from the day-and-date release.
Dilwale (which means big heart and shouldn’t be confused with the fall Hindu holiday of Diwali) had more than just the competition from Bajirao Mastani to be concerned about coming into the weekend. SRK, arguably the industry’s biggest global star, had recently made comments which sparked the ire of right-wing groups. In November, he reportedly said at a press conference that “religious intolerance and not being secular is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot.” He later appeared to apologize for the statements but, per NDTV, told media in Calcutta his comments were “misconstrued” and that he did not say anything for which he should apologize. “What I want to say I speak. But lot of things I say are… perhaps mispresented. People know me. Perhaps they did not understand what I said.” It is thought this brouhaha led to protests and screening cancellations at some of the Dilwale theaters and allowed Chopra and Padukone’s film to muscle in.
There’s no question Dilwale was the bigger earner at the weekend. It grossed $9.8M in India and about $8.5M abroad. Mastani took $7M at home and approximately $4.5M overseas. Both movies broke into the Top 10 in the U.S at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. But that Dilwale number is only SRK’s fifth-highest opening in India ever.
On Monday, Mastani moved up the Indian charts to slightly overtake Dilwale for the day. This was after Dilwale saw a 50% decline on Monday from its opening Friday, per box office analyst Taran Adarsh. Bajirao Mastani is directed by Devdas‘ Sanjay Leela Bhansali and also stars Ranveer Singh. It’s been met with very strong reviews.
Dilwale is from SRK’s Chennai Express helmer Rohit Shetty. That previous movie is the No. 4 worldwide Bollywood grosser. Dilwale also co-stars heroine Kajol in the adored couple’s seventh onscreen reteam.
This is a major departure from the last two years when another Khan, in this case Aamir Khan, has opened a movie at Christmas and snatched the all-time opening and ultimate gross records. Those, respectively, were Dhoom3 in 2013 and PK in 2014. He didn’t have a movie this season and neither of those that released are set to beat those previous records.
Gitesh Pandya, the editor of Boxofficeguru.com, says he thinks that “in the short term each film took a little bit out of the other given how many people want to see both films.” But he suggests that isn’t such a big deal at this time of year “since audiences will make the time to see the other film with the holidays coming up.” If anything, he says, “it prompts discussion and debate between the films and you have to see both in order to be part of that conversation. I see both films ending with amazing final grosses.”
There are two questions coming up. One is how these films will fare in their second frames versus Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which arrives on Thursday. And the other is will this experience change any plans for that SRK/Salman Khan face-off next year.
India is largely a local market, with 90% of grosses going to homegrown films. Nevertheless, audiences do tune into a zeitgeist — Furious 7, for example, made a staggering $24M there this year. Pandya says, “I think Star Wars should play at the high end of what Hollywood action movies do there. Maybe a little higher since it’s breaking records in many countries. But Dilwale and BM should both still be able to gross very strong numbers in the second weekend with the holiday helping.”
Disney’s Dave Hollis tells me, “Although there are a number of challenges in the market, including lower awareness and a lack of reliable tracking or social measuring, Star Wars is the type of big-budget spectacle that Indian audiences tend to embrace and our local team is optimistic heading into Thursday’s debut.”
As for the Eid matchup, there has been speculation that either Khan may ultimately blink and step off the holiday. Perhaps presaging this current weekend’s events, SRK this summer said his and SK’s dueling 2016 films don’t represent a clash. “There are only 365 days, 54 Fridays. We make 200 films, it’s bound to happen that some films will release on the same Friday.”