Success of 3 Idiots breaks China's Bollywood Great Wall

The film's popularity creating new push for Indian cinema in China: industry experts

January 02, 2012 01:26 am | Updated November 10, 2016 10:35 am IST - BEIJING:

a still from aamir khan's latest film 3 Idiots

a still from aamir khan's latest film 3 Idiots tks

Indian visitors to Beijing are, more often than not, greeted by taxi drivers with passionate renditions of ‘Awara Hoon,' a song that has, for decades, defined India in the Chinese imagination.

But today, Indian visitors will increasingly find younger Chinese welcoming them with: ‘All izz well?'

Few films have made as deep an impact in this country since the days of Raj Kapoor as Rajkumar Hirani's 2009 film, 3Idiots . The film struck an instant chord with China's famously overworked students, so much so that some Chinese universities were, last year, even prescribing the film in their coursework as a kind of stress-relief in their classrooms.

“Rote learning made me rigid, stupid and I ended up like a machine,” one blogger, named Nei Yi Guo Jiang, wrote last year in praise of the film. “I felt like a real idiot compared to the three in this wonderful movie.”

Last month, the popular film finally made it to big screens in China — one of the few Indian films that have been screened publicly here since the 1970s, following subsequent censorship restrictions.

‘New-year release'

3 Idiots was also the first Indian film to be accorded the sought-after status of a ‘New Year release.'

In the first two weeks of its release, the film has raked in Rs. 11 crore at the Chinese box office, according to recent media reports — a rare success that has given Indian movie houses renewed hope of penetrating the lucrative but challenging Chinese market.

The film was also released in Hong Kong in September, and raked in 17 million RMB (Rs. 14.4 crore) in its first three months.

Movie posters in Beijing promoting the film described it as the “longest new year celebration film and a film that can make you laugh for three hours.”

Chinese analysts say its box office performance is no mean feat considering that its release comes almost two years after the film first became a hit in China, already being viewed widely on popular video-sharing websites and accessed through the thriving pirated DVD market.

High Internet rating

On Douban, a widely-used web portal similar to YouTube, the film received 224,668 views as of Sunday, with an average rating of 9.1 out of 10 — among the highest for any film on the website.

The film was imported by the state-run China Film Group, which is one of the Chinese film industry's biggest players.

Besides the film's already cult status among Chinese students, its early success has also been driven by the China Film Group bagging a big-name Chinese star, Tang Wei, to provide the voice for the female lead character.

Ms. Tang rose to prominence following her much-praised, and controversial, role in Ang Lee's award-winning Lust, Caution . This marks her first involvement in a foreign film, Chinese media reported, highlighting the A-list, red-carpet welcome accorded to the Aamir Khan film.

The success of 3 Idiots , as well as the widely popular Slumdog Millionaire , has created a new push for Indian cinema in China, film industry experts say.

Film import curbs

Indian films were widely popular in China up until the 1970s when Raj Kapoor was a household name in this country. Few Indian films have since been released widely in Chinese theatres.

According to China's import restrictions, only 22 foreign films can be screened every year.

Hollywood imports

The quota is usually filled by Hollywood imports. While Bollywood remains popular, it is not seen as having among Chinese youth the mass appeal of Western films, industry analysts have argued.

Shah Rukh Khan's My Name is Khan was released here in 2010, but performed below industry expectations, in part because it was not seen as fitting the mould of light-hearted and colourful Indian films that are popular in China.

Indian officials have long pressed the Chinese government to loosen restrictions on Bollywood imports. If 3 Idiots does well enough, they now hope, Chinese distributors will begin to rethink their reluctance to import Indian films.

There are signs that this is already beginning to happen following the popularity of Slumdog Millionaire and 3 Idiots .

Joint projects

The China Film Group last year lent its backing to a first-of-its-kind joint film project backed by Indian and Chinese investors, for the first-ever made in China Bollywood film. The $10 million Gold Struck will not be considered an import since it is being co-produced by the China Film Group.

Joint productions, experts say, can become the formula to bring Bollywood to China.

Cindy Shyu, CEO of Light House Productions, which is behind Gold Struck , said the success of 3 Idiots played a big part in giving her enough confidence that Indian films had a big enough market here.

“Chinese audiences are interested in Indian films and dance, but have little opportunity to experience Indian cinema,” she told The Hindu in an interview last year. “This film, I hope, will fill that gap.”

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