Huge success of ‘Dangal’ sets the scene for future Sino-Indian film collaboration

Andy Boreham

Andy Boreham



BOLLYWOOD has found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with the release of “Dangal” in China, which is sure to pave the way for future collaborations between two of the world’s largest film markets.

The film — released in China as “Shuai Jiao Ba! Baba” (Let’s Wrestle, Dad!) — stars Indian megastar Aamir Khan as a father trying to relive his former wrestling glory by training his two daughters in what is a male-dominated sport in a male-dominated society.

The tear-jerker is a welcome break from the special effects-ridden Hollywood blockbusters that have sucked up China’s annual quota of 34 international film releases, which makes its success all the more interesting.

And what a success it has been! “Dangal” has already raked in huge box office in China, and is on its way to becoming the first Bollywood film ever to do better in an overseas market than it did at home in India.

This stellar run has been the talk of India’s entertainment media for more than two weeks, and for good reason.

Chinese filmgoers are used to a steady stream of Hollywood blockbusters, spending huge amounts of money to see artistically questionable releases such as “The Fate of the Furious,” “Transformer: Age of Extinction” and “Kong: Skull Island.” This week “Dangal” overtook “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” at the current top spot in China.

But there’s bad news for foreigners living in China wanting to check out the film — it’s been released throughout China without English subtitles. If your Chinese language skills aren’t up to speed and you don’t speak Hindi, it might be best to check out “Dangal” in some other format.

Bollywood films aren’t new to China with hits like “Awara” (1951) and “Caravan” (1971) becoming classics here before and after the “cultural revolution” (1966-76). “Awara Hoon,” the theme song from “Awara,” was known by heart by many Chinese fans, despite being in Hindi. “Dangal” may just signal a return to the golden years of Bollywood film in China, especially with anticipated changes to the number of foreign films played here.

China’s international film release quota is most likely set to be expanded this year when the new five-year plan comes into effect, but negotiations between the leaders of China and the United States mean that even with a higher number of foreign films released here, Hollywood will still dominate. That’s why the success of “Dangal” in China is such an important boon for Bollywood, putting the world’s fifth-largest film market in a better position to negotiate.

Films released in China are not subject to a rating system, meaning that anything screened here needs to be suitable for all audiences. This has been a point of contention for many Tinseltown producers. Hollywood box office smash “Logan” was released here with 14 minutes of hardcore violence gone, sending Hollywood into a song and dance. “Dangal,” on the other hand, had 30 minutes willingly cut by Khan — he’s also one of the film’s producers —  in order to be more palatable to Chinese audiences. This was not due to violence or any other objectionable content — instead, Khan was worried that the local audience would find the original 169 minutes too long.

An upcoming Bollywood blockbuster, historical war drama “Tubelight” is a collaboration between India and China which boasts not only one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Salman Khan, but Chinese actress Zhu Zhu as Khan’s love interest. This is a blatant attempt to appeal more strongly to Chinese audiences, and was already in the works before the runaway success of “Dangal” these past two weeks.

The huge success of a film with no special effects, no romance and no frills might well send a chill down the spines of the producers of “Tubelight,” who may now have come to realize that Chinese audiences are perhaps more sophisticated than earlier thought.

What’s for sure, though, is that we can expect to see more and more collaborations between Bollywood and China’s film industry. Forbes magazine say that this marriage of convenience “has the potential to be the next big disruption in the entertainment space globally.”

I’ll be watching closely.

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