The globalization of the American movie industry is easily at its most apparent during the holiday movie season. The blockbuster hits that are opening here are, for the most part, opening throughout the world at the exact same time. As I write this, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is on screens in nearly every country in the world, as is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen and Thor: The Dark World. But while those American blockbusters are atop the box office the world over, local films do still have a foothold on some of the big markets. In China (due to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest film market in the next 10 years), the big hits are the action comedy No Man's Land (an unexpected success, as it spent three years on the shelf due to government objections) and The White Storm, starring Hong Kong superstars Lau Ching Wan, Nick Cheung and Louis Koo; Japan’s top hit is the new Studio Ghibli animated film The Tale of Princess Kagguya, which is doing good (but not great) business. And while The Hobbit is expected is take over the worldwide box office for the next month, one film that many have eyes on isn’t from Hollywood or Middle-earth, but straight from Mubai, the potential Bollywood blockbuster Dhoom 3.
It is well known that India’s film industry – aka Bollywood – is one of the biggest in the world, and one of the few where local blockbusters often outdo Hollywood hits. It’s also known that Bollywood movies are a genre in and of themselves, with elaborate musical numbers (usually three or four per film), multiple subplots and lengthy running times, which is just the way Indian audiences love them. Over the last 10 years the audience for them has extended well beyond India (and Indian-Americans), with numerous Bollywood movies opening simultaneously in the U.S. at the same time they do in their home country. The U.S. releases are typically not all that big (about 200 prints) and in and out of U.S. cinemas in a week or two, but the occasional Bollywood film has done a few million over here, with one or two of them even cracking the box office top 10 on their opening weekend. Dhoom 3 is by no means expected to give Anchorman 2 a run for its money, but the movie industry may be in for a major surprise if Dhoom 3’s expected success back home extends to its limited U.S. run (albeit on a much smaller scale).
For the uninitiated, the Dhoom films are something of a cross between the Fast and the Furious movies (with motorcycles instead of cars) mixed with Luc Besson’s Taxi series (the French originals, not the U.S. remake), starring Abhishek Bachchan as the tough cop and Uday Chopra as the street racer (later cop) out to bust master thieves. The films are both top-notch Bollywood entertainment, lots of fun with solid action, huge musical numbers (good songs, too) and the right balance of action and comedy to make them worth seeing.
So just what it is about Dhoom 3 that may make it a surprise hit? For starters, the Dhoom series is one of the few that’s gotten bigger with each film: 2004’s Dhoom was a solid hit, while Dhoom 2 doubled the gross of the original, becoming the biggest Bollywood film of 2006, and the highest grossing film in Indian history at the time. And just as the Fast & Furious films upped the ante by adding Dwayne Johnson to the crew, Dhoom 3 is pulling out the big guns by bringing in Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan as the new film’s villain (he gets top billing over the series’ two leads), a huge budget for Bollywood ($23 million U.S.), locations all over the world (including Chicago and Zurich), the first Indian IMAX release AND a nearly year long shooting schedule. So needless to say, the stakes are high, but so is the anticipation.
It’s been a big year for Bollywood, with such hits as Chennai Express and Krrish 3 breaking box office records not only at home, but here as well (Chennai also grossed $5.3 million in the U.S.). The promotional push, which is huge back in India, is bigger than usual here, with Dhoom 3 standees and banners sitting alongside domestic product in select multiplexes across the U.S. And though there’s no real U.S. publicity tour, the film is being screened in advance for U.S. critics. Needless to say, with a massive push and a year-end release date, distributor Yash Raj Films is hedging their bets that Dhoom 3 is going to big the world over. Bollywood cinema has never broken out in the way that Hong Kong or South Korean cinema has over here, but the industry has long been taking notice, just waiting for that breakout hit that may signal full on Hollywood interest in Bollywood. Is that movie Dhoom 3? One never knows for sure, but it sure does look like one of the few sure things at the box office this Hollywood season, even if it’s not playing on as many screens as The Hobbit.
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