How did Baahubali do in China? Has it met the expectations? Has it failed to rake in big money in China? What could have led to this situation? Questions like these have been doing the rounds ever since Baahubali released in China on July 22 and rightfully so. Not many of us understand numbers and least of all those coming from a country which is completely alien to our (Telugu) films.
Soon after the release, the news arrived that Baahubali, the first South Indian film to find a foothold in China, had collected about $630k in its opening weekend. By the end of the week, the film had collected close to $900k-$1 million at the box-office in China. These numbers are nowhere close to Aamir Khan starrer PK, which went on to collect more than $19 million in China when it released in mid 2015. For that matter, for all the hype and positive buzz that Baahubali had, the box-office numbers were disappointing at best. However, numbers are often misleading and unless we dig deeper into the actual story behind these developments, we might continue to believe that the audiences in China didn’t embrace the film. The latter part isn’t true at all, going by the enthusiastic response from the number of people who ended up watching the film in the theatres.
Recently, in our feature on Baahubali’s release in China, we had mentioned that the film released in less than 2% of screens in China and the average attendance was just 12 moviegoers per screenings. Throwing more light on what had actually happened, Shobu Yarlagadda says, “On the same day when Baahubali released (July 22), we were competing with three other films. All of a sudden, the Japanese animated film “Doraemon: Nobita and the Birth of Japan 2016″ too released on the same date. Initially, both these films (Baahubali and Doraemon) were supposed to release on different weekends. As a result of all these sudden developments, Baahubali couldn’t get as many screenings as we had expected initially.”
To put it in perspective, Baahubali got just 4000 shows (not screens) on the opening day of its release, whereas Aamir Khan’s PK, which went on to become a blockbuster, got more than 17,000 shows on its opening day back in May, 2015. Besides, comparing the box-office performances of Baahubali and PK, especially in China, is like comparing oranges and apples. PK didn’t turn out to be a huge success just by a stoke of luck. It was the result of a four-year process. ‘3 Idiots’ was the first Aamir Khan’s film to release in China and it went on to collect $2.2 million at the box-office in 2011. Later, Dhoom 3 made $3 million in China and by the time, Aamir Khan-Raju Hirani’s PK was ready for release in China, they were already a household name in the country.
In contrast to all this, Baahubali is the first South Indian film to venture into a completely new market and the fact that it managed to break free from the clutter and secure a release in China is in itself a big deal. Why? Because the Chinese government has imposed strict regulations on the number of foreign films that can release in China in any given year. Right now, the annual quota is just 34 foreign films in a year and out of these 90% of the films are those churned out by Hollywood. Due to all this, only 1-2 films from India can manage to get a release in China, if the producers can tie up with a local distributor.
In this context, Baahubali has a clear advantage since E Stars, which distributed the first film, will also be distributing the second part of the Baahubali series. “It’s very easy for people to say that our film hasn’t done well in China, South Korea, Japan and other countries. But you must also remember that this is just the beginning and we are among the very few people from India who have managed to get a foothold in such foreign markets,” Shobu Yarlagadda says, adding, “By the time Baahubali 2 hits the screens in China, it’ll be a different ball game altogether.”
China is still a big myth for Indian filmmakers. While it’s true that China is already the biggest market for Hollywood films outside US, it’s worth noting that it’s only in the past 6-7 years that Hollywood films are seeing huge numbers in China after years and years of struggle. For Indian filmmakers, their romance with Chinese box-office has just begun and Baahubali is among the very few Indian films to have managed to go on to the other side of the Great Wall of China. It might not have done worked at the box-office, but to quote Neil Armstrong – “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This is only the beginning. You get my point…right?