At the start of this millennium, China had approximately 2300 to 2500 creens for film showcasing and it was never really considered a crucial market by any film industry ranging from Hollywood to Bollywood. However, in last 18 years the country invested a huge chunk of amount to build cinema halls of top quality. The screen count in the country increased from 2500 in the early 2000’s to 52,000 in 2017 thereby becoming one of the biggest market for film business in the world.
Hollywood, which was ignorant about China initially started paying a lot of attention as the revenue generated from the Chinese belt was more than any other single country across the globe. The producers in Hollywood started casting Chinese actors to get an easy entry in China and set the cash registers ringing. Within no time, China became the biggest contributor in terms of collections for Hollywood films. Just like Hollywood, even India slowly started realizing the potential of Chinese market. It took quite a lot of time for Indian films to get some sort of recognition in China, but finally, the market is now totally open to receive quality Indian films. Awaara is credited to be the first Indian film to release in China following which films like Do Bheega Zameen, Rahi, Jhasi Ki Rani, and Pather Panchali also released. The tension between India and China owing to the Sino – Indian War (1962) resulted in a total ban on Indian films in China thereafter. The ban was lifted in 1978, following which films like Noori, Sargam, Disco Dancer, Haathi Mere Saathi, Mr. India, Naam, Bobby, Shahenshah and Sholay were screened.
While the above-mentioned films were screened as a part of cultural exchange between the two countries, the major trend of exploring the Chinese market from business point of view started with the release of 3 Idiots in 2011. The Aamir Khan film managed to rake in $3.02 Million (Rs 14.15 crore) in China thereby becoming the first Indian film in a long time to get some sort of recognition in the market. 3 Idiots was followed up with My Name Is Khan starring Shah Rukh Khan in lead, however that film didn’t quite manage to excite the audience and sank without a trace at the Box-Office.
Aamir Khan released another film in China a couple of years after 3 Idiots i.e. Dhoom 3 and the action entertainer managed to surpass the lifetime collections of 3 Idiots. Dhoom 3 ended its run in China at collections close to $3.23 Million thereby emerging the highest grossing Indian film in China. After Dhoom 3, Shah Rukh Khan tried his luck twice in China with the release of Happy New Year and Fan; however the films eventually flopped at the Box-Office by collecting $0.40 Million and $0.23 Million respectively. The real game changer was PK. The film released without a lot of fanfare in the country, however came out as a winner. Aamir Khan’s popularity in China along with solid content of the film is credited to be the major reason for the success. PK raked in $19.65 Million (Rs 129 crore) in China, thereby becoming the first Indian film to cross the coveted 100 crore mark in the country. After the success of PK, even Aamir Khan understood the strength of this market and released his next two films i.e. Dangal ($193 Million) and Secret Superstar ($117.66 Million), and the films managed to do extraordinary biz in the country. In-fact, both the films defeated a lot of Hollywood Blockbusters in the country which is a massive achievement. With the success of above mentioned films, Aamir Khan became the most recognised Indian face in the country and currently there are talks of appointing Khan as the brand ambassador to boost Indian trade in China.
After Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan too released Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which is one of the most loved Indian films this decade, in China and the film became the first Non-Aamir Khan film to emerge a successful venture. Despite facing fierce competition from a lot of local films, Bajrangi Bhaijaan raked in $45 Million (Rs 293 crore) in China thereby emerging a massive success. In-fact, Bajrangi Bhaijaan was only the third Indian film to get a profit sharing deal in China alongside the likes of Dangal and Secret Superstar. After Bajrangi Bhaijaan, two other Indian films released in China i.e. Hindi Medium and Baahubali 2, however they failed to do well despite getting a wider release than Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dangal. While the collections of Hindi Medium ($33 Million) were comparatively better, Baahubali 2 ($13 Million) was labelled an outright flop. Akshay Kumar‘s Toilet – Ek Prem Katha has done well in its opening weekend in China as the film raked it $9.08 Million, however the film isn’t rated highly on Mayaon platform. TEPK is a successful venture, however the trend in the long run will decide if it emerges a hit or no. The opening weekend of Toilet – Ek Prem Katha in China is better than India, which in itself shows the importance of Chinese market.
If we look at the kind of films that have succeeded in China, we can clearly make out a pattern of films that gets acceptance. Dangal, Secret Superstar, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and PK are the only four Indian films that have found acceptance and all three of them were riding on the basic human emotions of either love, or motivation. While Hindi medium recorded a solid start in China, it crumpled after that as the audience couldn’t really relate to the content of the film. The social dramas with universal emotions have succeeded, however the Indian issue centric social films and action films have failed to connect with the audience.
With Chinese market contributing so massively, that day isn’t far when even Indian Producers start conceptualizing films keeping the Chinese audience in mind, just like Hollywood. Casting a Chinese actor often works positively, and this is a formula cracked by Hollywood, which India is expected to follow soon. That day isn’t far when a lot of Bollywood films start collecting in 1000’s of crore thereby becoming a global film industry. As Thugs of Hindostan is expected to release in China later this year, the trade is expected $10 Million plus opening day, which would indeed be a historic feat for Indian Film Industry.
Other Indian films expected to release in China includes Pad Man, Sultan, and Bajirao Mastani.