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This is How Avengers Endgame Won the Indian Box Office Step By Step

Simultaneous worldwide release of Hollywood films is helping foreign production houses earn quadruple the money they would make in the pre-nineties era.

B Mahesh and Usman Merchant | News18.com

Updated:May 10, 2019, 1:19 PM IST
This is How Avengers Endgame Won the Indian Box Office Step By Step
Simultaneous worldwide release of Hollywood films is helping foreign production houses earn quadruple the money they would make in the pre-nineties era.

Those were the days of single screens. Those were the days when simultaneous worldwide release of Hollywood films was unheard of. Those were the days when the success of a film was measured in jubilees. We are talking of the pre-nineties era when English movie fans in India had to wait for years to catch the latest Hollywood blockbusters on screen.

Cut to the present. Avengers: Endgame is two weeks old in India. Its release here coinciding with the USA launch not only created a record for the opening day collections for a Hollywood film in India, but also matched the biggest openers of the Khans. Now, at the end of the second week’s run, the superheroes ensemble movie, released in English and other Indian languages, seems certain to cross the Rs 350-crore mark over the weekend, giving some big Bollywood grossers the blushes. Endgame is already the biggest-ever Hollywood hit in India, upstaging its own previous installment, Avengers: Infinity War, which had collected Rs 226 crore in the country.

Read: James Cameron Congratulates Avengers Endgame Team

Read: Robert Downey Jr Deserves Oscar More Than Anyone

Hollywood imports to India these days are serious business with multi-language releases (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, apart from English) across 2000-plus screens for big guns like Avengers being the norm; a far cry from the early days of foreign cinema in India when the movies were mostly restricted to the metros and limited to one screen per city. And unlike the simultaneous theatrical releases worldwide, which is the norm these days, many movies would hit Indian theatres years after the US launch. A case in point: Christopher Reeve-starrer Superman was released in the US in 1978, but Indian fans had to wait till 1981!

Just about a decade before that, English movie buffs in Bombay were enthralled by the Gregory Peck-starrer Mackenna’s Gold, which went on in the early 1970s to become the mother of all Hollywood blockbusters in the Indian market. The movie, in the western genre with Omar Sharif, Eli Wallach and Edward G Robinson in its star cast, proved to be a dud on its release in the US in 1969. But, within a couple of years when it released here, the Indian audience lapped up the treasure-hunt western potboiler as the movie celebrated an unprecedented (for a Hollywood film) golden jubilee run in the now-defunct Strand cinema, in Colaba in Bombay. Its stupendous success inspired Hindi spinoffs like Feroz Khan-starrer Kala Sona in 1975 and Dharmendra-Shatrughan Sinha starrer Zalzala in 1988.

From the Wild West to the Far East. After McKenna’s success came Enter the Dragon which released in 1975 in India, two years after its international launch. According to an article by film critic Khalid Mohamed in India Today, Enter the Dragon ran for 32 weeks at New Excelsior in Bombay. It set the stage for dominance of the kung fu genre in India’s foreign movie market. Enter the Dragon – a Hong Kong-US joint production -- did worldwide business of USD 90 million, which was much less than that year’s biggest grosser – The Exorcist -- which raked in USD 441 million. But in Mumbai it was the dragon that won the race. Though The Exorcist managed a strong 20-week run at Eros, it could not achieve the distinction of a jubilee hit which Enter the Dragon did.

The impact of Enter the Dragon was long-lasting with several kung fu and karate-based wannabes over decades in Hindi films. The other aspect of its influence could be seen in fight sequences in big budget films where the stars would strike karate chop poses, almost always unintentionally comical, before breaking into the usual dishum-dishum punches. In the 1977 super hit Amar Akbar Anthony, there is a sequence in which Vinod Khanna braces for a fight with Amitabh Bachchan who, looking at his pose, remarks, “Oh you know karate, so you would know kung fu too.”

Read: Avengers Endgame Cast And Crew 'Fully Assembled' in This Pic

Read: Marvel's Stirring, Emotional Superhero Marathon

A worthy successor to Enter the Dragon, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which was released in the US in 1978 and in India four years later, is considered one of the greatest martial arts films. It enjoyed a silver jubilee run at Eros in the early eighties. Incidentally, the lead actor in 36th Chamber – Xian Jinxi a.k.a Gordon Liu -- played the villain in the 2009 Akshay Kumar-starrer, Chandni Chowk to China. In the climax, the celluloid Shaolin master dies at the hands of the hero, getting killed by Akshay with a kitchen knife.

The kung fu acts were followed by an unexpected entry to the list of international jubilees in Bombay’s cinema halls. The 1981 Bo Derek-starrer Tarzan the Ape Man, directed by her husband John Derek, was panned by critics across the board. It featured in many worst-ever movie lists. Film critic Leonard Maltin, writing for his movie guide, considered it so bad that he contemplated devising a rating lower than BOMB to describe the film. However, Bo’s steamy rendition of Jane Parker seduced the audience to theatres in Mumbai. The film – whose posters featured Bo Derek swinging on a vine with no sign of Tarzan -- ran to packed houses at Metro theatre for 25 weeks and its super success saw a few Bo Derek starrers like 10 hit the theatres Mumbai though with varying results.

By the late eighties, movie buffs in India were more in sync with their western counterparts, thanks to the video player boom. Pirated prints of Hollywood films would hit the Mumbai video circuit within days of their US release.

This was the beginning of the end of the jubilee era and one of the last English movies to enjoy this status was the Julia Roberts-Richard Gere-starrer Pretty Woman. The fairy tale romance of a call girl and a billionaire ran to packed houses for 30-plus weeks at Eros. A few years later, Hollywood began to explore the potential of the Indian market in the right earnest. As a result, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, released here in April 1994 almost a year after the US release, became the first movie to be released multi-lingually, on screens across India. In a 2013 article in LiveMint, film journalist Nandini Ramnath writes that the movie, thanks to it being dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, helped it make to the 25-week club and earn Rs 19 crore.

Now, 25 years later, the takings in box-office are pushing the Rs 100-crore mark, that too within days. Weeks are no more talked about.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Endgame is currently playing in theatres.

(The authors are ex-journalists and now run bookstores under the brand name Paperback in Mumbai and Bengaluru. They both take keen nostalgic interest in the city of Mumbai, films and cricket)

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