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August 10, 1999
Bollywood's Box-office Famine Continues
A P Kamath in New York
When Hindustan Ki Kasam opened well and grossed about $250,000 in the first week in North America, many exhibitors thought the recent lacklustre performances of Hindi movies would end, but the film nose-dived in the second week, confirming Amitabh Bachchan's rapidly waning clout at the box office.
"If anybody thought Hindustan Ki Kasam was going to do as good as Sarfarosh, they were in for a big shock," said a distributor who did not want to be identified. "The timing was good, given the high concern about India's security and the looming war threats. But the film was not up to the mark."
Sarfarosh grossed about $800,000; Hindustan Ki Kasam may not collect half that amount. Some distributors believe it might fold with less than $300,000.
People do not vote with patriotism and sentiments when they pay $7 to see a new film, the distributor said. "Everything has a price, including patriotism," he said.
"With Mann turning out to be a big disappointment, the box office continues to be in shambles," he added.
The only film that has done roof-raising business in recent months is Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam with collections approaching $1.2 million.
With Taal slated for an August 13 release in more than 25 theatres, there are high expectations of a sizzling weekend.
But Taal will face some competition from Kohram in several cities.
Distributors say they are not ready to write off Kohraam just because several Amitabh Bachchan films have not done well in North America.
But many said Kohram faces an uphill fight because some of its thematic ideas are close to the ones in Hindustan Ki Kasam.
"But at least here Amitabh has a formidable co-star Nana Patekar, and that could make the film sizzle," said movie buff Jasbir Singh, who is determined to see both Taal and Kohram in the same week. "It's vacation time and I want to see as many Indian films as possible before college starts," he explained.
Insiders say the distributor of Kohram wanted to release it much earlier to avoid a head-on collision with Taal, but had to postpone the release because of Hindustan Ki Kasam. He wanted to leave at least three weeks between the release of two Bachchan films. And since just a few more weeks are left before schools and colleges reopen, Kohram had to be released around the same time as Taal.
But what if Kohram helps to expand the market instead of shrinking it?
Several distributors said it would be an interesting phenomenon. It has happened many times in Hollywood. When a big hit opens, there is a lot of excitement, and often people who cannot get to see the blockbuster opt to see other interesting films.
If The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, both spooky films, could not only survive each other's stiff competition but also do extraordinary business, Taal and Kohram could also be winners.
The bottom line is that the audience should be convinced of each film's strength. As many Indian distributors concede, the market for Indian movies has not been fully exploited in North America. With better theatres, well-publicised and well-made films, they believe there could be over a dozen films in a year grossing over $1 million each.
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