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May 19, 1999
A P Kamath in New York
Miramax, the most successful champion of independently made films, has paid $ 2 million for the North American rights to East Is East, a movie starring Om Puri.
The film, a big success at the Cannes film festival with critics and audiences, is based on a successful play by Ayub-Khan Din. Miramax will open the films in about three months, presumably after My Son the Fanatic, which also stars Om Puri and, like East Is East, revolves around a Pakistani family in England, has completed its run.
Though Miramax does not divulge its payments, trade insiders believe that it bought My Son the Fanatic for far less than $ 2 million.
Few independently made films are bought for $ 2 million unless they have well-known British or Australian actors.
Miramax apparently has strong faith in its choice. The film, which will open in a handful of cities, could play in more than 300 theaters in over 100 cities and towns -- an impressive number for a specialized film.
The film version of the play comes three years after the play opened to critical and popular acclaim in London. East Is East, a family portrait set in the England of the 1970s and revolving around six siblings of a Pakistani father and his more liberal English wife, is now previewing at the Manhattan Theater Club. It will open on May 25.
The movie has to earn at least $ 5 million in movie houses and in video stores to break even.
Just a handful of films with South Asian themes have been able to make a box-office dent in the American art house markets. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, starring Shashi Kapoor, grossed about $ 3.5 million many years ago. But films such as Bhaji on the Beach made about $ 1 million in the United States.
"Miramax is hoping that a substantial number of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis will see the film," says documentary film-maker Suprotim Bose. "Remember there are more than 3.5 million people of South Asian origin across America."
But the film's theme of identity crisis and generational conflict could appeal to a large number of Americans who love to see offbeat films, says Ric Ornellas, former film critic for The Washington Square News.
"Films dealing with human emotions know no boundaries," he says. "There are thousands of Americans who know that."
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