Aamir Khan's ‘Secret Superstar’ eyeing success in China

By Rabi Sankar Bosu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Plus, January 31, 2018
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Indian actor-producer Aamir Khan's latest drama-comedy "Secret Superstar" is being released in Chinese mainland theaters on January 19. To some extent, it is like coming home for Khan; a popular Bollywood face for the Chinese audience. He is the symbol of Indian films for many Chinese people and is affectionately known there as Uncle Aamir. China has emerged as an important market for the Bollywood superstar after the mammoth success of his last film "Dangal," which was released last summer in a record-breaking 9,000 screens in China as "Shuai Jiao Baba," which translates as "Let's Wrestle, Dad." It is expected that the new film will also pull off a Dangal in China.

Indian director Advait Chandan,left, film child actress Zaira Wasim,center, and singer Meghna Mishra attend a premiere event for the new movie "Secret Superstar" in Shanghai, China, 17 January 2018.

In fact, since 2009 every Khan movie has been a commercial hit in China. The film "Three Idiots," which is still ranked as the 12th most popular movie ever on the fan site Douban.com, appealed to Chinese audience because of its depiction of excessive pressures faced by Indian engineering students, something people in China could relate to. Khan's 2014 release "PK" managed to earn 20 million U.S. dollars in China alone, despite being screened in less than 5,000 theaters. Khan's celebrity status was clear after he received more than 600,000 followers on the Chinese social media service Sina Weibo within two months of joining.

Moreover, the family wrestling drama Dangal has shattered all box office records in both India and China since its Chinese release on May 5 last year, raking in nearly 1.3 billion yuan (about 190 million U.S. dollars). According to the magazine Forbes, "Dangal has become the fifth highest-grossing non-English film in cinematic history, the highest-grossing live action sports movie of 2017, and the biggest non-Hollywood import ever released in China." The film won wide praise from all sectors of the community in China.

It is now seen as fact that when Khan backs a film, it gets a new quality, a heartfelt film with a universal message to the youth of the world, and specifically girls. Like Dangal, the Secret Superstar is a social mirror movie that drives conversation about female empowerment. The story is about dreams and never giving up. Insia Malik, played by budding superstar Zaira Wasim, is a small-town teenager who dreams of becoming the Indian Taylor Swift under anonymity. But alas! This is not allowed by her abusive father, played by Raj Arjun. Malik also gallantly tries to free her mother, played by Meher Vij, from the shackles of her conservative, oppressive father. The film depicts a beautiful mother-daughter bond. According to Newsweek, "It is a story that speaks to a young teenage audience and tells them they have the right to fight for their own individuality, their desires, their hopes."

The Hindi-language film Secret Superstar was written and directed by debutant Advait Chandan and produced by Khan and Kiran Rao. In this film, the perfectionist Khan played an against-type role as a Bollywood music director called Shakti Kumar. In an interview with the Global Times, Chandan said, "Khan's character is completely opposite of who he is in real life. I thought it would be interesting to present him in a new light for his fans to be entertained." The director said that Khan enjoyed the role because he usually played serious roles but this time he "could just be a monkey and flirt with girls." In a nutshell, the overall appeal of the story is realistic, projecting the reality of struggle of ordinary people in real life.

Celebrities and fans have been showering praise on the heart-warming film since its release at home on October 19, 2017. In a series of tweets Indian director, Karan Johar shared, "SECRET SUPERSTAR is a brilliant film! I laughed...I wept and came out feeling the power and importance of DREAMS! Relatable and Solid!" The Guardian wrote, "This is first-class Khan film about Indian teenager's pop star ambitions." Appreciating the film, musician Shankar Mahadevan said, "This film is outstanding. It will rule the world.""

However, Forbes contributor, Rob Cain in a series of articles expressed his doubt that the Advait Chandan film might not catch on with the Chinese movie-going population as "the film is not really the movie that the title and trailer promise." Putting numerical figures compared with Dangal, he said that it did not achieve anywhere near the level of financial success that it deserved elsewhere around the world, and the same could happen in China.

But as per reports on Boxofficeindia.com, Secret Superstar collected Rs 83 crore (12.9 million U.S. dollars) across India and it picked up another Rs 50 crore (7.8 million U.S. dollars) in overseas markets. It was released in Taiwan on November 24, 2017, and has earned 280,000 U.S. dollars so far. As such it is expected that even if the movie is averagely viewed in the Chinese mainland, it has the potential to make more than double the domestic amount from there alone.

The advance booking report for the film in China clearly suggests that this aspirational fairytale will surely take the Chinese movie-goers on the biggest emotional high like Khan's last blockbuster Dangal. According to an english.entgroup.cn report, Secret Superstar has already earned 640,000 U.S. dollars with advance booking in 5 days. Advance booking started on January 12 and will continue till its release on January 19, 2018. Apart from that, the film is set to beat the first-day record set by Dangal in China which was 2.03 million U.S. dollars. Film critics and media analysts expect that Secret Superstar will be a smash hit in China. Let's wait and see how it fares at the Chinese markets in its forthcoming days.

Maybe, when it comes to political issues, India and China have differences and problems, but the social fabric of both countries is cut from the same cloth. Actually, well over two billion people on both sides of the Himalayas live under the same sky. We seem to have a connection, which is emotional, cultural as we are quite similar people. People on both sides want to see less standoffs, less belligerent warnings from either side. Both countries have much to gain by being friends and living in peace and harmony as good neighbors as we have been living for the past 2,000 years.

If Indian people watch more Chinese films and Chinese people watch more Indian films, we can get to know each other better. In recent years, the popularity of Indian films has done much to further India's soft power in China. India should build on this through such means as films, festivals, yoga, media exchanges, and so on. To deepen people-to-people exchanges between the two nations through movies, undoubtedly, there is still much more that needs to be done.

(Rabi Sankar Bosu, Secretary, New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, based in West Bengal, India)

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