'Khan' takes $18 mil amid controversy

Threats from political party slightly dampen revenue

NEW DELHI -- Fueled by an unexpected political controversy that ignited a publicity blitzkreig beyond the expectations of any studio marketing department, "My Name Is Khan" collected $18 million worldwide during its opening weekend.

The film was caught in a publicity storm after its lead, superstar Shah Rukh Khan faced intense criticism from hardline political party Shiv Sena. The party demanded an apology from the actor after he voiced his support for Pakistani players to be included in the upcoming third cricket season of the Indian Premier League.

Khan's refusal to do so led the Sena to attack some cinemas and issue a threat to disrupt the film's Friday opening, which saw heavy police protection, especially in Maharashtra state of which Mumbai is the capital.

The first major Bollywood release by the recently established Fox Star Studios India saw "Khan" becoming the highest Bollywood opener in the US collecting $1.9 million with a weekend high per screen average of $15,500.

"While initially driven by the power of this extraordinary cast and director, it is "My Name Is Khan" as a film that has captivated audiences everywhere we have opened. An incredible start to this powerful and moving film," Fox International Pictures president Sanford Panitch said in a statement.

"The worldwide collections jumped every day from Friday to Saturday to Sunday," FSSI CEO Vijay Singh added.

A sell-out red carpet screening over the weekend at the ongoing Berlinale attended by Khan, director Karan Johar and actress Kajol also propelled the film in the international spotlight.

Although the Sena's planned agitation in Maharashtra was controlled by authorities, an FSSI spokesperson told THR that the "entire situation in Maharashtra state has impacted the collections to the tune of $1.5 million."

A bomb blast Saturday evening which killed nine and injured over 40 people -- suspected to be the work of terrorist groups -- at a popular restaurant in Pune city, about 60 miles from Mumbai, led authorities to issue a security alert in other cities as well. Sena has not been connected to the bombings.

When Khan landed back in Mumbai from Berlin, he posted a tweet Monday on the Pune blast, "Before u (sic) sleep, do say a silent prayer for the departed souls. How sad it must be for the loved ones left behind in Pune. Sad & unexpected."

FSSI acquired worldwide distribution rights for "Khan" for an unconfirmed figure of 1 billion rupees ($21 million) last August. The film is coproduced by Johar's banner Dharma Productions and Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment.

The film revolves around the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on a San Francisco-based Indian Muslim (Khan) suffering from a kind of autism, who embarks on a cross-country journey to meet President Barack Obama just to tell him that "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist."
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