Bollywood b.o. bounces back after attacks

Three Hollywood films help, but the heroes are local

UPDATED at 12:30pm local time, Jan. 28, 2009

NEW DELHI -- Two months after a three-day terrorist attack rocked the nation's film capital Mumbai, India's boxoffice is showing no ill effects, riding high on a string of strong domestic releases.

And while the world spotlight is focused firmly on Oscar favorite "Slumdog Millionaire," film execs here note that the boxoffice recovery is standing on the shoulders of homegrown heroes.

With cinemas shuttered, then reopening slowly after the Nov. 26-28 attacks, the shadow truly began to lift when local star Shah Rukh Khan hit screens in mid-December with the romantic comedy "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi" (God Made This Couple) from veteran Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films.

Although there is no independent source for boxoffice figures in India, industry estimates show that since its release five weeks ago "Jodi" has grossed about 1 billion rupees ($22 million).

"Jodi" was followed by an even bigger local hit in suspense caper, "Ghajini," starring Aamir Khan, which estimates show has grossed more than $32.6 million in the three weeks since its release earlier in January.

Amitabh Vardhan, CEO of PVR Cinemas, India's No. 2 theater chain, said business bounced back "about two weeks following the Mumbai attacks."

Amid the success of local fare, Warner Bros.' debut Bollywood offering "Chandni Chowk To China" has performed below expectations since its Jan. 16 release, despite strong advance buzz and a hefty budget.

Warners said that "China" collected an opening weekend gross of $6.8 million in India but failed to pick up steam in the following weeks after mostly negative reviews.

"Had 'China' not bitten the dust, the industry would've continued its winning streak," Mumbai-based trade analyst Taran Adarsh said. "We enjoyed the starters ('Jodi'), we enjoyed the meal ('Ghajini') but the dessert ('China') left a bitter taste," he said.

Regardless, January has been special for Hollywood in India, with a rare three releases in a single month: "China," then, on Thursday, "Slumdog" and the thriller "Raaz 2: The Mystery Continues," a co-production from Sony BMG India and Bollywood banner Vishesh Films.

Mumbai-based Sony Pictures Releasing India had high hopes for "Raaz" over the weekend, given that Monday was a national holiday to celebrate India's 60th Republic Day.

According to figures from Fox Star Studios, "Slumdog" grossed $2.8 million across 351 screens during its opening weekend with the studio claiming that this was the fourth biggest weekend box office opening ever for any Hollywood film released in India.
Industry estimates reckon Sony’s "Raaz" collected about $ 4.4 million over the weekend.

The coming weekend will see two major releases: the cricket caper "Victory," featuring actor Harman Baweja and a host of cricket stars from around the world; and Big Pictures' "Luck By Chance," starring Farhan Akhtar as a newcomer in Bollywood.  

And already there's a buzz ahead of the mid-February release by Rakeysh Mehra, director of 2006's smash hit "Paint It Yellow,"  of his new drama, "Delhi-6," set against the chaos of India's capital and starring Abishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor.