India's homegrown heroes

'Slumdog' aside, local films drive surge at b.o.

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

While the world spotlight is focused on Oscar favorite "Slumdog Millionaire," film executives here note that India's boxoffice recovery is standing on the shoulders of local product.

With cinemas reopening slowly after the Nov. 26-28 attack, local star Shah Rukh Khan hit screens in mid-December with the romantic comedy "God Made This Couple" from veteran Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films. Industry estimates show that the film has grossed about 1 billion rupees ($22 million).

"God" was followed by an even bigger local hit: the suspense caper "Ghajini," starring Aamir Khan, which has taken in an estimated $32.6 million in three weeks.

Amid the success of local fare, Warner Bros.' debut Bollywood offering "Chandni Chowk to China," despite strong buzz and a hefty budget, has performed below expectations since its Jan. 16 bow. Warners said the film collected an opening-weekend gross of $6.8 million in India but failed to pick up steam after negative reviews.

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

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

Mumbai-based Sony Pictures Releasing India had high hopes for "Raaz," especially given that Monday was India's 60th Republic Day. The film is said to have collected about $2.6 million so far. (partialdiff)