'Padmaavat' Has Top Bollywood Opening in North America, Strong Start in India

PADMAAVAT Still 1 -Publicity -H 2018

Viacom's controversial epic defied violent protests and mixed reviews in India in its opening weekend while beating previous top Bollywood opener 'PK' in North America.

Controversial Bollywood epic Padmaavat defied violent protests and mixed reviews in India, recording a healthy opening at the box office both at home and abroad.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film became the top Hindi-language Bollywood opener in North America, grossing $4.4 million over the weekend in 326 cinemas (while its cumulative figure with paid previews touched $4.93 million), according to Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the Indian film unit of Viacom that co-produced the film.

Padmaavat landed in the 11th spot in the U.S. box-office ranking for the Jan. 26-28 weekend, breaking the record for the largest Bollywood opening weekend in North America, previously held by Aamir Khan starrer PK, which had opened with $3.6 million in 2014.

However, the record for the highest opening by any Indian film in North America is still held by last year’s Telugu-language South Indian blockbuster Baahubali 2, which collected $10.4 million from 425 theaters during its opening weekend. The film was also dubbed into Tamil and Hindi.

While figures from some international territories are still to come, overseas Padmaavat grossed $12.1 million (including North America), with Viacom's Paramount Pictures handling the film's release in the U.K./Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East, though not the U.S. and Canada, where the film has been distributed by Viva Pictures. This is the first time Paramount is distributing a Bollywood title. Padmaavat had a particularly good run in Australia, where it collected $1.4 million (A$1.7 million) over the weekend, while in the U.K. it reached $1.2 million (856,129 pounds).

In India, Padmaavat crossed the 1 billion rupee mark, the local standard for a blockbuster, collecting a gross of $27.6 million (1.76 billion rupees) over the weekend on 4,000 screens, according to Viacom18. (The net figure for India, after deducting taxes, comes to $17.9 million, or 1.14 billion rupees, which is the figure Indian analysts focus on.)

India does not officially report box-office figures, so it is difficult to ascertain which film is the all-time opening weekend champ, but the billion-plus rupee haul puts Padmaavat in the same league as last year’s hit Dangal, which is understood to have opened to $16.3 million in India.

Taking the international and Indian gross figures together, Padmaavat’s total opening-weekend haul has reached $39.78 million, beating the $34.0 million worldwide take of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which was in the second spot of comScore’s global film rankings for the weekend. Since comScore has not included the India figures for Padmaavat – and those from some other territories – the film ranked 16th on its weekend list with $9.2 million.

Padmaavat revolves around Queen Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone, who made her Hollywood debut in Vin Diesel’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) and her warrior king husband, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, who battled Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh). According to legend, Khilji was besotted by the beauty of the queen, sparking his fixation to conquer her kingdom.

The film ignited protests when it began shooting in 2016, when its sets were ransacked by fringe members of the Rajput community, who even physically attacked Bhansali. The protests were fueled by suggestions that the film was distorting history and apparently suggested a romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader via a fantasy dream sequence, a charge that has been denied by Bhansali.

After the film’s original release date of Dec. 1 was postponed, it was cleared by India’s censor board, subject to some modifications, such as replacing the film’s original title, Padmavati, with the new title referring to the epic poem Padmavat, written in 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, that tells a fictional story about Khilji's desire for Queen Padmavati. The censor board also asked for the film’s disclaimer to state that it “does not claim historical accuracy.”

The Indian states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh said they would not allow the film to be screened, leading Viacom18 to approach the country's Supreme Court, which issued an order that the film had to be released nationwide, as it was cleared by the censor board. But it is not clear yet when those states will begin showing it. The decision also did not deter protesters from going on a rampage and attacking some cinemas in Gujarat and other states, while a school bus in Haryana’s Gurgaon, a city near the capital of Delhi, was also attacked.

The protests were quelled as the film rolled out over the holiday weekend, with Friday being India’s Republic Day. Box-office analyst Taran Adarsh posted a Twitter message arguing that the film could have added an additional $5.5-$5.8 million (350-370 million rupees) if it had also opened in the states where it was disallowed.

Padmaavat could maintain a strong run, as it faces no major competition in its first two weeks in India until Sony Pictures Entertainment India’s much-awaited Bollywood co-production PadMan opens on Feb. 9. Starring Akshay Kumar, the female hygiene drama had earlier booked the lucrative Republic Day weekend slot but postponed its release to avoid a clash with Padmaavat.