Karan Flexes His International Muscles

Overseas Box Office report is out!  Woo!  And it proves either that Ajay has failed, or that Ranbir is the rising star, or really it’s all about Karan.  I’m pretty sure it’s all about Karan.

I’m gonna start with Germany.  50 screens, $97,000.  So, almost $2,000 per screen.  I think that might be the best a non-Shahrukh movie has ever done in Germany.  So, in one blow, Karan has proven a new market for Indian film, and killed the star system.

All these corporate studios have been trying to create the cross-over hit, have been trying to build business outside of the star system, and Karan just went ahead and did it.  Not by flipping the formula, but by taking the formula and making it better. Songs, stars, romances, with great dialogue and an awesome narrative, and a really really good promotional campaign.  That’s all you need for a cross-over hit, and a starless hit.  Just make a really good movie of the type the audience already likes and let it soar on its own.

(We all know that the DNA of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is the same as movies like Kabhi Kabhi from way back in the 70s, right?)

Staying in Europe, ADHM did really well in UK/Ireland.  132 screens, about $4,900 per screen.  Considering the cheap cheap cheap ticket prices in England, that $4,900 is quite an accomplishment!  The 132 screens is nothing to be sneezed at either, that’s a whole lot of screens for that market!  It’s not as unprecedented as the Germany figures, but it’s still quite respectable for a non-Khan film.

The same story is true almost everywhere.  New Zealand and Australia, almost unprecedented figures per screen.  America, 302 screens (20 screens more than Sultan!), not unprecedented per screen average (about $5,000, we’ve seen that for Akshay movies and Dhoni and other non-Khan films this year), but staying healthy on that high of a screen count is remarkable!  And another sign that this is the crossover we have been looking for, the movie that can do well in wide release overseas without a big name star, just because people like the movie.

Oh, and then in Malaysia, just to put in that touch of bitter with the sweet, it dropped below Kodi (Tamil) and Kaashmora (Tamil and Telugu).  But come on, it’s Malaysia!  Of course it’s gonna do that.  ADHM also only had half as many screens as those two, which is smart.  Even if Malaysia has a bigger desi population, for this movie, smarter to send those prints to Germany.

That’s just the ADHM picture, the Shivaay picture is not so great.  In America, dropped below Kaashmora, on about twice as many screens.  Even allowing for the inflated opening weekend ticket prices for Telugu movies, that’s still not good.  The per screen average was $2,000, which is really not good for opening weekend.  It’s not shockingly bad, it’s not like people were purposefully staying away (that would be if it were around $1,000), but it is not what you would expect for a major opening weekend release (that would be around $4,000 to $5,000).

In Canada, same thing, about $3,000 per screen.  Although at least it beat Kaashmora there.  But then, Tamil/Telugu stuff never does well in Canada.  UK/Ireland, less than $1,000 per screen!  Which is bad for the UK, but also bad because the UK market seems to serve as a good predictor for the Indian market.

Australia and New Zealand, slightly more than $2,000 per screen.  Those two countries have been going for action all year, so it’s to be expected Shivaay would do a little better there than elsewhere.  But ADHM did more than 4 times as good in Australia, on the exact same number of screens.  So the action bent means nothing compared to the Karan Johar bump.


So, what is the lesson we should learn here?  What is the ADHM magic Karan put together?  First, he took a familiar kind of story, a love triangle/quadrangle that is about the conflict between different kinds of love.  I mentioned Kabhi Kabhi earlier, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in my spoilers review.  I could also list off Chandni, Lamhe, Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, Sangam, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, and dozens of others.  It’s a conflict that is universal for humans, and which Hindi film does a uniquely good job dealing with, asking which love is more valuable, which is more “real”, at what point does “love” become selfish and destructive rather than noble?

(This is essentially the same as the early sequences between Anushka and Ranbir in ADHM)

Second, the kind of cast he put together.  None of them are major stars, defined as stars who can guarantee an opening.  Look at Shivaay, for instance.  It did not to well, but it broke $2,000 per screen everywhere.  That’s what happens when you have an Ajay, or an Akshay, or a Hrithik movie.  Setting aside the Khans, any of the established stars can guarantee a $2,000 per screen opening just on their names.  And Ranbir, Aish, and Anushka aren’t there yet.  Look at Jazbaa or Bombay Velvet or Tamasha.  They just aren’t at that level, the guaranteed opening level.  But on the other hand, they aren’t at the Aditya Roy Kapoor level either.  All 3 of them are well-known to the audience, and have years of experience onscreen.  Karan picked a cast that could sell the movie he wanted to make, but which wouldn’t over-shadow it.  It’s the same trick SLB pulled off with Bajirao.  And it’s what failed with Mohenjo Daro (unknown heroine) and Fitoor and plenty of others this year, where the studios tried to cheap out and cast an up and comer in their big budget production.

And 3rd, the promotions.  Karan kept people talking about ADHM for months and months.  He made himself into the star, in a way, tweeting selfies from the set, talking about how “personal” the story is to him, and so on.  And he used the songs to promote it, again a very old-fashioned and familiar kind of promotion, one the existing audience could relate to.  And one the industry knows how to do really well.  “Action” trailers or gossip show interviews are something a little new, but no one knows how to edit a song trailer, or promote a song release, like an Indian producer.  Most of all, he made sure we knew exactly what we would be getting.  A romance, a love triangle, costumes and luxury and everything else.  If you have been hankering for a new Karan Johar romance, whether you live in Germany or Malaysia, well, here it is.

3 thoughts on “Karan Flexes His International Muscles

  1. I think the most important reason for the success of ADHM is just the brand of Karan Johar. This is a movie that he is directing himself after 4 years so people flocked to the theaters. Of course all of the other factors like the songs and the cast did make a difference but at the end of the day, Karan Johar is a brand. If I’m not wrong, I think Student of the Year did pretty well overseas too.


    • I don’t have the figures for SOTY at my finger tips, because Bollywoodhungama has a terrible search function, but I don’t think it was this good (for one thing, there just weren’t 300+ screen releases in America 4 years ago). Although it was still pretty good, and definitely because of the Karan brand.

      I guess what I am trying to figure out is what exactly makes the “Karan Johar Brand” work. Farhan Akhtar is as good and as distinctive a director, but his films aren’t hits at this level. Same is true for Raykesh Omprakesh Mehra, for instance, or Ashutosh Gowarikar. Karan has a unique ability here to control all aspects of his films, in order to give a result which is both familiar and exciting.

      On Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 4:44 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Pingback: Box Office Update: ADHM Drops Off at Home, Soars Overseas | dontcallitbollywood

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