There isn’t much to analyze this week, Padmavat is doing crazy good everywhere, you can just sort of accept that. And also, secondly, Bhagamathie is also doing good. But, WHY? I am going to take a massive logical leap and you can decide if it makes sense or not.
First, raw numbers. Padmavat is doing $10,918 per screen in the US, $22,823 per screen in Canada, $5,064 per screen in the UK, $24,694 in Australia, $15,524 in New Zealand, and $2,448 per screen in Germany.
Bhaagamathie is doing $5,855 per screen in the US, $1,000 per screen in the UK, $3,940 per screen in Australia, and of course ridiculously good in Malaysia.
Now, these numbers come with some caveats. First, it was a 4 day weekend since Padmavat released on Thursday. Second, Padmavat released in 3D, which means inflated ticket prices. And third, even though it was a Hindi film which usually has regular prices (versus Southern films that have a sliding scale), it had slightly higher ticket prices for opening weekend at the Indian theaters (at least around me).
On the other side of things, Bhaagamathie released with slightly lower opening weekend prices than the regular big southern films would, because it was female lead. So the $5,855 it got was very respectable. Especially opposite a major Hindi release with a similar look to it.
With all of this caveats, what we can say is that Padmavat is doing very very very well overseas, a return to the kind of figures we were seeing last year. While Bhaagamathie is also doing well, Anushka has opened a film better than the big southern stars did. It’s a good weekend for the movie business.
It is also completely against what I predicted! But that’s fine, I can be wrong sometimes. Only, it does make me look at these figures and wonder why I was wrong, what aspect could I have been missing? So here is a possible idea of what could be happening that I have come up with. I’m not totally confident with it myself, but I think it is an interesting angle to use on the discussion of these films and I at least want to throw it out there: Is this an example of 3rd generation immigrant psychology?
When I was in college taking a sociology class, my teacher went through the standard pattern for immigrant families. He used generations, but the same process can happen within one generation, or can take many to complete.
The first generation is still closely tied to their original country. They send their kids to language classes, they participate in community events, they resist assimilation.
The second generation embraces assimilation. They turn themselves into complete “Americans” (or whatever their identity is).
The third generation returns to the original identity, trying to rediscover it, to find something that makes them feel special within their current nation.
It doesn’t have to be like this, there are some immigrants who immediately fall in love with their new country, who embrace assimilation right from the start. There are also some second generation immigrants who remain locked within their original community and resist assimilation. And there are people who go through all of these phases in turn on their own. But this is generally how it works. Staying close to your original identity, then assimilation, then returning to the original identity.
Now, what I have started to think about is this journey in terms of the NRI market for Hindi films. Hum Aapke Hain Koun was clearly aimed at that first generation. A reminder of the best possible version of the India they left behind.
(Happy happy! But also a real reflection of moments you might remember)
DDLJ and the films that followed it were for the second generation. The ones who loved their life overseas and embraced it and tried to find a way to balance it with the values and traditions handed down from their parents.
(This is perfect)
And now Padmavat is for the 3rd generation. The ones with minimal connection to “real” India, but a vague idea of a fantasy of India that they want to connect with. Which is also why it is doing well as a crossover film, it fits with the idea that “white people” have of India, and by extension Indian film, as dramatic and romantic and a fantasy. I said in my review of Bhansali’s Devdas that he created the Disneyland version of colonial Calcutta, and in this film he created the Disney version of Indian history.
This is not a film that embraces complexity, or uncertainty, or gives you a world you have any hope of actually recreating or returning to. Hum Aapke Hain Koun gave the diaspora actual memories, the best possible version of those memories (when no one was fighting and everyone was together and there was plenty of food and fun), but still real memories. DDLJ and its followers gave the second generation something that spoke to their real lived experience, wearing western brands and casually moving about western cities, but still having an Indian identity that they have to wrestle with. And now Padmavat is selling the fantasy, the idea that this is what India was like and you can be proud of it, but there is certainly no pressure to actually return to India or grapple with what is facing the country in the modern moment.
(This is the kind of image you could recreate in a Halloween costume, not the kind of thing you can wear to your college campus. And the Indian identity sold by this film is similarly something you can take on and off like a costume, not something you wear everyday)
This is also, I suspect, why Padmavat will become a bit of a crossover hit in the same way Lagaan and Devdas were. All 3 films sell an easily digestible fantasy version of India, one you can enjoy whether you are of Indian descent but far removed from the current reality, or not of Indian descent and even farther removed.
Although one thing that makes me hopeful is that Padmavat is being greeted with slightly more caution and awareness among the American mainstream than those other two films were. I was delighted to read the review on Roger Ebert’s website, which was light years better than the last Indian review I read there of Rangoon, actually grappling with the complexity of art versus message (link to review here).
And so perhaps it takes this extreme level of fantasy to force people to realize it IS a fantasy, that “reality” is something different and to start craving that reality. Who knows, perhaps that means 3rd generation immigrants keeping their fantasies for their old countries and starting to work and relate to reality in the new country.