Box Office: Padmavat and 3rd Generation Immigrants

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.

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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.

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(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.

Image result for padmavat poster

(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.

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15 thoughts on “Box Office: Padmavat and 3rd Generation Immigrants

  1. This is so true! My 4 y.o. loves the Ghoomar song, and wants to watch it everyday! And I’ve never shown her Indian movies (only songs). But I think she really likes the opulence and clothes and the dance. She likes that and then the Kanna song from Baahubali. Oh and she also likes SRK – no idea why/how. She’s like “I want to see that boy” 🙂 There’s something about him (I swear I never influenced her with my love for him)

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    • I have known SO MANY little girls who love SRK!!!!! Even if they outgrow it later, there is something about him that is uniquely appealing to little girls. Maybe because Salman comes off as too boy-like and Aamir as too adult?

      And yes, this is very much what I was talking about. Your little 4 year old has no concept of India as a complicated living place (because she is too little), and also no confusing identity issues (because she is too little), so she just likes the prettiness of it.

      On Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 1:24 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I think this point was already raised by a commenter in part-2 review but worth making again. (In real wars)Jauhar is not the climax. It is the scene before the climax where all royal women/children with ALL of their jewels jump into the fire. After this the men smear the ashes and go for the final fight having lost everything they ever had. This is why kings like Akbar found the fights with Rajputs very brutal.

    “Bollywood” sole purpose of existence seems to be to objectify women in song and dances and within that genre, Bhansali is peak bollywood where the whole movie is an excuse to show women dancing. And Padmavat seems to be peak Bhansali where the literal existance of the woman seems to be be only to do a ghoomar dance.

    Sympathise with actress such as Swara who know they are working in a industry that primarily (going by box office) is devoted to objectify women.

    Here Bhansali deliberately composed the ending in such a way that leaves no one in any doubt as to what he thinks of the women in his movies.

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  3. Pingback: New YouTube Video! Padmavat Box Office, With a Little Bit of Dog | dontcallitbollywood

  4. Couple of thoughts on your theory, and besides your theory.

    By first gen, do you mean immigrants, I.e. born in south Asia but emigrated, or do you mean children of immigrants, I.e. born in the emigrated country?

    In the UK, Canada, African countries, and island communities (Fiji, Trinidad, Samoa), you’ll find second, third, even fourth and fifth gen South Asian diaspora. In the USA however, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything past second gen Indo Americans. With the exception of Yuba City, CA, (where Sikhs came in 1880-1900), and a few other pockets, Indians didn’t start migrating to the USA en masse until 1965 due to the draconian Asian Exclusion Act in place until then.

    So if any third gen indo diaspora exist in the usa, they are most likely under ten yrs old (see priyas daughter is 4yo), and very few of them.

    So this 3rd gen market segment isn’t large enough or powerful enough to drive padmavaat to $15k per screen.

    Also, unlike many other immigrant communities, Indian Americans visit India very often. Even the first gen take their second gen children every 1, 2, or 5 years to India for Christmas break or the summer. And those second gen are in very close touch with their immigrant grandparents. So the second gen tend to be as knowledgeable as their first gen parents, and don’t need a fantasy costume drama to tell them what India is.

    My theories and observations …

    My FB newsfeed is flooded with immigrant and first gen types checking in to Padmavaat. I almost never see this level of activity for an Indian event in my fb newsfeed unless its for a music concert, like Arijit Singh.

    People I know who haven’t seen an Indian film since dangal &/or bahubali are going for this thing.

    So why is Padmavaat such an “event” film?

    – It’s in 3D. While we’ve had an overdose of 3D movies from Hollywood, 3D is almost unheard of in Bollywood. Some ppl will go because they want to see a 3D film. Others will go because, if it’s in 3D, then you have to see it in the theater, because if you wait till it’s streaming, you’ll only see the 2D version. And still others will go because, well if it’s being released in 3D, then it must be a significant film, so they wanna jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone else is doing.

    – the controversies really helped build interest. Whether it’s threats to SLB/DP, ruckus on sets, FIRs/politicians, delayed release, or Swara’s open letter, it all made the movie seem important/significant as an event or a moment, beyond just being a movie. The most common comment with the Padmaavat FB check-ins is, “Going to see what all the hoopla/hullabaloo/controversy is about.”

    – For the south Asian audience, the costume period drama is yet another variety of popcorn entertainment. They wanna see clothes that they fantasize about wearing themselves. So Death in the Gunj, Bombay velvet, BBakshi, Rangoon isn’t going to cut it, because no one wants to wear those clothes to their next wedding or function. But watching an SLB movie is like condensing wedding couture week into a 3 hour sitting. It was like when the Miss America/USA pageant used to be appointment tv, or how the Victoria’s secret fashion show is now… For women, its about the clothes, and the fantasy of looking like that when wearing those clothes. But unlike Americans, Indian women have affordable access to local tailors, so coming up with an affordable option inspired by what you see in the movie is not out of reach.

    – SLB is the only Bollywood director consistently making pre-20th-century dramas. Whether based on history, a poem, or just a Shakespearean adaptation, it’s giving a glimpse into what India once looked like, even if in an aggrandized way, because Indians think of their distant history in a glorified and glorious way.. It’s a patriotic exercise, a “proud of our Indian heritage” moment. Just like their is American Exceptionalism, there is also Indian Exceptionalism, and movies like this feed into that.

    – while I agree with Swara Baskars open letter whole heartedly, it’s not something that will keep the average Indo American away from the film, because (rightly or wrongly) they feel those are problems in India, not in the usa. So just like the Brahmins head being cut off and served on a platter is not seen as a threat to today’s Brahmins, glorifying jauhar is not seen as a threatening or influencing life for modern Indian diaspora women. Instead it’s viewed through the lens of Indian Exceptionalism, instead of systemic patriarchy.

    – most importantly, I think the decline of the superstar khans has given rise to the director as the star or brand. Most significantly, this applies SLB, Rajoo Hirani, and Rohit Shetty, in terms of reaching superstar levels of box office consistently. And just like there are superstar and star actors, there are star directors who do well but aren’t superstars at the box office, like VBhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Neeraj Pandey. And among the superstar directors I would add Aamir Khan, because his branding is much closer to an auteur/director who just happens to act/perform in his films. People who never see Indian films in the theaters still go to see amir khan, r hirani, r shetty, and/or SLB films.

    Sorry that turned out to be so long. Food for thought 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • What a complete delight this comment was… Read it twice!!!

      I so agree with what you say about first gen types wanting to see what the fuss is about — they’re possibly seeing a lot of Padmavat related violence reports being shared on their own FB feeds and there’s genuine curiosity about the film.

      Same is true about people who haven’t seen an Indian film since Bahubali. I wanted to watch this film because I wanted to experience Bahubali again. I wanted more Bahubali. Although I’d watched Bajirao and that was half a film that made you feel like you’d sat in the theatre forever, I wanted to watch Padmavat because I wanted to feel what BB made me feel.

      Agree about the clothes thing too. Which is why I was so surprised that despite the huge budget, no one is talking about the costumes. Not that they looked worth copying (compared to Bajirao which was very inspiring costume wise)

      SLB has made just two pre 20th C costume dramas. And this is just the second one in that category. Jodha Akbar was made by Ashutosh Gowarikar though it feels like a Bhansali film in spirit. It just feels like he has been making more of these because both Bajirao and Padmavati were not made to be remembered for the story or acting.

      I so hate that word indian exceptionalism because that’s more just northern, hindi speaking, Upper caste Hindu hegemony than actual Indian exceptionalism. I don’t think actual Indian exceptionalism exists because the northern, hindi speaking, Upper caste hegemons won’t let it exist and they’re too few in numbers to make a difference in the world beyond India.

      Since I’m not an immigrant, I don’t know what the majority of second Indian American immigrants felt about this film. But the first and second gen immigrant views (from Australia, NZ, UK and Canada) that made it back to us through friends have either been “omg cool costumes” or “crap this is going to get us a lecture about honor etc at home”)

      American society is different and Indian American society is different than Indian immigrant societies from other countries.

      I’m also very curious about your decline of the superstar khans bit. Don’t you feel that Padmavati and Bahubali are films that our khans should have been making had they not stuck to their formulas?? (with the exception of Amir. Amir has already committed to Mahabharata!)

      Liked by 3 people

      • I get to respond to your question even though it wasn’t directed at me because I am Queen of the Blog! (although of course Reflects On Life should too becasue it’s her ideas)

        With the Khans, I’m honestly not sure they can do these kinds of films. Salman tried twice, Suryavanshi and Veer, and it just didn’t work. Shahrukh did Devdas (worked) and Asoka (did not). It’s not just that the films failed because the audience didn’t want that kind of thing, it’s that Salman and Shahrukh didn’t feel right in that kind of film, I can’t see them disappearing into a historical character to that degree. I would be happy if they stuck to their formulas but didn’t expect them to be big hits any more, if that makes sense. Keep doing what you do well, just spend less money on it.

        On Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 5:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Maybe these superstars arent really good actors then if they can’t disappear into any character given too them. I say so because Amitabh Bachchan does not face this problem. i think he was amazing in The Great Gatsby. And that wasn’t even his home industry. Makes me wonder if Salman and SRK are both overrated. Maybe they’re just former superstars who got lucky and got rich and now their lack of talent is coming back to bite them in the bum.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! This is exactly the kind of discussion I wanted to start having. When a movie is this big of a success, it means there is something that is driving people in somehow and I want to talk about it. Not just “good movie-bad movie”, but the big big cultural ideas that might bring people in to see it.

      For the 1st 2nd 3rd, as I think I said, it doesn’t have to be literally 1st 2md 3rd. You can have 2nd generation, for instance, who are so determinedly assimilated that they go on to the 3rd generation on their own. Like, go to college, rebel, marry a white guy, and then at 35 start going “you know, now that I am older and have kids I want some kind of connection to my heritage that I used to reject”. Although (and this blows my mind because it means I am VERY VERY OLD), if we use 1965 as the starting point, then we are beginning to get the 3rd generation. If you come in 1965, have kids by 1970, those kids are now 47, which means their kids are starting college. The vast majority is still 2nd gen (seems like), but 3rd gen is on the way! Very exciting!!!!

      I really like your clothes point, because I was thinking about Rangoon and how it fits with almost all of these concepts. Name brand director, glorious past, Indian exceptionalism. But it didn’t have the awesome clothes, or just generally the fantasy “oooo, I want to buy that!” look to it. And of course it didn’t have the Islamaphobia that everyone loves.

      On Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 11:19 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

    • But then people will read her blog instead of mine!!!!

      Put a comment in Wednesday watching with this same link, I’ll try to remember to mention it next Wednesday too, that’s what the Wednesday posts are for.

      On Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 9:44 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Just happened to rewatch bits of Asoka the other day, couldn’t get myself to watch the whole movie. I think Santhosh Sivan stripped the movie of any kid of opulence so ended up looking very different from what we expect of a period film, but really the movie had some very interesting bits. Feels like it could be remade someday.

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    • It feels like the strongest parts of the story were the non-spectacular parts. Maybe it would have been a stronger film if it had been completely stripped down, we hear about Asoka’s big battles and triumphs but don’t see them. And instead it was just the idea of Asoka’s life, forgotten son who demands his own destiny, broken heart driving him, and that slow turn towards peace.

      On Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 3:09 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I thought there was too much of Kareena in the movie. When you’re talking about an emperor like Asoka, the love story really wasn’t the biggest thing about his life. But the movie was mostly about it :/ There was also Ajith who would’ve Bhallaladeva sorts if they’d developed it a bit.

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