It was meant to be a huge marketing coup, with Salman Khan opening up the hitherto dormant Japanese market for Bollywood with a nationwide release in Japan of Yash Raj Film's Ek Tha Tiger. Director Kabir Khan flew excitedly into a 4-city tour of Japan last week at the invitation the Japanese distributors Nikkatsu Corporation and the release date was fixed for April 20 in Japan.
But now, in what appears to be a hasty and clever business manoeuvre, Eros International has announced the Japanese release of their 2007 Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster Om Shanti Om. Entitled Koi Suru Rinne Om Shanti Om in Japan and with Japanese subtitles, the film would get a 15-print release across Japan on March 16.
While Eros maintains that their rush-release of Om Shanti Om in Japan this weekend has nothing to do with Yash Raj's carefully-strategized Japanese release plans for Ek Tha Tiger, a source close to both the actors spills the beans revealing that the overnight decision to release Om Shanti Om in Japan was primarily a means to give Shah Rukh a head-start over Salman in the Japanese market which is a still a nascent Bollywood market.
Says the source, "Where and when did Japan come into the picture?" When Yash Raj took the initiative by flying Kabir Khan to Japan to open up the Bollywood market in the country with Ek Tha Tiger, Eros immediately planned a rush-release of Om Shanti Om. Why a 7-year old film now? Two reasons. one, because reincarnation is a big high for the Japanese. And two, because a Shah Rukh starrer needed to enter the market before Salman's Ek Tha Tiger."
While Eros maintains that Bollywood and Shah Rukh Khan have a cult following in Japan, Ek Tha Tiger director Kabir Khan confirms that Japan is new to Bollywood.
Says Kabir, "I wonder why Bollywood has not explored Japan for shooting! I don't think any significant Hindi film after Love In Tokyo has been shot in Japan. There is a zero market for Indian films and filmmakers in the country. Even Rajinikanth's popularity in Japan was only a phase in Japan that has now faded. As things stand, Japan has no knowledge of Bollywood or Bollywood stars. It was Nikkatsu Corporation who took the initiative to bring Bollywood into Japan. We are starting from scratch in Japan."
Significantly, Kabir sidelines the pre-emptive Om Shanti Om release until reminded of it.
Says Kabir, "Yes, I believe Om Shanti Om is releasing in Japan. But it's not a part of Nikkatsu's Bollywood plans. We've plans of initially releasing 30 prints of Ek Tha Tiger in Japan to be scaled up to 70 prints. Their initial package includes Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, 3 Idiots and Don 2. With these films they hope to introduce a taste for Bollywood in Japan. Hopefully we'd also start shooting some films in Japan. I really don't know why Japan has been a closed door for Bollywood. Maybe because Tokyo is considered an expensive city."
Neither Salman Khan nor Katrina Kaif had the time to attend the Japanese premiere of Ek Tha Tiger.