For all the attention in Hollywood, Slumdog Millionaire has failed to set the box office alight in India where it is set, with piracy, anger over its portrayal of poverty and its controversial title taking a toll.
The Oscar-nominated film about the life of a street boy who wins a fortune on a quiz show appealed to multiplex audiences with its portrayal of hope amid poverty but left viewers in small towns unimpressed. A debate over the film's portrayal of India, where millions still live in the squalor depicted in Slumdog Millionaire, hasn't helped either.
"The film was slow in picking up but by Monday was seeing 65-75 per cent occupancy in multiplexes," said trade analyst Komal Nahta. "From Tuesday the collections have slowed again." Slumdog, shot largely in the slums of Mumbai, received mixed reviews, with some panning it for reinforcing Western stereotypes about India.
Police in the eastern state of Bihar tightened security after slum dwellers objecting to the word "dog" attacked a cinema hall screening Slumdog Millionaire in its main city. In small towns and semi-urban areas, the film is not doing well despite the huge publicity and a dubbed Hindi version.
"There was a problem with the title itself. Slumdog is not a familiar word for majority Indians," Nahta said. Another trade analyst, Amod Mehra, said the film had also been hit by the lack of a recognisable Bollywood face. Actor Anil Kapoor, who plays the gameshow host, is cast in a negative role.
"The film ... is not ideally suited for Indian sentiment," Mehra said. Fox Star Studios, which released the film in India, said it grossed 135 million rupees ($2.8 million) over the weekend. It said Slumdog had been hit by piracy. "I have to admit that the film was affected by piracy. A lot of people had already watched it," Vijay Singh, CEO of Fox Star Studios, said. But Singh said the film, playing in 350 screens across India, could benefit from word-of-mouth publicity. Some cinema owners were not so hopeful.
"To hear slum boys speaking perfect English doesn't seem right but when they are speaking in Hindi, the film seems much more believable," said Shunali Shroff of Fame Cinemas, a movie theatre chain across India. "Everything said and done, this is a niche film and we don't expect it to do well in smaller non-urban centres."
Slumdog Crorepati, the Hindi-language version of the film, did better in India than the original English version and Fox Star Studios said more prints in Hindi would be released.