Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), aka KANK, a new Bollywood film shot in New York city, has set a box office record for a Hindi film in North America with a $1.4 million collection in the opening weekend.
The previous record for a Bollywood opening was $1 million for 2001's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which like KANK was directed by Karan Johar, according to Indian American film journalist, Gitesh Pandya, who runs BoxOfficeGuru.com.
With a $21,122 average collection from 64 locations KANK scored the best per-theatre average of any film in the Top 40, he said in his weekly box office report calling it as part of a trend of Indian films being set and shot in the South Asian diaspora.
The three-hour-plus extravaganza relating the tale of two soul mates, married to other people, who tackle the notion of true love, was given the widest release ever for a Bollywood film in North America opening on 95 screens in 64 theatre locations.
The previous record was 88 screens for 2004's Veer-Zaara, which also starred Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherji, Preity Zinta, and Amitabh Bachchan, Pandya told South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) Forum.
KANK was especially impressive at New Jersey's Regal Commerce Center in North Brunswick where the film grossed an astounding $61,470 over the weekend from two screens.
Typically, grossing $10,000 on a weekend is a major achievement. This 18-screen multiplex plays mostly Hollywood films, but also does phenomenal business from Bollywood films thanks to its location in the heart of one of America's largest South Asian communities.
Hopefully, KANK's strong numbers will encourage other American multiplexes in major markets to start programming Bollywood pictures, Pandya said.
It has been a big comeback year for the industry. Screen counts for 2006's other big Bollywood films were 61 for January's Rang De Basanti, 72 for May's
Fanaa , and 59 for June's Krrish. For the most part, the marketing push has been about the same for all of these big hits this year.
But freelancer Aseem Chhabra thinks it still makes no sense for him to pitch a KANK story to the mainstream press in the US as most editors will have no idea what this film is about.
KANK has opened only in the Indian market in the US. It's not just a question of box office. Bollywood films have not crossed over into mainstream or even art house theatres in the US, he told SAJA forum.
The Sony Classics experiment with Lagaan that was released in a few art house theatres, including Film Forum in Manhattan, was just that - an experiment, with no significant results.
So far the only Indian/South Asian films that have succeeded in the US mainstream - more like art house- market are Bend it Like Beckham that grossed over $32 million and Monsoon Wedding ($13.9 million) and maybe Water, Chhabra said. He doubted if KANK will come anywhere near these films.
Asked why some Bollywood films get acronyms that catch fire, Chhabra said he thinks these are the creation of the new hip film-going generation in India.
"Did you know that Karan Johar is now referred to as KJo, like that woman who we call JLo here, and of course, everyone knows that Shah Rukh Khan is referred to as SRK. Amitabh is AB and Abhishek is AB Jr," he said.
Everything is recycled in Bollywood- films, stories, titles, Chhabra said. Bollywood is currently remaking the classic films Umrao Jaan and Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam. There have been two Barsaats since Raj Kapoor's original; one Barsaat Ki Raat, after the original Madhubala film.
Bollywood is also notorious for recycling successful Hollywood, and now even Asian films, said Chhabra suggesting the recent Zinda was an exact copy of the award winning film Old Boy from Korea.
Chhabra believes some non-desi Americans will watch Bollywood films like KANK. But the number of non-desi Americans watching Bollywood films is still very small -- especially if you look at Americans who go for other foreign language films -- European and most recently Asian films.