Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The aftermath of My Name is Khan: The winners and losers are...

Sometime in the last few weeks, something really interesting happened to Karan Johar's much awaited melodrama My Name is Khan. Straining to overcome a minor but annoying backlash over a controversy in which Shahrukh Khan was detained at a US airport (in a case of life imitating unreleased art), the hard working KJo put an admirable publicity machinery in motion as the release date approached.

Around the same time Shahrukh, who also owns the Indian Premier League cricket franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, spoke out against how disappointed he was that the Pakistani players were not going to be playing in the IPL. Mumbai's self appointed soldiers - the Shiv Sena, led by beleaguered leader Uddhav Thackeray perhaps sensing immense political opportunity, took offense. How dare someone (a non-native Mumbaikar and Muslim!) side with the Pakistanis! Shiv Sena asked SRK to apologize, SRK refused, the Sena got a bit ugly. This is all well documented so not worth repeating here.

Last Friday, under threat from the Shiv Sena to disrupt the movie's release in Mumbai and with just limited verbal support from the film fraternity, MNIK opened.

Despite the ever-present specter of violence, the collections for MNIK set the box office on fire. The movie hauled in Rs 40 crores over the weekend in India. It blazed to a $1.86 m take in the US and a £936,000 take in the UK - opening weekend records for both countries for a Bollywood flick.

By all accounts MNIK will be a big hit - the question is just how big. This single event has decided the fate of several parties on either side of the MNIK fence.

Here are the winners and losers of the jung.


Shahrukh Khan

Not only does SRK get to prove his box office mettle, but refusing to back down when confronted with threats vaults him to the status of real life hero - albeit a status he may not want.

SRK got some support from the filmi duniya for his movie although that is all he got. Yet he cocked a snook at the Sena and pulled it off - which now makes him the poster child for United Bollywood. What's more - his blockbuster box office status has been restored after the lackluster Billu.

Karan Johar

KJo spent a lot of money on MNIK. He cast his favorite actors (SRK, Kajol) and pulled out all his tricks - on film and off it during marketing. When SRK's refusal to back down put KJo's rather expensive movie in jeopardy, KJO shrugged it off and stood firmly by SRK - tirelessly focusing his energy on publicity and trying to eke out some protection from the Mumbai police. He wins big as a friend to India's biggest star and a man who put his faith in his buddy's principles.

His work as a director got mixed responses from critics - but there was unanimous praise for his singularity of vision and his need to strain at the creative leash. MNIK's box office confirms him as one of Bollywood's most reliable directors and easily its most visible one.

Filmi Moms

Kajol has been at the forefront of making mommy actors viable propositions. She has done this primarily via (a) strong performances in traditional Bollywood roles (b) sparkling chemistry with Bollywood's biggest star - SRK and (c) unstinting admiration from Karan Johar.

MNIK confirms her status as the go-to actress for complex roles opposite big name actors. The fact that the movie worked with audiences allows her to become more than just another older, serious actress (like say Tabu) and a safe bet at the box office. In being elevated to this status, Kajol will force Indian audiences to reevaluate their bias towards married actresses.


Two years ago Twentieth Century Fox did a JV with Star Studios to form Fox Star and distributed Slumdog Millionnaire in India. On the backs of the same partnership Fox Star partly financed MNIK and gave US distribution rights to its boutique division Fox Searchlight.

MNIK's resounding opening gives Fox Star legs in Asia and allows Bollywood movies to become legitimate entries on the release calender of a major player like Fox Searchlight in the US.

Pakistani Cricketers

Boy its tough to feel unwanted and unloved. Locked out of the lucrative IPL because of various reasons - not the least being backlash against 26/11 (although most are loathe to admit it), the Pakistani cricketers were eyeing a bleak financial future.

Someone big in India suddenly spoke up for them, stood up for it and made a movie that was watched by millions in India. Loving Pakistanis is no longer taboo and this could be the start of the clarion call for becoming all neighborly again when it comes to Sports.


Mumbai backlash manifests itself in the form of people who miss Bombay - both the city in terms of its cosmopolitan feel and the name itself.

Why, Bombay was probably the more original name for the city to begin with, counter many. Expect 'Bombay' to make a comeback.


Shiv Sena

In principal the Sena didn't violate any sensibilities by protesting loudly against SRK and demanding kaala paani for his film in Mumbai. Did we agree with it? No, but freedom of speech extends to everyone.

But when they resorted to violence in order to get what they couldn't through the civilized channels of persuasion and debate, things got hairy. Everyone felt threatened (it could be us next!). The tide of public opinion turned against the Sena.

MNIK's fireworks at the box office was a slap in the face of the Sena and now raises probing questions about its influence and power base in Mumbai.

Brand Thackeray

Look at this way: the name Thackeray is synonymous with a intimidating leader who ruled Mumbai with an iron fist. Now, some Muslim film star publicly gives Pakistan a cagey 'aal iz well' certificate, refuses to apologize, sticks his tongue out at you when you try to ban his movie AND the movie goes on to become a huge hit.

This is a huge blow to Brand Thackeray's credibility. Could this be the beginning of the end for Mumbai's own Gabbar Singh? Will Mom's now blackmail their kids into sleeping with a different threat? India awaits with bated breath.


While there is nothing wrong with renaming your city to align with cultural sensibilities, the name Mumbai is now associated with scary race politics. The word conjures up fascists who are willing to resort to divisive politics and violence born out of economic jealousy. In short, Mumbai is rather unfortunately growing into a brand for anti-cosmopolitan, small-minded folks who are the enemy of fun.

On a personal note - I have not seen MNIK.


memsaab said...

What's amazing to me is how the controversy has reached the ears of my non-Bollywood-loving friends here. They are all asking me about it, even if they can't remember Shah Rukh's name! :) I do hope you are right about the bullying Sena and that they slink into a corner for a while..."enemies of fun" indeed!!!

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I agree on the segregation issue.
It is high time someone influential stands up for it..And you are right, Mumbai need to wake up to the fun it has always been and maybe bringing it back as Bombay would be the way to go. I was very glad to see SRK stand up for it at the airport too. People always speak about how it is wrong, but not many have the guts to stand up for the right.

Anonymous said...

Please do add India and its politisians as loosers and not acting against the Hooligans.

If you have not seen MNIK , you have not missed anything.
A combo of Gump and Rain Man Plus is all abou MNIK

Deep said...

mnik made that much money?? I would never have anticipated that. wow, i'm so out of touch with what indians call entertainment these days.

Anonymous said...

MNIK is underperforming in India and may flop. It dropped 70% after the weekend.

It is doing well overseas but the US has started falling as of Monday - 60% drop.

After the initial euphoria the word of mouth has been mixed to bad. This is going the way of KANK.

Mind Rush said...

In declaring winners and losers, you sounded like the Drift Umpire!

Time for the Sena & Sons to retire. The old man at the helm has been Sena-ile for a while!

Anonymous said...
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Sunny Verma said...
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Anonymous said...

I have not seen the film and still deciding whether to see or not to see. My friends say film is too long but my parents liked it a lot. So maybe a generational thing?

Srini said...

Yep, I hear MNIK is dropping in collections. But let's wait for this weekend because how MNIK does over the next 3 days is critical.

Love the box office slant to many of your posts. Its high time someone started focusing on it.

Unknown said...

Anon, I think you are right. I don't watch KJo movies but it appears to me that he has tremendous appeal with NRIs who like to connect with good old Indian values that they miss in the US.

Srini, yes about time :) But I wish numbers weren't such a circus.

Anonymous said...

what are Vishal-Shekhar up to??? complete silence on them on the Drift.

Unknown said...

They have a few big releases coming up. Anjaana Anjaani, I Hate Luv Stories, Tees Maar Khan. Not sure when the music drops.

Bolly Boy said...

Is King Khan making a movie with Farah Khan soon? Am a fan of both...

Unknown said...

I believe the word is that Farah got tired of SRK making her wait to make a movie. So she upped and signed Akshay Kumar instead. Both are playing it cool about it though.

Mind Rush said...

We need a post on "Famous Filmi Friendships" followed by another post on "Bollywood Breakups" (professional ones.)

Teddy said...

Just saw MNIK. I think Kajol sounds more and more like a chipmunk on speed when she talks, expecially when she's trying to be cutesy and happy. It grates on my nerves.

Also, I found it remarkable how Khan walks for days and weeks on his journey with sometimes no money to eat or take a bus, but he's always well coiffed and shaved.

Unknown said...

Teddy, good observation although I haven't seen MNIK yet.

What baffles me is that actors are all hot shot ready when it comes to showing up everywhere in a stubble. But when they NEED to do it for a role, they won't!

Its a continuity issue actually - my guess is Indian productions are so used to shooting continuously on location that continuity is not an issue. But when they break up their shooting small things fall through the cracks.

This particular affliction was present in Karthik Calling Karthik also.