How do Indian films gain recognition in China?

Li Shiyu China Plus Published: 2017-07-05 19:07:33
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Read by Zhang Wan, this is a small segment from the feature program, Horizons.

Starring Indian actor Aamir Khan, the sports drama film "Dangal" has already become the highest-grossing non-US film in China.[Picture:baidu.com]

Starring Indian actor Aamir Khan, the sports drama film "Dangal" has already become the highest-grossing non-US film in China.[Picture:baidu.com]

For many Chinese audiences, at the mention of Indian films, they will naturally think of dazzling dance and rollicking music. 

But this year, "Dangal", an Indian sports drama film, widely known in China as "Shuai Jiao Ba! Baba", has proved that Indian cinema could be so much more. 

Since its debut in Chinese movie theatres, "Dangal" has fast become a smash hit and a critical success. On Douban.com, China's most popular review website for film, television, books, music etc., the film scored an aggregate of 9.2 out of 10. In terms of box office revenue, this Hindi-language blockbuster has already smashed the incumbent record set by non-US films in China, raking in over 1.2 billion yuan, roughly 177 million US dollars so far. 

"Dangal" tells the story of a former wrestler who trains his daughters to be world-class champions, against social norms and gender stereotypes.[Photo:news.hexun.com]

"Dangal" tells the story of a former wrestler who trains his daughters to be world-class champions, against social norms and gender stereotypes.[Photo:news.hexun.com]

But how and why has an Indian wrestling drama could single-handedly stomp across Chinese movie landscape? 

Chinese director Lu Chuan, who is known for his compelling anti-poaching film "Kekexili: Mountain Patrol"and the Nanjing massacre movie "City of Life and Death", believes that "the power of this story and the emotions it conveys resulted in the remarkable success of 'Dangal'"

He also think "Dangal" could have become a huge insipration for Chinese filmmakers: "Telling a good story is the foundation of film making. I think this Indian film has taught us a lesson, if Chinese audiences could be easily moved by this kind of simple, straightforward and beautiful movies."

In 1955, Changchun Film Studio introduced Raj Kapoor's 1951 classic "Awaara", which was the first Indian film screened at Chinese theatres.[Photo:gb.cri.cn]

In 1955, Changchun Film Studio introduced Raj Kapoor's 1951 classic "Awaara", which was the first Indian film screened at Chinese theatres.[Photo:gb.cri.cn]

For years, Indian films have enjoyed a solid fan base in China. In 1955, Changchun Film Studio introduced Raj Kapoor's 1951 classic "Awaara", which was the first Indian film screened at Chinese theatres. Then in 1978, the movie was released for the second time and soon became a national sensation. For many Cine-philes around that time, Indian flicks such as "Noorie" and "Caravan" also became some of the most profound memories of their youth. 

But as Hollywood blockbusters rage through the Chinese market, public appeal for Indian films had nearly been silent, until recently. 

On June 26,2017, the production team of the Indian feature film "Turtle" meets the Chinese audiences during the 2017 BRICS Film Festival held in the Chinese city of Chengdu. [Photo:ChinaPlus]

On June 26,2017, the production team of the Indian feature film "Turtle" meets the Chinese audiences during the 2017 BRICS Film Festival held in the Chinese city of Chengdu. [Photo:ChinaPlus]

Wu Yan is an operations manager from UA Cinemas in Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan Province. During the 2017 BRICS Film Festival that run in late June, the cinema she works for screened movies from five different countries.

According to her, compared with films from other countries, Indian films won big, both critically and financially: "Some films became so popular that the tickets were highly sought after. Take the Baahubali series for example, 'Baahubali: The Beginning' screened at 100% of attendance whereas the attendance level of the second installment reached 97%. During the Indian Film Day, the tickets of the opening film 'Turtle' were all sold out. Some old-time classics such as 'Caravan' also won nods. Honestly, the rapturous applause inside the theatre has already given off how popular those films are."

"3 Idiots" has been one of the most well-received Bollywood films in China in recent years. [Poster:baidu.com]

"3 Idiots" has been one of the most well-received Bollywood films in China in recent years. [Poster:baidu.com]

Accordingly, the rejuvenation of India-themed movies in China started in 2009, when the academy-award-winning up-from-the-streets story "Slumdog Millionaire" rocked the silver screens. Then in 2011, the comedy "3 Idiots" was also introduced to China, receiving rave reviews. In the following years, films like "Dhoom" and "PK" also fed Chinese audiences' Bollywood fever. 

Despite of that, some industry insiders are worried that the growing popularity of commercial movies might fail to deliver the diversity of Indian cinema to Chinese audiences. 

Director Sumitra Bhave is one of them. Celebrated as one of the leading figures of contemporary Indian filmdom, she believes that to a certain extent, Bollywood doesn't "project the reality in real life".

"Poor people have little say in that kind of life painting. Here I think we should go deeper and use more secular way into the real life situation of people. So our kinds of films are larger-than-life films. There are films about ordinary people, about the life of happiness, sorrow, and struggle of ordinary people. I wish that (we could) really embrace (that mentality and) try to obtain that more and more."

Celebrated as one of the leading figures of contemporary Indian filmdom,director Sumitra Bhave brought her latest work "Turtle" to the 2nd BRICS Film Festival.[Photo: Courtesy of BRICS Film Festival Organizing Committee]

Celebrated as one of the leading figures of contemporary Indian filmdom, director Sumitra Bhave brought her latest work "Turtle" to the 2nd BRICS Film Festival  which run in late June.[Photo: Courtesy of BRICS Film Festival Organizing Committee]

In this year's BRICS Film Festival held in the Chinese city of Chengdu, Bhave's award-winning feature film "Turtle" opened the Indian Film Day. Unlike the typical light-hearted Indian pictures that we generally watch on the silver screen, her movie explores heavy topics such as depression and suicide. The film maker hopes that by screening films like hers, local audiences could understand that Indian pictures are much more than just dancing, singing, and comedy. 

To attract more Chinese cinema-goers, co-operation has become another way-out for Indian cinema. 

As part of the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in 2014, the two nations signed an audio-visual co-production treaty that aims at bringing together the film industries of these two most populous countries in the world. 

Starring martial art superstar Jackie Chan, "Kungfu Yoga" is a sino-Indian co-production. [Poster:sd.people.com.cn]

Starring martial art superstar Jackie Chan, "Kungfu Yoga" is a sino-Indian co-production. [Poster:sd.people.com.cn]

La Peikang is the Chairman of Board from China Film Group Corp. As China's biggest film company, his firm has worked closely with Indian filmmakers: "Last year we co-produced a film named 'Xuan Zang'. Some scenes in the comedy film 'Kungfu Yoga' were filmed in India. Everything went pretty smoothly."

The photo shows Indian delegates during the press release of Indian Film Day at the 2nd BRICS Film Festival in Chengdu, China on June 26,2017.[Photo:Courtesy of BRICS Film Festival Organizing Committee]

The photo shows Indian delegates during the press release of Indian Film Day at the 2nd BRICS Film Festival in Chengdu, China on June 26,2017.[Photo:Courtesy of BRICS Film Festival Organizing Committee]

But in the eyes of Indian veteran actor Mohan Agashe, to deepen people-to-people exchange between the two nations through movies, there is still much more that needs to be done. 

"Indian cinema in general is a medium of expression of our culture. So the moment you are exposed to various Indian cinema, that will help to get an overall image of what India is. I think (film) festival is one of the best platforms. Co-production is another one. Exchange of students is the third one. More chances you are allowed to spend time in India and we spend (more) time in China will give us better interaction."

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