By: Mohnish Singh
Shah Rukh Khan’s Hindi spy thriller opened to packed movie theatres in India on Wednesday in one of Bollywood’s top openings on record, despite protests from some religious groups over scenes they deemed obscene.
The success of “Pathaan”, where Khan plays a spy fighting a militant outfit, is crucial for the Indian film industry that has seen a spate of high-profile flops since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as Netflix NFLX.O and Amazon AMZN.O have provided varied, and much cheaper, content at home.
“It has seen a bumper opening, the second-best in Bollywood ever, even on a non-holiday, mid-week day, when audiences don’t go to theatres,” said Girish Johar, a producer and trade analyst who tracks box-office figures.
Movie critic Taran Adarsh said Pathaan, which marks Khan’s return to the big screen after four years, sold about 556,000 tickets on the first day, just behind record-setter “Baahubali 2″‘s 650,000 on the first day.
“Pathaan has it all: Star power, style, scale, songs, soul, substance, and surprises,” Adarsh said on Twitter, adding that Khan was “back with a vengeance”.
Of the 5,000 screens Pathaan was playing in, the occupancy rate was a high 65%-75%, a rarity in Bollywood for a film opening day, Johar said, especially as it was mid-week.
The film will now be shown on 8,000 screens, 2,500 of whom are abroad where Khan has a strong following, Adarsh said.
Right-wing Hindu nationalist groups had in recent days protested against the movie as promotional trailers showed lead heroine Deepika Padukone in an orange bikini, dancing to a racy song. The groups said the scenes denigrated the Hindu religion, which reveres the colour saffron as a symbol of spirituality.
“It is full of obscenities,” said Hemanta Ratha, chief of Odisha political party Kalinga Sena, as dozens of its activists shouted slogans against Khan and tore down the film’s posters on Wednesday. “It will have a bad impact on society.”
Nevertheless, local media showed audiences dancing inside theatres, waving their mobiles phones in the air, and singing along with the songs from the movie as it played.