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|June 21, 2001||
'We loved Aamir!'
Arthur J Pais
The audiences were not dancing in the aisles, the cheering was often muted, and there weren't too many wah wahs.
And the opening weekend did not match that of such mega hits as Taal.
But there is no denying that Lagaan, Aamir Khan first production, had a very good start in North America and Britain.
Playing in 34 locations with at least two multiplexes together holding 40 shows on Saturday and Sunday, the much hyped film found itself 15th on the list of last weekend films in North America with a $ 285,000 gross.
Last year, Taal had opened with a $ 600,000 bang and had gone to gross about $ 2 million.
The only other desi contender, Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, opened the past weekend with a mild $ 75,000.
Desi movies lose about 50 per cent of the audiences in the second week, and if the attrition holds good for the rest of the run.
If Lagaan, too, succumbs to the trend, it might end up with about $ 625,000. In that case, it will be the second highest grossing desi-themed film this year.
The English-language campus comedy, American Desi, grossed about $ 930,000. But don't forget at about $ 200,000, it cost a fraction of Lagaan.
In Britain, where it opened with $ 150,000, it might grab $ 230,000 in the final run. It was 13th on last week's list of top grossing movies there.
At least in North America, Lagaan could emerge as Aamir Khan's highest grossing film. His 1947: Earth, which was released in mainstream cinemas, collected an impressive $ 600,000.
Some exhibitors thought that the Lagaan collection is indeed impressive considering that because of its length, it was shown less number of times than, say Taal.
Second, since some distributors themselves have started releasing the DVDs of the films even as the films have just opened, many people might have decided to stay away from the theatres; and hope to see the film at home if not today, tomorrow.
But Charu Benegal, who looked after its distribution in North America for Sony Entertainment Television, hopes that the word of mouth will bring more audiences in the second and subsequent weeks.
Benegal apparently saw more enthusiasm for the movie than this writer experienced on two days at Naaz cinema in Fremont, California: "On Sunday, we went around to all the theatres in New Jersey and we spoke to some of the audiences."
Some of them didn't know that it was going to be funny and fun; they did not know about the cricket scene -- they went in thinking village, period film, and they were blown away. We walked into theatres watching, waiting for the reactions, especially during the cricket sequence. They laughed when we thought they should laugh. They were, obviously, rooting for the home team.
Some of the older people in Fremont and at a Sunny Vale cinema in the Silicon Valley thought the scenes involving Rachel Shelley were not emotionally satisfying.
"Firangi ko acting karna nahin aata," said an elderly woman, adding that she went to sleep often during the film whenever the characters spoke in Angrezi.
She was convinced Shelley was not a good actress: She did not cry enough, she did not pine enough for Aamir Khan, the woman said. She also wanted to know why an Indian actress was not made up as a white woman.
In Fremont, many teenagers who have seen sports-themed movies such as Bill Durham, offered varied reactions. Some said they got bored after a while with the cricket content.
"We enjoyed the dances and color and romance," said Prema Rao, "and we l-o-v-e-d Aamir."
But for girls, especially for those raised here, a sports-themed film is not something to watch on a date.
Several others said that though they found it difficult to follow the intricate points about cricket, they saw the matches as a fight between the underdog and the oppressor.
"What I liked about the struggle is that it was not made easy, like in typical Hindi movies," said S K Chetty. "It was realistic and yet it was fun."
Benegal would agree with Chetty.
"The reactions have been very good and as you saw the numbers are very good," Benegal continues. "Since it is a summer release and most schools and colleges are closed, we are hoping for a good second and third week."
"We saw a lot of young people," Benegal adds. "We saw some young kids, all unaccompanied by their parents. They had come as a group to watch the film. If you see it, it is a young person's movie. Older people will also enjoy it."
With inputs by Aseem Chhabra and Mabel Pais
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