The starless $5 million ethnic comedy, with Parminder Nagra in the lead, has grossed an astounding $350 million worldwide.
Bend It, like Greek Wedding, is starting off strong, a USA Today headline declared. The movie, which added dozens of theatres and won fans in Kansas City, Miami, Memphis and other cities last week, 'is working it like a winner,' the newspaper said.
Some box-office experts wonder if the film will have the kind of legs Greek Wedding did.
'A lot of people are comparing it to Greek Wedding,' director Gurinder Chadha said in an interview. She would be happy if Bend It does even a small part of the business Greek Wedding did, she added. 'But then, it has surprised us immensely wherever it has been released. So, who knows where it is bound?'
Over the last weekend, the movie, which added about 100 theatres, taking the count to 216, grossed $1.4 million. Its total gross stands at $4.5 million in five weeks. This weekend, the film, which saw full-page interviews with its young stars in Newsweek last week, is adding over 120 theatres.
Bend It was number 14 on the box-office chart last week. It was also the second film by a desi producer among the top 15 films. Bringing Down The House, co-produced by Ashok Amritraj, starring Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, was the fifth highest grossing film of the week with $117 million.
Chadha's movie, which has received mostly favourable reviews, except for a major pan by The New York Times, is 'building its success through great word-of-mouth,' box-office expert Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, told USA Today about two weeks ago.
Its gross 'doesn't sound like a lot of money to a lot of people... but it tells you there's a groundswell behind this movie,' he added in another interview. 'They [Fox Searchlight] are doing exactly what they need to be doing. They have a great film on their hands, the buzz has been building, and they're rolling the film out into more and more theaters.'
The Newsweek article came after the film had moved into its fourth week. Media experts believe it is a strong sign of a movie's longevity when a major publication takes another look at it several weeks after its release. 'Indians -- let alone Indian girls -- don't play on English soccer teams,' began the article. 'It's a scenario found only in dreams, and in Britain's unlikely, irresistible Indie hit, Bend It Like Beckham.'
The film, which stars Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, follows two young women through their dreams. Nagra, in particular, idolises English soccer captain David Beckham and dreams of becoming a professional player.
Though The New York Times slammed the film for its ethnic clichés, most reviews have been kind. Some have said while it is not a great film, it is a joyous experience, nevertheless.
'Every now and again a quaint little independent film comes along and evokes such a strong emotional chord within the audience,' wrote the Tennessean, 'that you can't help but easily fall in love with it. Bend It Like Beckham is one such film.'
'Some people might have thought just because the film is a big hit in England, it does not mean it will do well elsewhere,' Chadha had mused before the film's release. 'They thought the title of the film may not mean much outside England'. But the movie, which grossed $18 million in England, was a major hit in Australia, grossing about $8 million. In most European countries, it earned over $1 million. It has earned about $50 million abroad.
'It is essentially an inspiring story of two young girls, particularly the Indian girl, and how they relate to their families and how the Indian girl has to deal with her parents and her friends,' Chadha said. 'It is a film that has wide appeal to any community.
'There were some suggestions that we should change the title in America,' Chadha added. Americans did not know who Beckham was, she said. 'But we decided to stick to it. There is some mystery to it -- and people are certainly intrigued.'
Fox Searchlight is spending over $5 million to promote the film over the next few weeks, buying ads in mainstream and desi television channels, radio stations and newspapers.
Though pirated video copies of the film were widely available in desi shops, desis are turning out to see the film in the theatres in significant numbers.
Producer Deepak Nayyar, who said the project had remained an orphan for over two years till he raised $5 million, said he had a gut feeling it would be a success across ethnic lines. "Everything about the story was unusual," he said. "For one thing, Indians hardly play soccer. Here is a small-looking girl who has to overcome many hurdles."
She is a rebel, yet she does not want to hurt her family. 'Now, who can resist such a theme?' asked Chadha.