Just as the newest films by Subhash Ghai and Mani Ratnam stumbled on both sides of the Atlantic and exhibitors wondered if the magic that guaranteed them a hit abroad had vanished, Sanjay Leela Bhansali sprang a surprise.
His songless movie, Black, had opened to a mediocre $145,000 in North America on 45 screens and to similar numbers in Britain on 20 screens. The movie had been advertised well and had looked like a surefire winner.
Desi movies usually come down by about 50 percent in subsequent weeks, and going by convention, Black should have ended its run with $280,000 in North America and with a similar gross across the ocean.
But it bucked the negative trend, perhaps the only film in the last three or four years to do so.
Fuelled by word of mouth, it remained so steady that in four weeks, it grossed $560,000 in North America and $600,000 in Britain. Expect the film to earn a combined $1.2 million. Of course, the final gross looks paltry combined to the $7 million plus Bhansali's Devdas earned in Britain and North America.
But given the recent box-office disappointments, Black did surprisingly well.
Dharmesh Darshan's Bewafaa is another film expected to do well abroad, but we have to wait until Friday to see how it has actually performed.
Fans in New York and New Jersey theatres said they were moved by Amitabh Bachchan's performance in Black, and surprised by Rani Mukerji's emoting.
Among recent desi films that have made an impact abroad, Black would be third. The list is led by Veer-Zaara, which, like Black, was distributed by Yashraj Films, and grossed about $3.1 million in North America and about $4 million in Britain.
The second film was Swades, which grossed a decent $1.2 million in North America but earned just half that amount in Britain. In most cases, a Shah Rukh Khan film does stronger business across UK but Swades failed the test. Given the hype, and the fact that it was made by Ashutosh Gowariker whose Lagaan was a huge hit abroad, Swades was a disappointment.
Meanwhile, Bride & Prejudice, which opened at the second position on the Australian box-office chart with a $1.2 million weekly gross though playing in just about 92 theatres, had a solid second week. It has grossed about $2 million there.
In North America, where the film added 124 theatres -- taking its total screen count to 156 -- over the weekend, it has grossed $1.8 million in 17 days. In its second week, it dropped from the 19th position to 24 but with the addition of dozens of screens, it returned to the old position.
Its gross in Britain, Australia, North America, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa has come to about $17 million, and the film which cost about $7 million has already recovered its basic cost. With many more territories awaiting it, and several expansions planned in North America, it will make plenty of money.
But then one wonders if it has enough repeat value to reach the $75-$80 million that Gurinder Chadha's previous film, Bend It Like Beckham, had grossed worldwide.