The amalgamation of geo-political and cultural factors has opened up a new opportunity for Indian filmmakers in Russia. Will SRK be able to crack this market just like he won over the US-Europe Box Office?
Taking a cue from the success of the South Indian movie ‘Pushpa’ in Russia, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan is urging Russians to watch his much-hyped ‘Pathaan’, in theatres. In a recently released video with Russian subtitles, Khan is seen telling Russians that he loves them while making a strong pitch for Pathaan, which is partly shot in Russia.
Pathaan is opening in Russia along with other countries of the erstwhile Soviet Union – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and Azerbaijan on January 25.
Even as ‘Pathaan’ has been facing the ire of the Hindu right-wing in India over a perceived communal slant, the film is looking at an ambitious release across the world. It is eager to capture the lucrative and untapped market in Russia and the nearby regions as the Ukraine war and the subsequent US sanctions have created a vacuum of regular Hollywood entertainment.
Pathaan is also the first Indian film to be shot in Siberia’s Lake Baikal. Shah Rukh Khan’s video message for Russian movie-goers was accompanied by huge posters and hoardings of the film in Russian language, installed across major landmarks of Moscow.
What is interesting is that Shah Rukh Khan was one of the first Bollywood actors to capture the US-Europe NRI market with his films in the 90s. Be it his movies with the Yash Chopra camp or those made in collaboration with Karan Johar, his films found massive success in foreign movie markets in the US and Europe. Even their content was driven by the sensibilities of the aspirational NRI community that wanted to stay in touch with its roots. The by-product was Bollywood earned a distinct identity as a form of entertainment in these markets even for the White audience.
On the Russian end of the geo-political spectrum, Bollywood has lost touch with the audience since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Since Raj Kapoor’s films of the Soviet era, Indian films have hardly made an impact on the Russian entertainment market. The most popular Hindi films of all time in Russia continue to be those starring Raj Kapoor. The actor captured the Russian audience’s imagination with his 1951 film ‘Awara’. People in Russia reportedly waited in huge lines for hours enduring rain for tickets. Kapoor is a mainstay whenever the nostalgia for the ‘golden period’ of India-USSR relations is evoked.
The current-geopolitical situation has resulted in many Hollywood films not being released in Russia. Kremlin too has banned some Hollywood actors. In March 2022, Netflix suspended service in Russia due to the Ukrainian war.
Hollywood has left no scope for ambiguity when it comes to lending support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky on all possible platforms. Last year in March Oscars held a moment of silence to show support for Ukraine. In the middle of a full-blown war, Vogue did a magazine cover of the celebrity President and the first lady, praising how the couple is holding up in the face of a crisis in their country. The acrimonious relationship has left limited options for US entertainment in Russia, creating an opportunity for Indian films to tap into.
Interestingly, it was not a Bollywood film, but a South Indian film, Pushpa, which set the box office registers ringing indicating a rekindling of interest in Indian content in Russia. In December last year, Pushpa was released in Russia. It earned 10 million (approximately Rs 13 crore in Indian currency) rubles in 25 days at the Box Office. It continued to dominate the Russian theatres running across 774 screens even a month after its release.
The amalgamation of geo-political and cultural factors has opened up a new opportunity for Indian filmmakers in Russia. Pathaan’s performance in Russia will be closely watched out. Will SRK be able to crack this market just like he won over the US-Europe Box Office? We will find out soon.