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A Story Right Out of Hollywood--Only It's Not

Movies* The strong response to 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham' at home in India and abroad has observers reassessing the potential of South Asian films.

January 11, 2002|KAVITA DASWANI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An epic-length movie that is virtually unknown outside South Asian communities has become the highest-grossing Indian-language film in history. "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham"--which translates literally into "Sometimes Happy Sometimes Sad" and is referred to colloquially as "K3G"--is, with a budget of $10 million, the most expensive movie ever made in India. It broke box-office records in its opening weekend there and remained the No. 1 draw for its first three weeks in theaters.

The 31/2-hour production took in $1 million in its opening week in Bombay alone, up against such Western films as "Rush Hour 2," "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "America's Sweethearts." After a $1.37-million North American opening weekend, it had, by last weekend, brought in close to $3 million in North America, more than any South Asian film, said Jawahar Sharma, head of North American operations for Yash Raj Films, international distributor for "K3G."

In the United Kingdom, where much of "K3G" was shot, it brought in 500,000 pounds in its first week, placing it at No. 3 on the nation's box-office list--two places down from "Harry Potter."

"We will keep on playing the movie until it has reached its potential," Sharma said.

"The enormous success of 'K3G' is due primarily to three reasons: star power, marketing and timing," said Gitesh Pandya, a South Asian film producer based in New York and editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com.

Karan Johar, 30, also wrote and directed the previous top-grossing South Asian film, 1998's "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," which translates roughly as "Something Is Happening." India's most sought-after director, he attracted six of the country's most popular stars to "K3G."

Appearing together for the first time in decades are Amitabh Bachchan, a legend in the South Asian film industry (he has been immortalized at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London) and his wife, Jaya, who came out of retirement to play the role as Bachchan's character's spouse. In addition, Johar cast Indian sex symbol Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan, another young male box-office draw in India. Rounding out the cast are actresses Kajol and Kareena Kapoor, the latter a scion of an Indian acting dynasty.

The assembled cast, in American terms, would be akin to getting together Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.

South Asian audiences everywhere have embraced the plot. The movie's marketing line is "It's all about loving your parents." In a wealthy U.K.-based family, a foster son leaves home after marrying a girl not of his parents' choosing. The younger son and his girlfriend subsequently work on bringing the clan back together again. Jaya Bachchan's role as a nonsubmissive, tell-it-like-it-is tycoon's wife proved a departure for the traditional mother roles.

"It was very entertaining," said Dimple Patel, a Beverly Hills woman who saw "K3G" as soon as it was released. "It's a long film, but you don't really feel it."

The film encompasses opulent scenes featuring English country estates, noted venues around Bombay and even some select scenes in Egypt--as well as lush song-and-dance numbers and designer wardrobes.

Nikhil Advani, the Bombay-based assistant director, said that the British scenes were shot in locales like Hyde Park, Leicester Square and the British Museum, as well as stately venues like Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury.

Watchers of the South Asian industry say the success of "K3G" has much to do with a family-driven story being sought after in these uncertain times.

"People seem to be looking for more family-oriented films," said Kiran Rao, founder of HollywoodMasala.com, which tracks happenings in the South Asian movie industry. "There is an old-style family romanticism here."

"K3G" was released on Dec.14 on 600 screens in India and 200 overseas; the international prints were all subtitled. In England, it has been showing in Indian-centric cities such as Southall and Leicester, in addition to more mainstream cinemas in London.

The film is also playing at select theaters in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Norway. Seventy-three prints were released for North America, where it is showing in traditional South Asian areas like Artesia and Cerritos in the Southland, as well as in Northridge and Laguna Hills. It's playing at the Loews in New York City's Times Square, AMC theaters in Chicago and at Imax in Toronto.

"I've talked to people who have seen it more than twice, who say that once is not enough to take it all in," said Yash Raj Films' Sharma.

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