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December 20, 2001

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K3G makes history in US, UK

Aseem Chhabra in New York

Karan Johar's Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham had the biggest opening for a Bollywood film in North America - grossing slightly over $1 million, but Daily Variety, the bible of the Hollywood industry was silent about it.

K3G's opening gross far surpassed the previous records maintained by Hum Saath Saath Hain and Yaadein. Both the films grossed approximately $650,000 in the opening weekend.

"They found the number too high," said Jawahar Sharma, a spokesperson for Yashraj Films. "They doubted that on 73 prints we managed such a high gross."

Sharma added that Variety and AC Nielsen EDI - the actual box office reporting agency -- had asked him for evidence to support his numbers, but meanwhile he had missed the deadline for the December 18 issue of the newspaper.

"It is unfortunate that EDI and Variety would not believe the distributor," said Gitesh Pandya, the man behind boxofficeguru.com - one of the most respected box office sites. Pandya is also the producer of American Desi which was the most successful Indian film in North America in 2001, until K3G was released last weekend. "But their position is understandable, because it (K3G's box office) is so surprising, not just for an Indian movie, but for any ethnic movie, be it Spanish, Chinese or Korean."

"I have never seen an Indian movie open this big," Pandya added. "But with the promotion and the anticipation it was set for big opening."

Daily Variety's position was defended by Dade Hayes, senior editor of the newspaper.

"There is a basically an honors system that defines how and when the numbers have to be reported," Hayes said. "When you get to a certain level, there are things that can raise a red flag."

If Daily Variety had reported the number in its December 18 edition, K3G would have commanded the prestigious number 10 spot among movies running in North America - the highest opening position for a Bollywood film. Instead the number 10 spot was taken up by Miramax's hit French film and Oscar hope -- Amelie, which grossed $773,000 for the weekend.

With a gross of over $1 million K3G also had the highest per screen average for a Bollywood film in North America -- $13,836, approximately $400 more than the previous record set in 1999 by Subhash Ghai's Taal. Both those screen averages are extremely high for Hollywood standards. The number one movie of this weekend - Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise and his current love interest Penelope Cruz had a per screen average of $9,123.

K3G also had a huge opening in the UK. With $689,000 it was the number three movie in that country - two spots below the monstrous hit of the season, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

"I told them (Variety and EDI) that K3G is number three in UK," Sharma said. "That has never happened before. But they were concerned that if our numbers weren't correct, it would affect their credibility."

Pandya added the UK gross -- compiled by the British arm of AC Nielsen EDI, clearly indicated that the North America numbers supplied by Yashraj Films were correct.

"If the gross is that big in UK, then you have to believe that it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest in North America," he said.

According to Sharma nearly 10,000 people saw K3G at the largest desi theater in US - the 13 screen Cineplaza in North Bergen, NJ. Similar attendance numbers were reported by Naz 8 Cinemas in Fremont, CA and the chain of three theaters in New Jersey and California, operated by Vista India.

And at the Loews State Theatre in the heart of Manhattan's Times Square district, extra seats had to be added to accommodate the crowds that had turned up for the Saturday afternoon show. Last year Mission Kashmir became the first Bollywood film to be released in Times Square. But so far no Bollywood film has had a successful run at that location, until this weekend.

Pandya said that often Bollywood films are shown in independent theaters, which are off the industry's radar screen. EDI does not have the older theaters in its system, some of which used to show American films, but went bankrupt, with the boom of multiplex chains. Reports from these independent theaters are harder to verify, he said.

"Some of the theaters showing this movie should be on the EDI system, but some are not," Pandya said. "And until all the reports are in the EDI system, you have to take the distributor's word for it."

K3G is Karan Johar's second directorial venture. His first, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ended up with a $2 million run in North America. Kuch, Kuch. was the also the first film marketed in North America by Yashraj Films - a distribution outfit run by producer and director Yash Chopra.

"In many ways Kuch Kuch. (by all counts the first film to gross over $2 million in North America) was a benchmark for films overseas," Sharma said before the release of K3G. "I think K3G is capable of setting a new record."

Although elated with K3G's numbers, Sharma also sounds disappointed.

"This (reporting in Variety) was our opportunity in America to make people realize how large the market is for Bollywood films. And I am disappointed since we missed the chance."

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