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October 31, 2001
Song and dance over nothingArthur J Pais
Shah Rukh Khan's Asoka has lost the box office battle in North America and United Kingdom. The much hyped film, whose producers had also hoped to expose it to mainstream audiences in a significant way, seized $337,464 in North America and $360,000 in the United Kingdom.
"I don't know what I can make out of the film," says Simran Singh, a medical student in New York. "There are many scenes, especially the action ones, which are as good as those in a Hollywood film. But the songs slow down the narrative."
She says that she had expected the songs to move the story forward as in Lagaan. Besides, they were not particularly appealing, except for one or two.
At least a dozen people who had seen the film in half a dozen cities expressed similar sentiments -- they had expected a lot more from the film.
"The arty, arty directors fail when they want to make a big film. They should stick to their small films," says Singh, referring to director Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist, the intense film that won him worldwide acclaim.
The marketing team of Asoka had expected it to get wide attention in the mainstream media.
But except for a handful of publications such as trade weekly Variety, which gave the film the thumbs up, the film went unnoticed by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
On the other hand, The Terrorist had opened in America preceded by a lengthy article by actor John Malkovich praising the film. It played mostly to non-Indian audiences, having been released in mainstream art houses, and grossed about $700,000.
Malkovich was the president of the jury at the Cairo Film Festival where The Terrorist won the top award. The acclaimed actor, who lives on continental Europe, has not said anything about Asoka.
Mark Burton, one of the producers for Asoka cryptically says that Malkovich has not yet seen the film. Malkovich has been 'extremely kind' to The Terrorist Burton said, adding he did not want to seek any favor from the actor. Burton's Wonder Films distributed Asoka in North America.
Asoka gross is a respectable figure for any film but when one considers the fact that it was given the widest release for a desi film, its gross on 67 screens in North America is indeed puny. It looks insignificant compared to the first weekend takes of Hum Saath Saath Hain ($651,575) and Taal ($591,289). It ranked Number 22 on the American box office list for the weekend.
In United Kingdom, the film was ninth on the box office list. But there too, it received a wide release in 80 cinema houses and in that context, its gross was disappointing.
Most Indian films lose about 50 per cent of the box office in the second week. If the usual attrition rate is applied to Asoka it might end up with just about $750,000 in North America.
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