Say Mishu to the average Chinese movie watcher and chances are you will get a broad smile. Over the past four years, that is how they have come to address actor Aamir Khan. While he continues to remain among the most bankable stars in Bollywood, Aamir is no stranger to China. Starting with 3 Idiots and later with PK and Dangal, he has endeared himself to the audience there and they can’t seem to get enough of him.
Mishu incidentally is a combination of ‘Mi’, short for ‘Aamir’, and ‘shu’, a shortened version of ‘shu-hu’ or uncle in Chinese. From late 2011, when the 3 Idiots team led by Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra tasted blood in China, there has been no stopping the Bollywood juggernaut here. Of the Rs.30 billion that it earned overseas in 2018, Rs.18 billion (or 60%) came only from China. The biggest hit in 2018 was Secret Superstar followed by Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
It is a market as large as India, in terms of population, but is less heterogeneous. With a large share of it being youngsters, there is an insatiable appetite for high-quality entertainment. A few filmmakers have understood this and smartly profited from it; but only a few. Just three Hindi films were released between 2016 and 2017 and 10 were screened last year. Those who took the bet raked in money. For example, box-office collections for Hindi Medium, Secret Superstar and Dangal in China were well in excess of their domestic income (see: Smart moves).
India may have its differences with China, but there is no dispute whatsoever in the Bollywood story.
Getting It Right
Serendipity and the Bollywood story in China have been inseparable. When 3 Idiots was released in India in 2009, it was declared the biggest hit of the year and remained so for a couple of years after. While the cast and crew were revelling in its success, what went unnoticed was Hong Kong-based producer and distributor Edko Films’ decision to acquire the di