Posted: 19 August 2013 at 2:38pm
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How Shah Rukh Khan scored big with 'Chennai Express'
The superstar on why his new release worked, and why he hasn't stopped promoting it yet
Mumbai: It's Sunday, the day of rest for most ordinary people. But since Shah Rukh Khan is no ordinary person, he is hard at work, still plugging away his recent release, Chennai Express. The romantic comedy, directed by Rohit Shetty and starring Khan alongside Deepika Padukone, has collected an unconfirmed gross domestic box office takings of Rs.171.71 crore since its 9 August release. Khan, whose company Red Chillies Entertainments co-produced the blockbuster along with Disney UTV, could put up his legs for a well-earned break, but the famously energetic actor has no time for leisure. "When I am not shooting, I feel emptied out, so I trouble everybody else," he said during an interview at his office, which is located behind his residence. "The people at UTV must be tired of me, since I make them work on weekends."
Pre- as well as post-release marketing activities have bookended the release of Chennai Express, whose estimated cost of production is Rs.70 crore and which opened across an estimated 3,500 screens in India and 700 screens in overseas territories. The hugely positive audience response on the opening weekend—it was the solo release—didn't flag, nor did the marketing efforts, which moved to targeting viewers who might have been put off by indifferent reviews. By making appearances at product launches, visiting theatres where the movie is playing, and scheduling interviews on its success, Khan and his team have extended the film's shelf life.
"Critics had already made up their minds, while the trade was looking at the collections," Khan said. "But the audience is impressionable; they ask, 'tell me what am I coming to watch'. I needed to tell them that it's not a Chak De (a serious drama), nor it is an action film or a Southern remake. It is a comedic film and a clean and straight-forward family entertainer that is easy on the eye. It is not Almodovar, but it is not Iron Man either."
Chennai Express's gargantuan profits will remove any doubts about Khan's ability to influence movie-going behaviour at a time when being a superstar means rolling out nothing less than a Rs.100-crore moneyspinner—everytime. Every male star is staking his reputation on being able to generate phenomenal box-office business, and by powering Chennai Express to its numbers, Khan has been able to prove, yet again, that he hasn't lost his touch. "Much as I would like to deny it, it is a monkey off my back and a donkey off my mind," he said about the Rs.100-crore mania. "If I knew why the film clicked, I would make another one."
Khan attributes Chennai Express's popularity to its "feel-good" and "happy" qualities. He predicted that the movie would be equally popular on television. "There is a simple love story running through the film—it is not an intense love story," he said. "Adi (Yash Raj Films' Aditya Chopra) told me that the South India angle has worked in its favour—it is a whole new space for a Hindi film. The characters look and feel new."
Was there some consternation at the amount of Tamil in the dialogue, which is not subtitled but translated by the movie's characters? "One person joked and said, when are we buying the Hindi rights," Khan said. "People told us to put subtitles. Then there was a discussion about whether we should use Devnagiri or Roman for the subtitles. When the film was narrated to me, the best part was that the (Tamil) language was not explained, so the audience became like the hero. When people said that this could be the movie's downfall, I got a bit scared. Is it not the essence of the film?"
The filmmakers took a risk with Tamil, but opted for a safer, less zanier climax than had been originally planned. "We had a madcap ending, but then you don't take anything back, you go back emotionally empty," Khan said. "A film should leave you with little more than an empty pack of popcorn."
Khan is also looking at scripts, but he won't be wearing his producer's hat while doing so. "I still haven't got into the space that because I am a producer, I will design a film for myself," he said. "When I made Ra.One (in 2011), no one wanted to produce it with me because of the cost. The safety net I have, is that I will cast myself if I am being asked, so we can muster up the money and I can market it without spending too much."
A steady revenue source for his company is its visual effects department, which has worked on several films, including the upcoming Krissh 3. "I want to do the visual effects creatively, I want to do some big Hollywood films, otherwise we can do the bread and butter stuff every day," he said. Red Chillies is also looking at producing movies that won't feature its famous patron. "We have been creating producers within the company, since I don't have the time to do business," Khan said.
His next movie, the dance-themed comedy Happy New Year, is a joint venture between his company and director Farah Khan's Three's Company Productions, but they are hunting for another producer. "We are looking for someone to co-produce—I am not going to put the pressure of too many wedding dances on myself," he joked.
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