Indian sports biopic ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ outruns competition


A Bollywood-produced biopic on India’s most famous international sports star has turned out to be India’s commercially most successful local movie so far this year. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run, Milkha, Run), which opened nationwide on July 12, ended its second week with 255.9 million rupees ($4.35 mil.) in box-office takings, comfortably leaving behind its runner-up, romantic comedy Ramaiya Vastavaiya, which earned 216.8 million rupees ($3.69 mil.) during the same period. At press time, the drama had already raked up 784.2 million rupees, with ticket sales reportedly still going briskly.

Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag tells the story of Milkha Singh, India’s most successful track athlete, who competed in the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games and became internationally known as “The Flying Sikh,” while being celebrated as a national hero in his home country to this day. “We all grew up with the folklore of Milkha. He’s larger than life for us. He’s like what Pelé meant to football [soccer] or what Jesse Owens meant for track and field in the West,” Mehra said, explaining the continued fascination with the athlete.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag starts out with the depiction of young Milkha witnessing his entire family being killed during the tragic 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into the new states of India and Pakistan, which culminated in the indiscriminate murder of millions of Hindus and Muslims. In that context, the movie’s title was deliberately chosen, because it refers to Milkha’s later success as a track athlete as well as to the last words apparently uttered by his dying father, who told him to run for his life or perish in the post-partition tumult. But what also sets Bhaag Milkha Bhaag apart from mainstream Bollywood productions is the fact that it is—in the director’s own words—“decidedly un-Bollywood”, deviating from the usual “whole meal” offerings incorporating elements of music, dance, song, drama and action into one packaged blockbuster. Instead, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is purely biographical, continuing a trend in recent years that has seen increasing numbers of Indian moviegoers becoming attracted by films based on true-life stories.

China Relaxes Censorship Procedures
China’s media censorship body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), in a memorandum dated July 11, officially announced that it will cancel or relax a number of censorship regulations and decentralize some responsibilities. Film festivals with a “single-nation focus” can from now on be approved by local SAPPRFT branches instead of having to go through the central office in Beijing. Duplication of foreign film prints no longer needs prior approval. Co-productions with foreign countries also will become easier, because the tremendous red tape that bogged down the approval process for importing filming equipment and film stock has supposedly been relaxed.

According to the memorandum, all feature film productions “with general topics” (including foreign films and co-productions) will from now on only have to submit treatments for approval instead of full scripts. However, the wording “with general topics” has already caused confusion in the industry, because the terminology was seen as being too ambiguous. “What is a ‘general topic’?” microblogger Jia Zhangke rightfully asked on his movie-related website, and was echoed by blogger Gao Qunshu, who demanded from the censorship body to clearly define what it understood under “general topics” and “non-general topics” and what criteria would be deployed for such a classification. Meanwhile, the Beijing News daily newspaper quoted an unnamed “source close to SARFT [a sub-division of SAPPRFT]” as saying that “general topic films” meant any work that didn’t discuss “religion, ethnic groups, foreign affairs and other special topics,” which, if true, would leave SAPPRFT with pretty much a free hand in deciding whether a proposed movie is deemed as dealing with a “general topic” or not.

South Korean Gorilla Sweeps China Box Office
A lighthearted comedy featuring an oversized CGI gorilla has become the largest opening-day earner ever for a South Korean film in China, unseating the South Korean production The Thieves, which had screened in China earlier this year. Mr. Go, a co-production between South Korea’s Showbox/Mediaplex Inc. and China’s Huayi Brothers Media Corp., bagged 12.2 million yuan ($1.99 mil.) on its opening day, July 18, and at press time had grossed $9.9 million after its first week (compared to The Thieves’ $2.99 million during the same screening period). Promoted as a “high-concept sports drama,” the movie thus secured itself a comfortable second place in the China box-office chart behind the Will Smith sci-fi flick After Earth. Mr. Go features Chinese actress Josi Xu opposite South Korea’s Seong Dong-il, but its main star is without doubt the titular CGI character, a giant gorilla who is rescued from a circus in China and—due to its unbelievable talents—eventually joins South Korea’s professional baseball league (yes, there is such a thing!), leading his team from unlikely victory to unlikely victory and, of course, becoming embroiled in countless wacky situations in the process.

God Forgives, But Thailand Doesn’t
After having already endured boos and jeers at the recent Cannes Film Festival, Nicolas Winding Refn’s overly gory and nightmarish Only God Forgives was due for yet another humiliation when it finally opened on July 19 after much promotional fanfare in Thailand, in whose capital Bangkok it was shot almost entirely. This fact alone and the circumstance that besides Ryan Gosling it also starred two local talents, actor Vithaya Pansringarm and actress Ratha Pho-ngarm, should have been enough to raise Thai audiences’ interest. Instead, Only God Forgives dismally flopped with a mere $34,897 in total box-office takings during its first week, indicating that it won’t occupy operation-costly screen space for much longer. Especially Bangkokians seem to have resented Refn’s clichéd and simplistic depiction of their capital city as—in the words of local film critic Kong Rithdee—“a hellish amusement park full of writhing bodies…pushing Refn’s catalogue of Orientalist fantasies to its extreme,” which potentially might give foreign travelers second thoughts about visiting such a depraved place. “I have no idea whether it was through crafty design or pure chance that Refn plunged into the cesspool and emerged with this unforgiving vision of our capital,” a clearly upset Rithdee seethed in his review published in the respected Bangkok Post daily newspaper.

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