Similarities between China and India help propel 'Dangal' to box-office success in the mainland

2017-05-26 09:54Global Times Editor: Li Yan ECNS App Download

There is no better word than "unbelievable" to describe Indian sports film Dangal's huge box-office achievement in the Chinese mainland. However, if you take a look at some of the cultural and social similarities between China and India, the film's success may not actually seem that surprising.

Path to success

Dangal's box-office performance in China has gone against all market norms. While box-office earnings usually tend to decline the longer a film is screened in theaters, Dangal's box-office take nearly tripled during its second weekend, rising from May 5-7 opening weekend earnings of 86.64 million yuan ($12.6 million) to 235.88 million yuan. During its third weekend, Dangal remained steady, collecting another 235.30 million yuan.

As of Wednesday noon, Dangal has made 830.94 million yuan, making it the eighth highest-earning 2017 film in the Chinese mainland so far.

With this success, people naturally began wondering how this Indian sports film managed to outpace Hollywood blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and Life in the mainland.

What has been the key to Dangal's success? What do the audience demographics look like? Do other Indian films have a chance at replicating this success?

According to the statistics on Maoyan, a Chinese online film database, 58.2 percent of mainland moviegoers nationwide who are interested in seeing the film are women. This percentage increases to 59.1 percent in third-tier cities and 60.2 percent in fourth-tier cities.

Looking at age, moviegoers between 20-24 account for the largest group who want to see the film nationwide at 33.4 percent, followed by 25-29 year olds at 29.4 percent.

Recipe for success

While the recipe for a good film has many ingredients, resonating with the audience is a key factor. It is in this regard that Dangal, a story about a father training his daughters to become wrestling champions in a male-dominated society, has reached the heart of Chinese audiences, especially women, many of whom feel that women are often not treated equally as men.

Featuring the title "How many life possibilities does a girl from a small village have?" netizen Shuiwujiao de Maoer posted a long review of Dangal on Douban.

In the review, she wrote that she was very impressed when the father, played by Indian actor Aamir Khan, pointed out that Geeta, the oldest daughter, was not only fighting for herself, but also for the millions of girls who are forced into marriages because they are less esteemed than boys by society.

"When I was a child, I would be beaten if I scored less than a 90 on tests. When everyone around us were saying that girls didn't have a chance against boys when competing for middle and high school placement, my mother never once lessened her strict demands on me," she wrote, adding that she is still thankful that her mother pushed her to succeed.

"This story is very Chinese. I don't think it will resonate as much in countries such as the US," Tan Zhen, a research fellow at the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and one of the few scholars in China studying Indian films, told the Global Times.

"There are similarities such as the parent-child relationship, the pressure one has to bear when growing up, as well as similar family and social values."

He added that the story of a country girl becoming a world champion through her own hard work is similar to many female athletes in China.

Tan's opinion is echoed by Zhong Bingshu, dean of Capital University of Physical Education and Sports. Zhong said, as quoted by the Beijing Evening News, "There are so many Chinese Olympic champions such as Wang Junxia who, like Geeta, came from lower classes. The film shows how a common person becomes a champion and how that feels. Audiences want to know how these people achieved their dreams, but our Chinese sports films rarely ever do that."

Speaking on gender inequality, Tan agreed that the preference for boys over girls is still deeply rooted among many Chinese, especially in remote areas.

Learning idol

Dangal's inspirational story has also led to many teachers and parents using the film as motivational aids.

According to a report on, the Chinese national table tennis team organized a group viewing for its players.

Yingjunzi, a Chinese film critic and blogger, posted that he thinks the film's motivational message is another factor that has helped Dangal achieve critical and box-office success.

"For many Chinese parents who pay close attention to their child's education, the film has become an educational bible for encouraging their children to study even harder," he wrote.

"Chinese parents are willing to do anything for their children's education. When they hear from relatives and friends that there is a good film that can motivate their children to perform better, they will definitely rush to the theaters with their kids. It's become a family film," Yingjunzi added.

Films for families have always been popular in the Chinese mainland. Among the top 10 highest-earning films in the mainland, at least four were ones the whole family could enjoy - The Mermaid (3.39 billion yuan), Monster Hunt (2.44 billion yuan), Kung Fu Yoga (1.75 billion yuan) and Zootopia (1.53 billion yuan).

"It's been a long time since Chinese mainland theaters have screened a family film," Tan said.


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