The 2019 Indian coming-of-age comedic drama “Chhichhore” is set to hit Chinese screens nationwide on Jan. 7, 2022. It will be the first Indian film to release in the world’s largest film market in two years following a bitter border dispute.
The news comes as Chinese authorities remain mum about approvals for Hollywood blockbusters like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” yet have just programmed a slew of small, years-old titles from countries other than the U.S., potentially indicating a more severe ban on U.S. imports.
Indian films have been unofficially iced out of China since skirmishes on the border between the two countries in 2020 led to a rise of nationalism and acrimony on both sides.
Before that, Indian cinema experienced some unexpected successes in the China market, but commercial performance was mixed.
The Khan-starring title “Secret Superstar” grossed a surprising $118 million in 2017, while mid-tier films such as “Andhadhun” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” grossed $47 million and $45.5 million, respectively. There have also been flops, including the 2017 mystery thriller “Coincidence” ($1.45 million) and lavish “Baahubali: The Beginning” ($1.11 million).
Tiwari may have trouble pulling off a second “Dangal” dark horse feat here, however, with his latest title running 143 minutes long but lacking a headlining superstar like Khan. The reportedly $7 million-budgeted film has grossed around $30 million so far worldwide.
Its subject matter is likely to resonate with Chinese viewers, however, as the film tells a nostalgia-tinged, emotional story focused on a relationship between father and son as they grapple with the intense pressure of college entrance exams and reminisce about the past.
“Chhichhore” will debut in China a week before “The Matrix Resurrections” on Jan. 14. It will be facing down five strong local competitors premiering New Year’s Eve, including the highly anticipated corruption actioner “G Storm” and the rom-com “Embrace Again,” which features top stars Huang Bo and Jia Ling, the writer-director-actor triple threat behind 2021 Chinese New Year hit “Hi, Mom.”
The news of the first Indian theatrical release in years came just a week after the announcement of the first Korean theatrical debut in China in six years. Prior to the Dec. 3 release of heart-warming Alzheimer’s drama “Oh! My Gran” on Dec. 3 no Korean films had appeared in Chinese theaters following Beijing’s unofficial ban on Korean cultural imports as a means to express its displeasure over Seoul’s installment of the THAAD missile defense system.
While touted as a milestone by the local press, “Oh! My Gran” has performed dismally at the box office, earning just $393,000 so far.
China last week also gave last minute approvals to three other non-American titles, just days before they debuted this past weekend: the 2016 Bulgarian drama “Glory (Slava),” the 2018 Russian action film “Decision: Liquidation,” and the 2019 Polish biographical drama “Icarus: The Legend of Mietek Kosz,” about a jazz pianist who died tragically. They’ve earned just $11,000, $75,000 and $121,000 respectively so far.
Chinese film authorities have confirmed that “Escape Room 2” has passed censorship and will screen this year. But they have not announced an official release date yet, meaning its status could remain in limbo.