Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One may be dominating China’s box office at the moment, but Bollywood film Hindi Medium has been quietly making a splash in the world’s second-largest market. In its first week, the movie grossed over $21.5 million (135 million RMB). Its opening in China is the second-best for Bollywood films, behind only Secret Superstar and ahead of Dangal, currently the highest-grossing Bollywood movie in China’s box office history.
Hindi Medium focuses on a middle-class couple’s torturous and comical journey to send their child to one of the most prestigious schools in Delhi. In order to secure their five-year-old daughter a spot in a private school, the family first moves to a higher-class neighborhood in the city. Their attempts to enroll her into the school, however, are thwarted when the father fails the school interview. In a mad bid to grant his daughter admission, the family decides to relocate to a poverty-stricken section of Dehli to qualify for a quota that private schools grant to socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. In a great reversal of events, the family now has to pretend to be destitute for the scheme to succeed.
The movie’s treatment of anxieties surrounding children’s education has resonated with many of China’s parents, many of whom worry about their children’s performance in school and their prospects in life. The movie currently has a high 8.1 rating on Douban, with many reviews and comments applauding the movie for its entertaining yet incisive portrayal of an ossified educational system. Much like Dangal and Secret Superstar, Hindi Medium’s box office success in China can be credited to the movie’s powerful depiction of social issues that are relatable to Chinese audiences because of cultural similarities. Dangal tells the story of female empowerment in an oppressively patriarchal society, while Secret Superstar grapples with gender favoritism and the tension between individual aspirations and familial expectations. All three Bollywood movies deliver stories that are socially relevant to Chinese audiences, while also reaffirming the importance of family and filial love, a theme that is an integral part of China’s Confucian culture.
Hindi Medium’s respectable performance at China’s box office comes at a time when Hollywood films seem to be becoming less of a draw for Chinese audiences. While in previous years, Hollywood productions have captured as much as 50 percent of the country’s ticket revenues share, recently, Hollywood films seem to be losing out to domestic productions. Since last year, Chinese audience’s tastes have also become markedly more diverse, and their demand for non-Hollywood foreign imports has grown, leading to record-breaking performances by movies like Dangal or last year’s breakout Thai film Bad Genius.