Yash Raj Films’ War, it would appear, is good for record-breaking Bollywood box office.
The Hrithik Roshan/Tiger Shroff action spectacular opened on Wednesday in India (and North America, more on that in a moment) with a record-crushing 53.5 million (in Indian currency) in its first day in India, which is around $7.5 million in converted US dollars, setting an opening day record for a Bollywood flick. It earned 22.5 million as such on Thursday ($3.2 million converted), a reasonable 58% drop for a holiday Wednesday debut. That gives the film a two-day total of around $10.4 million as it heads into the traditional Fri-Sun weekend. Directed by Siddharth Anand, the film is indeed playing in limited release in North American theaters. And yes, I did check it out yesterday.
For the record, War was a more enjoyable, coherent and just plain better experience than Saaho from last month, although I wish I had been able to see the latter in IMAX as well. Nonetheless, the film, featuring Roshan and Shroff as mentor/mentee anti-terrorist agents who end up on opposite sides (and then opposite sides yet again) while tracking a super villain over the course of the 2.5-hour actioner. It’s not so simple as “good guy and bad guy,” and (no spoilers) the film contains several terrific action set pieces and at least one ridiculous twist. I don’t want to oversell it, but War is an enjoyable, over-the-top, action-packed ode to as many Hollywood actioners as you can think of.
This is not necessarily related to the plot, so no spoilers, but War borrows from among others) Mission: Impossible II, the Jet Li/Jason Statham actioner War, Mission: Impossible II, John Woo’s Face/Off, Mission: Impossible II, The World Is Not Enough, and, oh right, Mission: Impossible II. Watching War made me realize both that, yes, India (as a general moviegoing demographic) really loves John Woo’s underrated Tom Cruise sequel even more than me. Saaho takes its share of iconography from the underrated 2000 action spectacular and so does 2015’s Dilwale. War steals major imagery, a big chunk of its plot (Vaani Kapoor shows up in a riff on M:I 2’s homage to Notorious) and not a little wholesome homoeroticism.
That may explain why I still get a kick out of M:I 2. Warts and all, I’ve always enjoyed the hell out of Woo’s unapologetically big, splashy, colorful, melodramatic and romantic (in a literal and literary sense) action sequel. Without arguing that the (very few) Indian action movies I’ve seen are representative of the whole, the over-the-top melodramatic “bigness” which separates Mission: Impossible II from its peers would probably appeal to (stereotypical) Indian audiences. I’m still surprised that James Wan’s Aquaman didn’t perform better in India ($8 million, compared to $14 million for Spider-Man: Far from Home), since (among its 4,000 genre appropriations) it reminded me a bit of the (gonzo bananas in a good way) Baahubali films.
War may be fun, but I’m not sure if it’s “good.” It’s ridiculously long (yes, there are musical numbers), rivals Peter Jackson and Zack Snyder in unnecessary slow motion and takes almost an entire act to get into gear. I saw it because despite not liking Saaho very much, I had a good time examining it (and talking to folks online about it) and there just aren’t many Hollywood action films of this nature anymore. Putting aside the whole “it’s a better and less problematic movie than its predecessors” factor, Ric Roman Waugh’s Angel Has Fallen has legged out here and abroad ($67.66 million domestic/$126.5 million worldwide) partially because it’s a rock-solid example of a still all-too-rare decently-budgeted, R-rated action adventure movie.
Even with a $40 million budget, Angel Has Fallen feels big enough and works in the way we used to take for granted in the mid-1990s. It may not be art, but the Gerard Butler sequel works as a well-oiled, fully-functioning, character-driven, distinctly American action-adventure spectacular. Yes, War rips off countless Hollywood action flicks, but those films are 10-to-20-years-old and represent a kind of filmmaking that we just don’t see in Hollywood at that kind of budgetary level. Yes, some of the direct-to-VOD/DVD stuff (the Scott Adkins and/or Michael Jai White flicks come to mind) impresses on a relative scale, but War is a mega-budget example of a bygone era in action cinema.
In a skewed way, movies like War and Saaho (and surely others that I’ll have to catch up with) play like the Screen Gem thrillers that refashion 1990s urban/suburban thrillers with minority casts. Something like The Intruder or No Good Deed or (obviously not a thriller) Little may look like a rehash of a prior generation’s cinema. But A) Hollywood doesn’t make much of that anymore and B) there’s value in giving demographics their chance to star in their own would-be Panic Room, Single White Female or Unlawful Entry. Those who want to see themselves onscreen get to do just that. And everyone else gets to indulge in some nostalgic old-school studio programmer thrills.
War is a culturally-specific revamp of an old Hollywood template that barely exists in Hollywood anymore beyond a few key franchises (Mission: Impossible, Fast & Furious and the 007 series). The reason I enjoyed it, warts and all, is that I still enjoy movies like that whether or not they are part of a franchise. Oddly enough, Tiger Shroff reminded me in the film’s climax of a young Sylvester Stallone, so imagine my shock when I discovered that he’ll be starring an in Indian Rambo movie. I bet it’ll be better than Last Blood. So, if it’s playing at a theater near you, and you don’t care about Joker, well, War may be just the thing you’re gagging for.