NEW DELHI - Multiple boycott calls, including one from a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian, buffeted the film before its worldwide release. A BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh even threatened to ban its screening in the state. Hindu right-wing activists trooped into theatres showing the film and burnt its posters at multiple locations across India.
But all this hullabaloo did not preempt Pathaan, a Bollywood spy action thriller starring one of India’s most loved stars, Shah Rukh Khan, from creating film history.
Released on Jan 25, it has recorded the biggest opening weekend for any Hindi film, collecting more than 3.13 billion rupees (S$50.43 million) in just three days. It heralds a dream return for Khan, the “King of Bollywood”, after a four-year hiatus from the big screen.
Yet, conditions for this comeback were not propitious.
Hardline Hindu groups had locked the film in their crosshairs, angry over how Deepika Padukone, the film’s actress, dances in a saffron bikini to a song titled Besharam Rang - which translates as “shameless colour”.
This, protesters said, insulted Hinduism as saffron symbolises sacrifice in the Hindu tradition, with ascetics commonly wearing saffron robes.
The film was also not powered by an all-out publicity blitz associated with big ticket films. There were no media interviews and its makers relied mostly on Khan’s brand value and fanbase to do the PR heavy lifting.
And the actor indeed worked his charm. The film’s revenue is already close to the 3.4 billion rupees earned by The Kashmir Files, a movie on the 1990s exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, since its release in March 2022.
With its polarised narrative aligned with that of the Hindu nationalist BJP government, the film received institutional support, including tax exemptions.
Pathan’s success - hailed as a bloc...