NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A record opening-day debut for a Bollywood film that happens to be directed by a woman is shaking up the men‘s-only club of filmmakers in the list of India’s highest grossing movies.Farah Khan’s new film, a heist caper that doubles as a song-and-dance extravaganza, is a rare blockbuster by a woman filmmaker in the Indian movie industry, the world’s largest by ticket sales. Two of Khan’s three previous films in the last decade were hits too, but not as big as “Happy New Year”.
The choreographer-turned-filmmaker said withstanding pressure from people who expect her to make a certain kind of cinema because of her gender is her biggest success.
“Nobody is expecting a 200 crore ($33 million) hit from a woman director, which in itself is very sad and very patronizing,” said Khan, whose recipe of breezy, entertaining cinema woos children and adults alike, but is panned by critics.
“I hope more women come and break this record. I think it will help every woman who wants to go out and make a movie, if our movies end up making as much money as the male directors.”
Khan, 49, said she lived her dream with “Happy New Year”, having wanted to make the “biggest film you’ve seen in India”.
Her leading man Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s most bankable star, headlines the film’s ensemble cast. In the film, Shah Rukh and his ragtag crew of loveable rogues worm their way into a global dance competition at a Dubai hotel, with their sights set on diamonds hidden in an underground vault at the venue.
Reviews have mostly been critical with Anupama Chopra writing in the Hindustan Times that “the desire to entertain overshadows everything else - script, character, coherence, narrative logic”.
But Khan is unfazed by criticism, saying she relies on her gut instinct while making movies that make her happy.
“Why should I take the pressure of making a movie that will only appeal to 10 people and not to 10 million people?” she said. “If the critics don’t like it, let them keep watching boring movies, what else can I say?”
Audiences seem to have lapped it up. Trade analyst Amod Mehra said “Happy New Year” had the “highest opening ever in the history of Indian cinema so far”, raking in around 440 million rupees ($7 million) in India when it was released on Oct. 24, a day after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Ticket sales have dipped in the weeks since and Mehra said “Happy New Year” may still need a miracle to inch past 2 billion rupees at the Indian box office, a milestone achieved only by a handful of Bollywood films.
Khan advises her detractors to try writing the first five scenes of her movie, saying it was not easy to make a film that appeals to different audiences across India.
“It’s easy to dismiss something and especially if a woman does it,” said Khan, adding it had been tough balancing work and family while filming “Happy New Year” in Dubai.
The filmmaker said she has given up socializing and attending parties to assuage her “mother’s guilt” and spend more time in Mumbai with her children, who are six-year-old triplets.
She’s also hung up her dancing boots after choreographing Bollywood songs for 22 years, saying she no longer had the patience to make actors go through their steps.
“For me, that ship has sailed. I’ve had a great time, but I think it’s time for me to move on.”
Reporting by Tony Tharakan; Editing by Douglas Busvine