By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: It was meant to be a huge marketing coup, with Salman Khan opening up the hitherto dormant Japanese market for Bollywood with a nationwide release in Japan of Yashraj Film’s Ek Tha Tiger.
Director Kabir Khan flew excitedly into a four-city tour of Japan last week at the invitation the Japanese distributors Nikkatsu Corporation and the release date was fixed for April 20 in Japan.
But in what appears to be a hasty and clever business manoeuvre, Eros International announced the Japanese release of their 2007 Shahrukh Khan blockbuster Om Shanti Om. Entitled Koi Suru Rinne Om Shanti Om in Japan and with Japanese subtitles, the film would get a 15-print release across Japan on March 16.
But Yash Raj Films brought their release forward, releasing Ek Tha Tiger on March 7 with “a grand premiere” in Tokyo.
Apart from Kabir Khan, Mr Kato Takashi, Vice Commissioner for International Affairs of Japan National Tourism Organization; Ms Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, Indian Ambassador to Japan: and renowned Japanese actress Sugimoto Aya reportedly attended the premiere.About 300 Japanese and Indian viewers were present at the event.
“I am really happy that my film Ek Tha Tiger which released in about 40 countries around the world very successfully is now coming to Japan and it’s the first mainstream release for a Hindi Film that is happening in Japan. I am really excited to be here,” Kabir Khan said.
The film was released in 30 screens across the country. This will be followed by Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, starring Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma releasing later this summer.
But Eros, which is also rushing to Japan with release of Om Shanti Om last week, said that it has nothing to do with Yashraj’s carefully-strategized Japanese release plans for Ek Tha Tiger.
But a source close to both the actors reveals that the overnight decision to release Om Shanti Om in Japan was primarily a means to give Shahrukh Khan a head-start over Salman Khan in the Japanese market which is a still a nascent Bollywood market.
Says the source, “Where and when did Japan come into the picture? When Yashraj took the initiative by flying Kabir Khan to Japan to open up the Bollywood market in the country with Ek Tha Tiger, Eros immediately planned a rush-release of Om Shanti Om. Why release a seven-year old film in Japan now? Two reasons. One, because reincarnation is a big high for the Japanese. And two, because a Shahrukh starrer needed to enter the market before Salman’s Ek Tha Tiger.”
While Eros maintains that Bollywood and Shahrukh Khan have a “cult following” in Japan, Ek Tha Tiger director Kabir Khan confirms that Japan is new to Bollywood .
Says Kabir, “I wonder why Bollywood has not explored Japan for shooting! I don’t think any significant Hindi film after Love In Tokyo has been shot in Japan. There is a zero market for Indian films and filmmakers in the country. Even Rajnikanth’s popularity in Japan was only a phase in Japan that has now faded. As things stand, Japan has no knowledge of Bollywood or Bollywood stars. It was Nikkatsu Corporation who took the initiative to bring Bollywood into Japan.We are starting from scratch in Japan.”
Significantly, Kabir sidelines the pre-emptive Om Shanti Om release until reminded of it.
Says Kabir, “Yes, I believe Om Shanti Om is releasing in Japan. But it’s not a part of Nikkatsu’s Bollywood plans.We’ve plans of initially releasing 30 prints of Ek Tha Tiger in Japan to be scaled up to 70 prints. Their initial package includes Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, 3 Idiots and Don 2. With these films they hope to introduce a taste for Bollywood in Japan. Hopefully we’d also start shooting some films in Japan. I really don’t know why Japan has been a closed door for Bollywood. Maybe because Tokyo is considered an expensive city.”
The war between Shahrukh and Salman has finally reached Japan.