Bollywood film Chennai Express will show on 170 screens this week, making it the widest release in the UK of any Indian film. The British market is the biggest outside of India and Bollywood films often appear on the list of most watched films.
The release of the action comedy is timed to coincide with Eid. In recent years, the Islamic celebration to mark the end of Ramadan has become a key date for releasing Indian films.
The action comedy stars India’s biggest star, Shah Rukh Khan. Despite the continued success of Bollywood films in the UK, the 47-year-old actor has been in the film business too long to presume success. Today he’ll be eating rather than counting chickens. “No one knows what will be a hit,” he says when I meet with him in London.
With a huge fan base in India, the actor is arguably the best-known film celebrity on the planet. In person he has few of the airs and graces that are associated with his Hollywood counterparts and in-keeping with his mild manner, he has a rather traditional way of dealing with the pressure of a big movie coming out.
“As an actor I realised many years ago that you should just take a bath on the day of release for an hour, you just rinse yourself of the film. The film doesn’t’ belong to you once it hits the cinemas,” he says. “You can sense if it is doing well.”
The film, which sees Shah Rukh Khan play a knight in shining armour to Deepika Padukone’s damsel in distress, has received less than stellar reviews.
The New York Times said it “feels like a sumptuous meal with carefully chosen wine and tasty appetisers but a botched man course.” While India’s Zee News said: “If you ignore the few clichés… the lack of punch in the script and even the high predictability factor, then you are onboard for a fun ride.”
It’s been a difficult few months for the man known as the king of Bollywood. His third child was born prematurely and spent the first weeks of his life in hospital. The actor famed for his workload also has a major shoulder injury, which hindered his work as actor and producer on Chennai Express.
“I started making the film in September last year and in December I discovered that I had a major shoulder injury,” he says. “The locations for the film were already fixed and I didn’t want to lose them, so I made the whole film taking cortisone injections. The director then had to plan scenes in such a way that you couldn’t see that the movement in my shoulder was limited. I still don’t have full motion in the injury and it’s going to take another month of physiotherapy.”
His Chennai Express co-star Deepika, a former supermodel known by her first name, made her film debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the 2007 Diwali holiday hit Om Shanti Om.
In Chennai Express the two reunite on a train in the South of India. Deepika plays a daughter running away from her father’s attempts to force her into marriage, while Rukh Khan plays the hero who helps her. True to Bollywood, their burgeoning romance is not without its hiccups.
Yet Rukh Khan argues that tumultuous love affairs are the best, “ My dad was from Pershawar and my mother Hyderabad. I would see them arguing and I wouldn’t understand what they were talking about. I think it makes for more exciting couples when you come from completely different cultures, you argue and fight about things and argue and the message of the film is the same.”
Watch the trailer for Chennai Express: