‘Dangal’: Reasons Why Aamir Khan-Starrer Has Become Highest-Grossing Non-Hollywood Film In China

Dangal is set to top the Chinese box office for the second weekend in a row. And, on Saturday, it unseated a Japanese anime movie, Your Name, as the highest-grossing non-Hollywood movie ever released in mainland China. Your Name had made $84 million in China last year, while Dangal reportedly crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday.

On Saturday, the Bollywood movie, released as Shuai Jiao Baba(translated as Let’s Wrestle, Dad), also surpassed Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2′s gross total of approximately $92 million that it has earned in China thus far. Lei Ming, CEO at ADB, a China-based entertainment consultancy, predicts that Dangal will have earned around $124 million by the time it ends its run at the Chinese box office, according to CNNMoney.

The movie had a modest opening, earning $2.2 million on its first day, but thanks to stellar word-of-mouth, Dangal is currently having a phenomenal run at the Chinese box office. On Douban, the popular Chinese social networking site, the film has scored an average rating of 9.2. And it has scored a rating of 9.8 on the widely used online ticketing service, Maoyan.

Set in rural Haryana, India, Dangal tells the real-life story of Indian wrestler-coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, played by Aamir Khan in the movie, and his two daughters, Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat, who have become medal-winning international wrestlers by overcoming all odds and breaking rules of a highly patriarchal society.

The box office success of Dangal in the world’s second-largest movie market has taken everyone by surprise. When it released on Friday, May 5, along with Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2, no one ever imagined that it would not only push its way to the top of China’s box office in the second week of its release, but also outperform a Marvel’s superhero movie.


China does not see many Bollywood releases, and unlike the U.S., the U.K, Australia, the UAE — the so-called traditional movie markets for Bollywood films outside India — it does not have a large Indian following. Before Dangal‘s release, PK held the record of the highest-grossing Indian movie in China, where it grossed $19.5 million.

Dangal‘s success, according to reports, can be attributed to three factors: the depiction of a patriarchal society, filial piety, and the movie’s star, Aamir Khan. The film’s content has struck an emotional chord with the Chinese audience because like India, China, too, is a patriarchal society where boys are valued over girls, according to several reports.

Many Chinese are familiar with the reality shown in Dangal as they, too, have grappled with patriarchal social values, Ananth Krishnan said in his article written for India Today.

“Part of Dangal’s unique appeal is that the theme especially resonated in China, which like India has grappled with patriarchal social values. That the film showcased a reality familiar to many Chinese — and one far more real than the glossy themes usually favored by mainstream films in both Bollywood and Beijing — struck a chord, with many asking why Chinese directors hadn’t made such a film.”

Leeza Mangaldas said in her Forbes’ article that Dangal has stormed the box office in China because its important themes have resonated with the Chinese audience, the way they had resonated with the Indian audience. Some of the themes include the status of women in patriarchal society, bias toward male children, the importance of filial piety, patriotism associated with sports, the ambition of those living in rural areas, and more.

Aamir Khan is also seen as one of the factors for the success of Dangal in China. He is the only Indian actor who commands a considerable fan following in China. His Weibo account, which he opened before the release of his movie, has now over 6 million followers.

The Chinese audience first took notice of Aamir Khan when his movie, 3 Idiots, released in the country in 2011. It deeply resonated with a majority of the Chinese audience, especially students, because like India, China, too, is known for its high-pressure education system. The movie showed three engineering students’ struggle, friendship, aspirations, and their self-actualizations.

Dangal actor Aamir Khan at an event.
Aamir Khan’s Dangal continues to top Chinese box office, beating Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and other Hollywood movies. [Image by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images]

In China, the 52-year-old actor’s stature has only grown since 3 Idiots. He is reportedly called Uncle Aamir Khan by his fans there. They also see him as India’s national treasure because of the social issues that his movies address.

The actor, however, would have failed to bring the audience to the movie theaters if the content had failed to impress the Chinese audience. Dangal’s success at the Chinese box-office, which is usually dominated by Hollywood movies, is mainly because of its quality and content.

BBC quoted Yin Hong, a Tsinghua University’s professor and a film critic, as saying to the Beijing Evening News that Dangal puts Chinese movies “to shame.”

Dangal was based on a true story, but its artistic level — from the script-writing to the actors’ and actresses’ performance, and from the pace to the musical score — is amazing.”

In addition to Aamir Khan, Dangal also stars Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana, Zaira Wasim, and Suhani Bhatnagar.

[Featured Image by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images]