Bollywood's soft power is working its way in China like never before -- and the fan frenzy for superstar Shah Rukh Khan and the runaway success of an experimental film like "AndhaDhun", which has surpassed Rs 250 crore at the Chinese box office, stands as testimony.
This, in a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were seen enjoying an instrumental rendition of 1982 Bollywood song "Tu, tu hai wahi dil ne jise apna kana" at an event in Wuhan city.
In China for the Beijing International Film Festival (BIFF), where his film "Zero" brought the curtains down, Shah Rukh got the warmest welcome with gifts, flowers and goodwill of fans whose love left him overwhelmed earlier this week.
"Technology, exports and imports all that is going to happen but cinema is always going to be at the forefront or art and is going to be at the front of people-to-people exchanges," Shah Rukh said in an interview to state-run CGTN, stating why Indian cinema can work its magic for India-China ties.
BIFF also listed five Indian films, including Satyajit Ray's classic "Pather Panchali", for screening under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries category despite strong reservations expressed by India over the trillion-dollar project.
Parallel to this, "AndhaDhun" has made its way to unprecedented success. Devoid of an A-list star and the trappings of Bollywood-esque dance and drama, the black comedy crime thriller is warming the hearts of movie lovers in China with its twists and turns, and a climax that leaves viewers thinking.
"The China market offers a great opportunity, but not for every other Indian film. It takes a unique film to connect with the massive audience," Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom18 Studios, the studio behind the Sriram Raghavan directorial, told IANS.
The film's success is sweeter as it comes in a year following 2018 which saw 10 films from India being screened in China, a major departure from the two Indian films that released in the country in 2016 and one in 2017, according to the latest Ficci-EY Media and Entertainment sector report.
"Padman", "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion", "Thugs of Hindostan", "Sultan" and "102 Not Out" are some of the titles which hit the screens in China, which has a quota on the number of foreign films that can release a year.
Among the top Indian earners in China so far include; Aamir Khan's "Dangal" and "Secret Superstar", Salman Khan's "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" and Irrfan Khan's "Hindi Medium", apart from "AndhaDhun".
After Aamir had garnered a fan following with "PK" and "3 Idiots", "Dangal", a story on breaking gender stereotypes, turned a game changer by earning over Rs 1,000 crore at the Chinese box office.
But drawing any patterns of what's working will not be useful, Andhare said, adding: "The art is picking the right story to unlock the opportunity. The popular thesis was the film should have a certain star or a social message, but with 'AndhaDhun', we have broken that myth."
Shibasish Sarkar, Group CEO - Content, Digital and Gaming of Reliance Entertainment, said they were initially shaky about taking a film with a "new genre" like "AndhaDhun" to China, where the company has partnered with Tang Media Partners to import Indian movies into the country.
"Indian stories are definitely making their space in China. They feel our stories are able to make a distinct space in the market," Sarkar told IANS, adding that even China's expansive exhibition market with around 50,000-55,000 screens would be futile without good stories.