The Emran Hashmi-starrer Jannat, produced on a shoestring budget, has surprised everyone with 2008's second best opening in Bollywood after the lavish Race.
In India, according to boxofficeindia.com, it opened to occupancies of between 80 and 90 per cent, with some venues even seeing 100 per cent openings in some Indian cities, a feat normally associated with the all-star Bollywood blockbuster.
Here in the UAE, the movie grossed close to Dh450,000 in its first weekend, the highest opening in the country so far for a Hashmi film, says distributor Shemaroo Entertainment.
The Vishesh Films release has grossed around Rs120 million (Dh10.9m) in its first weekend in India alone, recovering its Rs110m (Dh10m) and staring at huge pot of profit within three days of its release.
In total, its first weekend gross is Dh2m in the international market and while these numbers may not compare well to other major Bollywood films, they prove Hashmi is on his way to conquering the overseas markets.
Its fabulous initials come at a time when the recent big multi-starrers such as Tashan and Bhoothnath failed to manage even a face-saving opening.
Producers Mahesh Bhatt and company are known for tackling controversial subjects, and Jannat is no exception with a story about cricket's match-fixing and illegal betting scandal.
Besides Hashmi, the film co-stars debutant Sonal Chauhan and features no other major talent, even being directed by debutant Kunal Deshmukh. It was at best expected to open in the vicinity of 50 per cent and probably pick up with word-of-mouth publicity.
"I always knew that Jannat will be appreciated and was confident of the film's subject but I didn't imagine it would have such an unbelievable response where people are comparing its initial collections with major blockbusters like Welcome and Race," Hashmi told Emirates Business.
It is the year's third hit after Race and Jodha Akbar.
So what contributed to its grand opening? Most important of all has been the cricket craze sweeping the Asian community, thanks to the Indian Premier League playoffs further raising an already high interest in the sport. Based on the film's promos, the audience expected Jannat to go behind-the-scene activities into the match-fixing story, recreating real-life incidents and characters on the big screen. A release coinciding with West Indies' cricketer Marlon Samuels being banned for involvement in match-fixing only helped.
"The response to Jannat at its premiere in Pakistan had to be seen to be believed. It has received an overwhelming response and I don't have any doubt the film turning into a huge success," Bhatt told Emirates Business after Jannat's initial positive response started pouring in. Jannat has also benefited from a standalone release in the middle of India's school summer vacations with absolute zero option for the youngster looking for escapist cinema to beat the heat, leaving the young audience no choice but flock to the cinemas to catch up with this film.
The film was nevertheless well promoted, with a two-month-long campaign featuring well-produced trailers, with the film's lead pair turning up everywhere, from television reality shows to IPL events.
A chartbusting musical score by Pritam caught the fancy of music lovers instantly with popular tracks like Zara Sa and Lambhi Judai becoming a craze while the remix version of Lambhi Judai is a club hit.
Finally, Hashmi has built himself a reputation as a "kiss master" for his liplocking action, and Jannat does not disappoint with two kissing scenes. It is now expected to show strong legs at the box office in the forthcoming days, and is expected to gross Rs180m at the end of its first week with estimated final takings in the region of Rs300m, likely to give it super-hit status.
Besides the response in the UAE and Pakistan, it has become Hashmi's biggest opener in the UK by grossing £49,255 (Dh345,000) and received an average response in the US and other international territories.
Jannat's success augurs well for small and medium-budget flicks like Summer 2007, De Taali, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Mumbai Cutting.
(With input from Keith J Fernandez)