He sings, he dances -- and fights evil too

Special to The Times

Move over Superman, make room for Krrish.

Billed as Bollywood's first superhero, "Krrish" stars Indian cinema's raven-haired heartthrob, Hrithik Roshan, as a young man endowed with special powers who must save the world against the tyranny of -- what else? -- a megalomanic scientist played by art-house movie favorite Naseeruddin Shah.

Anticipation for the movie has been so great that "Krrish" -- he runs like the wind, is as brave as a lion, knows no fear, etc. -- became a cultural phenomenon in India long before its worldwide June 23 release, with shows selling out days in advance. It's already proving to be one of India's most profitable films of the year, despite having one of the largest budgets ever for a Bollywood film.

The film has done well in Indian communities in the United States too: In its first three days in North America, "Krrish" brought in $643,000 in 59 locations including West Hills and Artesia, or just less than $11,000 per theater. Worldwide, the box office haul was reported to be $15 million in its first week, a record for an Indian film.

(The previous record holder was "Fanaa," a recent thriller that brought in almost $8 million in its first week.) "Krrish" has already recouped the $10.2 million it cost to produce.

"We're very pleased," said Ravi Pillai, an operations manager for Adlabs Films USA, the New Jersey-based distributor of "Krrish." "We were expecting a great opening, which we got."

Shiraz Jivani, the owner of Naz8 Cinemas, which shows Indian and other Asian films, said nearly 4,000 people came to see "Krrish" on July 4 at its Artesia venue, where it was running on four screens.

"So far, it's beaten all other movies I've played in my cinemas, and I've been playing them for 18 years," he said.

"Krrish" is co-written and directed by Roshan's father, Rakesh, himself a former Bollywood star, and is a sequel of sorts to the director's sci-fi blockbuster "Koi ... Mil Gaya." It centers around Krishna, who is born with superhuman powers that he inherited from his father, who was visited by an alien when he was younger.

The film is a showcase for stunt choreographer Tony Ching Siu-tung, who worked on "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." "Krrish" is slick and glossy, with Hollywood-style special effects, but retains its Bollywood charms. Not only does Roshan's leather-clad Krrish fly and leap across great tracts of land; the masked hero sings and dances as well. Like any good Bollywood film, a love story is at the core of it, and plenty of scenes are infused with pathos and the intergenerational drama that Indian audiences love.

It has a Bollywood length as well; "Krrish" clocks in at just under three hours.

Industry watchers say the success of the film has as much to do with its family-values story line as its use of special effects in a Bollywood film.

"It's doing phenomenally well from a business perspective and from a cultural perspective," said Gitesh Pandya, founder and editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "People are really getting caught up in the whole Krrish superhero story."

He reckons the movie will be one of the bigger Bollywood films of 2006.

"It's certainly off to a very good start, and should hold up," he said. "Per theater, it had the best average in the whole top 20. It shows you just how strong it is."

Theater owners also say that "Krrish" has turned out to have crossover appeal and has drawn a culturally diverse crowd.

"It's played to crowds that were 50% non-Asian," said Dylan Marchetti, head of operations for the ImaginAsian theater in New York, part of the ImaginAsian Entertainment Inc., which brings pan-Asian programming to the United States. "Audience interest has been huge. On the days we weren't showing it, we had people calling and requesting tickets. We received calls a month in advance.... Everyone said it was very well done, technically perfect, and that it was still about Bollywood, with a love story and all the masala. That's what sells these movies."

What may have also fueled interest in the film was that it came out a week before "Superman Returns." According to sources, the Indian distributors chose June 23 as the release date because they hoped to siphon some ticket sales from the Hollywood film and direct it to a story about a homegrown superhero. In the United States, that was less of an issue, with executives saying it was really just a question of logistics.

"We planned it in such a way that we would have the weekend before ['Superman Returns']," said Pillai of Adlabs Films USA. "But we're not worried about any comparison, as the movies are aimed at two completely different audiences.

"We're not trying to be something we're not."

Still, some moviegoers couldn't help but draw comparisons between Krrish and the Man of Steel.

Maulik Shah, a business management consultant who saw the movie in North Carolina, found "Krrish" lacking.

"Compared to other Hollywood and even Asian movies, it wasn't up to par," he said. "You could tell that they didn't spend as much money on it and it wasn't creative enough. But I can see how it's a success because this is the first of its kind."

Rohit Karn Batra, who watched the movie recently at the Naz8 Cinemas in Artesia, thinks differently: "A lot of heart went into making it a good story and commercially viable. And I thought the character of Krrish was more three-dimensional than the character of Superman, who was more of a prop to me. With 'Krrish,' there were story lines and Indian values. It's a multilayered character, and much more developed than 'Superman.' "

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