Why China Loves Bollywood

Bollywood movies have grown popular in China — some even make more money in China than in India. What’s the secret formula?

three idiots

Michaela Stone Cross


September 13, 2019

In 2017, Bollywood smash-hit Dangal (2016), about a retired wrestler who trains his two daughters to become international wrestling champions, proved to the world that Indian movies could sometimes make more money in China ($196 million) than in India ($80 million) at the box office. 

“In recent years, there are several Indian movies that are quite successful in terms of box office sales, such as Dangal and Secret Superstar,” said Hong Ju, an executive at Maoyan, the top Chinese movie ticketing app. “More and more people are considering whether Indian movies might meet the needs of Chinese viewers.” 

As of 2018, China allowed only 34 censored foreign movies into its theaters. Of that number, five were from India — including Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), which pulled in $45 million, and Hindi Medium (2017), about a Chandni Chowk couple’s attempt to educate their daughter and transcend class, which pulled in $32 million.

Last year had the highest number of Indian films ever on exhibit in China. The film quota means that India and Hollywood compete for the attention of Chinese moviegoers. But what can India give China that Hollywood can’t?

Investors started thinking. Gone were the Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai days when movies such as Awaara (1951) could bring audiences together with socialist tales. China had modernized as its economy opened up to the West, and so had India. It was 3 Idiots (2009) — about three students who face intense pressure in academics but also bond over friendship — that brought Indian film back into Chinese consciousness, and Aamir Khan into the nation’s heart.