MUMBAI, MAY 9: An entire generation of recession-hit Japanese have discovered a new hero: Rajnikant. Jayalalitha's bete noire and the man with that unflagging swagger and oh-so-cool wrist flicks has emerged there as the hippest thing after Leonardo DiCaprio and his film Muthu is the biggest grosser in Japan after Titanic.
So far the film has been seen by over 1,27,000 Japanese in a 23-week run at Tokyo's Cinema Rise alone, netting as much as $1.7 million and premieres on satellite television in June.
``The movie carries an important message -- that money is not everything in life. Instead it propagates human values, highlighted in the first song itself -- and this philosophy appealed to the Japanese audience. This is especially significant for a youth that's been talked down about for not being as hardworking as the post-war generation,'' says B Kandaswamy Bharathan, Executive Producer, Kavithalaya, the company that produced Muthu and the brain behind marketing the film.
Histheory is borne out by a survey which showed that 70 per cent of the Japanese who watched Muthu were under the age of 30 and 60 per cent of them were girls. ``These people are enamoured by Indian song and dance routines. Moreover, our film had the right mix of traditional values and light-hearted entertainment,'' he says.
According to the latest issue of Newsweek: `Japan's masala fascination began in 1996 at a video shop in Singapore's Little India. Japanese film critic Jun Edoki, visiting the store, asked a clerk to recommend a sampling of Indian movies. Muthu was among the films he carried back to Japan, and when Edoki sat with his wife to view it in Tokyo, they were mesmerized. ``It was absolutely fascinating even without subtitles,'' he recalls. ``We became addicted to the point where we had to see at least part of the film at least once a day.'' Edoki shopped Muthu around until Ichikawa's company, Xanadeux, agreed to release it.'
The film's success has opened up anunexpected market for Tamil films with Kandaswamy virtually assuming the mantle of the liaison in this venture.
Recently he has despatched three more films -- Poorkalam, Yajaman and the Prashant-Aishwarya Rai globe-trotter Jeans -- all of which have done reasonably well. ``Today, they view Indian films the way we lap up Hollywood blockbusters. In fact, Japan's largest advertising agency Dentsu, came down to India recently to shoot an ad film for a lemon drink using a song-and-dance backdrop,'' he says. While Muthu's heroine Meena's visit to Japan last year was an ``unqualified success.''
And suddenly other distributors from Chennai have trained their sights on this largely untapped territory. ``Traditionally, we've been sending our films to places like Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Canada and Europe. But now there regular feelers from interested parties in Japan asking for action and horror movies from Chennai,'' says distributor Sanjay Arjundas.
Kandaswamy himself is nowexploring the possibility of tapping other potential markets in the region like North and South Korea and China. And it many not be long before the Hindi film industry begins to cash in on this trend. Apparently, Yash Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge has already made its way to Japan, waiting in the wings for a theatrical release. And once that happens, who knows, Shah Rukh Khan could become Japan's next teen heartthrob.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.