| Shyamalan: White knight
Washington, Aug. 2: Walt Disney, the 81-year-old bulwark of Hollywood, is in trouble and a 33-year-old Indian is going for its rescue.
Manoj Night Shyamalan, the Oscar-nominated, Pondicherry-born director, salvaged Disney’s sagging fortunes and reputation when his new horror movie, The Village, left all other new releases in North America way behind last weekend with box-office sales of $50.8 million.
This is the second windfall for Disney from Shyamalan.
Two years ago, Shyamalan’s Signs, starring Mel Gibson, equally surprised Hollywood, grossing $60 million during its opening weekend and netted a total of $228 million for Disney. In 2000, The Sixth Sense, another of Shyamalan’s films, was nominated for six Oscars.
The success of Shyamalan’s new film was something Disney desperately needed. Fearing the wrath of the White House and the Republican Party, Disney unwisely prevented its subsidiary, Miramax Films, from distributing the anti-George W. Bush, anti-Iraq war documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, a few months ago.
The documentary was a record success and Michael Moore, its director, has become an icon, mobbed, feted and cheered all over America. Fahrenheit 9/11 won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, the first time a documentary has bagged the prestigious award in 48 years.
Three of Disney’s other much-hyped releases this summer, King Arthur, a remake of Around the World in 80 Days and Home on the Range, have all bombed at the box office.
Falling stock prices, poor judgement by the management and corporate boardroom battles have badly bruised Disney recently with Roy Disney, nephew of company founder Walt, engaged in a free-for-all with chief executive Michael Eisner. Disney has also been facing hostile takeover bids by rivals.
Actually, Shyamalan’s new offering created a new record for Disney for a release in July, overtaking the previous high of $46.6 million in the opening weekend last year for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The weekend brought bad news for a pioneering effort in Hollywood on behalf of India. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, the first enterprise in Hollywood with a South Asian American and a Korean American as lead characters, grossed a mere $5.2 million, despite a vigorous appeal to Asians here on the Internet by the actors, Kal Penn and John Cho, to support their venture by flocking to theatres.
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle did badly in theatres despite good reviews. It is a funny story of how nothing could stop the two Asians, Harold and Kumar, from satisfying their craving for hamburgers at The White Castle burger chain in the US.
Critics said the film’s novelty is not only that it features two Asians in lead roles. They said this is the first time a commercial product’s name — The White Castle restaurant — has been used in the title of a film.
“John Cho and Kal Penn are broadening a venerable tradition of ethnic humour, trafficking in stereotypes and sending them up with equal verve,” wrote The New York Times about the film in the run up to its release.
“At first glance they could be poster children for early 21st-century American diversity... Harold and Kumar’s journey is an ordeal of embarrassment and frustration, of evaporating sexual opportunities, humiliations and miscommunications that ends, in keeping with the rules of the genre, with reassurance, satisfaction and the acceptance of responsibility.”