The Doklam standoff between Chinese and Indian troops may have begun to permeate the country’s social media, where anti-India sentiment is rising steadily, but none of that hatred seems to have touched Dangal.
The Bollywood movie, a true story of a wrestler’s quest to train his daughters as world-class fighters, continues to be wildly popular in China despite the end of its theatre run in early July. Viewers can still watch it on iQiyi, China’s Netflix, and numerous other Chinese streaming websites, where Dangal continues to collect more and more fans every day.
On Douban, a Chinese movie rating website similar to IMDb, Dangal’s rating has risen to 9.1 out of 10, from 8.8 in May. Despite its rating – which is even higher than the 8.6 Avatar had managed – many Chinese netizens are complaining it’s too low for something as great as Dangal.
“If the total score were 10, I would give Dangal 100,” wrote one, called “Zhu Ka Jing Di Guan” on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website. “Dangal is the best movie of the year,” wrote another netizen called “E Xiaoyu”.
A day after the theatre run ended on July 4, a YouTube video was uploaded by “Aamir Khan FC China” showing Chinese fans dancing to the song Dhakkad Dhakkad from Dangal. This tribute to Aamir Khan by his Chinese fans has gone viral. It has been viewed over 300,000 times since and generated hundreds of comments, mostly from Indians. “This is the way... China and India should celebrate each other’s culture and not fight on borders,” says one Ankur Singhai.
Released in China on May 5 as Shuai Jiao Ba Baba, or “Let’s Wrestle, Dad”, Dangal collected over US$190 million at box office in China. It struck an emotional chord with the country’s filmgoers, who instantly identified with its central theme of female empowerment and filial piety in a rapidly changing but inherently patriarchal society.
Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, recently hailed it as one of the most “successful and influential” movies in China in recent years.
The adulation for Dangal stands in sharp contrast to the growing India bashing in Chinese social media as the military face-off in the India-Bhutan-China trijunction enters its second month. A post by an user called “Qing Lao Zhi Fu” on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, reads: “It’s time to teach India how to behave again.”
Another user going by the name of Zhang Ming declares: “China is powerful enough to bring the US and Japan to their knees. What is India?” The post, on July 18, has been “liked” by more than 900 people.
Although disputes between China and its neighbours do not necessarily lead to outright economic boycotts, icons representing the “enemy” country do come under attack in times of geopolitical run-ins. In 2012, when China-Japan territorial disputes resurfaced, violent protests broke out across China. In Shenzhen alone, thousands of angry protesters took to the streets, smashing Japanese cars and attacking Japanese restaurants.
More recently, Korean auto manufacturers have been feeling the heat of Chinese fury over Seoul’s decision to deploy US missile shield THAAD. Hyundai Motor reported its March that sales in China fell 52 per cent year on year. Korean supermarket chain Lotte has had to close 75 of its 99 hypermarkets in China.
Stanley Rosen, a film specialist and political scientist at the University of Southern California, is not surprised that Dangal, India’s most prominent export to China of late, did not meet the same fate. “It would be difficult not to have a very positive reaction in China” to a movie that even President Xi Jinping has publicly praised, he said.
When Xi met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) last month, he told Modi that he watched Dangal and liked it.
The popularity of Dangal also reflects a rising appreciation of Indian culture in China, added Rosen.
In recent years, Chinese moviegoers have seemed to develop a taste for the Bollywood genre. Movies like Three Idiots and PK, also Aamir Khan starrers, have been runaway hits in China. But Dangal has taken the newfound success of Hindi movies in China to a whole new level.
A frequently asked question in China’s online forums these days is, “why can’t we make movies like Dangal?” Apart from challenging the common gender stereotypes associated with India, Dangal has been cited as many Chinese commentators as an example of India’s superior soft power. It is that soft power that has managed to blunt some of the popular contempt generated by the border face-off.
“I don’t like the idea that if we disagree with a country on political matters, we have to dislike everything from that country,” said Zhang Zhaohui, a public relations specialist in Beijing. Describing herself as a fan of Dangal, Zhang said she watched the film twice and recommended it to her friends as well. “I know a lot of Chinese who just loved Dangal. They all still do and none of them would ever change their mind or not want to see it again just because of the border dispute.”
For Pan Qingan, a 27-year-old environmentalist in Shenzhen, the sheer idea of boycotting or bearing any ill will towards Dangal is unthinkable.
“Aamir Khan is nan shen (male god) for us,” said Pan, using a term used by the Chinese to describe someone they truly admire. “How do you boycott god?”