Shah Rukh-Salman war goes to Japan

Mumbai, March 15 (IANS) It was meant to be a huge marketing coup with Salman Khan opening up the hitherto dormant Japanese market for Bollywood with a nationwide release of Yash Raj Film's "Ek Tha Tiger".

Director Kabir Khan flew excitedly into a four-city tour of Japan last week at the invitation of the Japanese distributors Nikkatsu Corporation and the release date was fixed for April 20 in Japan.

But now, in what appears to be a hasty and clever business manoeuvre, Eros International has announced the Japanese release of their 2007 Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster Om Shanti Om.

Titled "Koi Suru Rinne", with Japanese subtitles, "Om Shanti Om" would get a 15-print release across Japan on March 16.

While Eros maintains that their rush-release of "Om Shanti Om" in Japan this weekend has nothing to do with Yash Raj's carefully-strategised Japanese release plans for "Ek Tha Tiger", a source close to both the actors spills the beans revealing that the overnight decision to release "Om Shanti Om" in Japan was primarily a means to give Shah Rukh a head-start over Salman in the Japanese market, which is still a nascent Bollywood market.

Says the source: "Where and when did Japan come into the picture? When Yash Raj took the initiative by flying Kabir Khan to Japan to open up the Bollywood market in the country with 'Ek Tha Tiger'. Eros immediately planned a rush-release of 'Om Shanti Om'.

"Why a seven-year old film now? Two reasons. One, because reincarnation is a big high for the Japanese. And two, because a Shah Rukh-starrer needed to enter the market before Salman's 'Ek Tha Tiger'."

While Eros maintains that Bollywood and Shah Rukh have a "cult following" in Japan, "Ek Tha Tiger" director Kabir Khan confirms that Japan is new to Bollywood.

"I wonder why Bollywood has not explored Japan for shooting? I don't think any significant Hindi film after 'Love In Tokyo' has been shot in Japan," said Khan.

"There is a zero market for Indian films and filmmakers in the country. Even Rajinikanth's popularity in Japan was only a phase that has now faded. As things stand, Japan has no knowledge of Bollywood or Bollywood stars. It was Nikkatsu Corporation who took the initiative to bring Bollywood into Japan. We are starting from scratch in Japan."

Significantly Kabir sidelines the pre-emptive "Om Shanti Om" release until reminded of it.

"Yes, I believe 'Om Shanti Om' is releasing in Japan. But it's not a part of Nikkatsu's Bollywood plans. We've plans of initially releasing 30 prints of 'Ek Tha Tiger' in Japan to be scaled up to 70 prints. Their initial package includes 'Ek Tha Tiger', 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan', '3 Idiots' and 'Don 2'. With these films they hope to introduce a taste for Bollywood in Japan.

"Hopefully, we'd also start shooting some films in Japan. I really don't know why Japan has been a closed door for Bollywood. Maybe because Tokyo is considered an expensive city."

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