Rani Mukerji exclusive: Bollywood superstar on winning Chinese hearts
Updated 20:24, 14-Apr-2019
Khushboo Razdan

"There are no bad students, but only bad teachers," says the character of Naina Mathur in the Indian comedy-drama Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups) played by Bollywood superstar Rani Mukerji. The message and the movie got full marks from the Chinese audience in October last year, when it became the only Indian film with a solo female lead to earn over 120 million yuan (17.8 million U.S. dollars) at the Chinese box office.

The emotionally-inspiring movie traced the journey of an aspiring teacher who's suffering from Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary vocalizations. Based on the autobiography of an American teacher Brad Coheh, it showcased how the power of determination can overcome any disability.

Mukerji, in an exclusive interview with CGTN Digital, tells us that she was aware that Indian movies are liked in China, but she did not expect that her film would become such a huge success. 

Indian actress Rani Mukerji in Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups). / Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

Indian actress Rani Mukerji in Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups). / Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

"I obviously did not know that Hichki would release in China. When we started making the film, it was a very sweet film with a great message. It was a film which had a very universal story about teacher-and-student relationship, and of course we knew it was a very special film but where the movie will release and how big it would become, I don't think anyone can ever predict," she said. 

"It was a really big surprise because before this there was a film called Dangal which had released there and that's a bigger film with a bigger star cast having Aamir Khan in it, and then Hichki going there and doing so well and touching a chord with the Chinese audience was really very special." 

The film received a standing ovation at the 2018 Shanghai International Festival in June, and later surpassed the box office of Aamir Khan starrer PK to become the fifth top-grossing Indian movie in China after Khan's Dangal, Secret Superstar, Salman Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijan (Little Lolita's Monkey God Uncle) and Irrfan Khan's Hindi Medium last year.

"I feel extremely happy that my film received a standing ovation…and to think that people loved your movie and your work so much that they actually stood up and clapped, that's the kind of honor they give us as an artist. For us artists, adulation and appreciation is something that we work so hard for," she said. 

While talking about the ongoing Beijing International Film Festival, the actress welcomed the India-China Co-production Dialogue Forum, which would be held on April 18.

Indian actress Rani Mukerji (3rd R) with Chinese fans during the media preview of film Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccup) in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, October 10, 2018.  /VCG Photo 

Indian actress Rani Mukerji (3rd R) with Chinese fans during the media preview of film Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccup) in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, October 10, 2018.  /VCG Photo 

"I feel extremely proud when Indian films are showcased outside our country, and it's wonderful that the Beijing Film Festival is organizing Indian Films Week this year. I am sure the Chinese people will get to see the diversity of Indian cinema."

You may be interested in Love Bollywood? Here's a list of must-see Indian movies 

The powerhouse performer also called for more Indo-China productions and expressed her keen interest in working on a joint venture. 

"To be a part of an Indo-China venture would be extremely thrilling. I am looking forward to that. I would love to do a Chinese film. I would love to be a part of collaborations because as an artist, I think what I am looking for and striving for is great content in cinema and a great part in a film. So whether a film belongs to my nation or any other nation, I don't think as an artist we have any boundaries. We transcend boundaries because we only talk about the love of cinema and that basically binds us all together," Mukerji told CGTN Digital. 

Indian actress Rani Mukerji. /Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

Indian actress Rani Mukerji. /Courtesy of Yash Raj Films

Decoding the success of Bollywood in China

China's total box office revenue grew nine percent in 2018, with the revenue of over 8.7 billion U.S. dollars only second to the United States. With 50,000 screens, China is the largest movie market in the world. The country produced a whopping 1,082 films in 2018.

Only two Indian movies were released in China in 2016, and one in 2017, but 2018 saw that number rise to 10. According to a report by Maoyan, the largest online ticketing service in China, the average box-office earnings of Indian moves in 2018 were higher than the average in the last two years.

"I think the Chinese are really looking for movies with great content and they like emotional stories. That's the reason why Indian films are doing really well in China. People get to see a complete package of emotions, action, humor, music and drama, and that's the reason a lot people get attracted toward Bollywood because it's very colorful," Mukerji told CGTN Digital.

Bollywood's tryst with China dates back to the 1950s, though the resurgence of Indian cinema took place with Aamir Khan's Three Idiots in 2011. 

Read more: United Colors of Cinema: Bollywood's love affair with China

Indian actress Rani Mukerji during a promotional event of Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups) in Shanghai, October 9, 2018.  /VCG Photo

Indian actress Rani Mukerji during a promotional event of Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups) in Shanghai, October 9, 2018.  /VCG Photo

The 'Rani' (queen) of Bollywood

With an illustrious 22-year-long career in Indian cinema, Mukerji is one of the most successful leading ladies of Bollywood. Having worked in several commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies, she is often lauded for playing versatile characters in movies like Hey Ram, Black, Mardaani, No One Killed Jessica while challenging the stereotypical portrayal of women in Indian films.

"I think when you portray roles like Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups) or Mardaani or No One Killed Jessica, these are all portrayals of strong women who are amongst us today…whether it's a character of a female super cop Shivani Shivaji Rao fighting child trafficking from the film Mardaani or the character of fearless crime reporter Meera from No One Killed Jesicca, these are all real life characters that exist in India today and around us," Mukerji told CGTN Digital. 

A poster of Mardaani. /courtesy of Yash Raj Films.

A poster of Mardaani. /courtesy of Yash Raj Films.

Mukerji has won over 25 major film awards including seven Filmfare Awards and two International Indian Film Academy Awards. Her film Black (2005), in which she plays a mute and blind girl, is one of her most memorable films. 

The Bollywood diva took a four-year-long break from the silver screen after giving birth to her daughter in 2015. Hichki (My Teacher with Hiccups) was largely seen as her comeback film, and its success clearly marks her non-stop victory march in India's Tinsel town. 

A special message from a special teacher

"I would wish them all the very best and hope that the Chinese festival becomes bigger and bigger each year. And, of course, as an Indian artist I would always love the fact that Indian films are part of the Chinese festival. Hopefully my films will be there in the festival, people will get to watch more Indian films and get to watch me more so I think it's great to have this festival. It's unfortunate that I could not be there but hopefully soon I will be a part of a festival and meet all my Chinese fans once again," said Mukerji as she signed off.