Bollywood films carve a niche in the West

Sep 30, 2006 Arpana

New Delhi, Sep 30 (IANS) Well-known Indian filmmaker Karan Johar's "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna" on the subject of infidelity has been declared the biggest Indian hit overseas. It has already crossed box office collections of "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" (K3G) in the United States.

Although the film, studded with Bollywood luminaries - Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta - bombed at the Indian box office, it is said to be a roaring success in Australia and the United Arab Emirates. In London it has grossed 200,000 pounds already and is expected to overtake K3G in the next few days.

These figures establish the fact that Bollywood films have finally carved a niche for themselves in the international market, especially the US.

"Films from India do more business in the US than films from any other country," points out an article in The Washington File, an online resource of the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programmes.

One of India's largest film producers and distributors, Yash Raj Films, reported last year that Bollywood films in the US earn around $100 million a year through theatre screenings, video sales and the sale of movie soundtracks. Yash Raj Films quoted the Internet Movie Database, an organisation that tracks box office sales in several countries.

Entertainment Weekly reported that the now $8 billion film industry produces more than 900 movies a year in more than 20 languages. This makes India the world's most prolific film producer.

K3G, released in December 2001, grossed more than $1 million in its opening weekend in the US. It ended its one-month run in the US with $2.9 million in box-office sales.

Surprisingly Yash Chopra's cross border love story "Veer Zaara", which was another damp squib at India's ticket windows, followed K3G's steps and brought in $2.9 million during a two-month period. It was released in November 2004 in the US.

The growing popularity of Indian films encouraged Gurinder Chadha to make a joint Bollywood-Hollywood venture "Bride and Prejudice". It was a joint venture in more than one way - first it was an Indianised version of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and second a Hollywood actor played the lead along with Aishwarya Rai.

Recently, Bollywood's first superhero "Krrish" gave a tough fight to America's Superman. According to the Los Angles Times, the Indian film brought in $643,000 (in 59 locations) in its first three days in North America, averaging about $11,000 per theatre.

It has been reported that tickets to the movie were sold days in advance. In New York, almost half the crowd was non-Asian. Globally, the film brought in $15 million in the first week, an all-time record for an Indian movie.

"Krrish", released June 23, was screened at 75 venues across the US.

"If more improvements are made in marketing and distribution, Bollywood films can earn significantly more revenue," Gitesh Pandya, editor of online movie sales-tracking site, was quoted as saying.

"Many of the bigger films are debuting in the top 20 box office charts despite playing in only a few dozen theatres nationwide," he added.

Over the last 10 years, Indian filmmakers have set their sight on the US also when it comes to location filming. With growing numbers of South Asians migrating to the West, sub-plots increasingly include scenes in America. A few recent prominent films made in the US include "Kaante", "Kal Ho Naa Ho" and "Chocolate".

With its movie industry gaining popularity in the West, Bollywood enjoys instant access in American living rooms via 'Bollywood On Demand' provided by Comcast Corporation, the largest cable television provider in the US.

But Hollywood films have a slightly different story to tell.

In India, language plays a barrier and mostly dubbed versions of Hollywood films are performing satisfactorily on Indian ticket windows.

According to a study by Yes Bank in association with the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, 35-40 percent of the total box office collections of foreign films were contributed by dubbed versions in 2004 compared to approximately 25 percent in 2001.

The trend has continued strongly into 2005, going by the collection patterns for "XXX2 - The Next Level", which had the biggest opening weekend collection among Hollywood films this year.

Gross box office collections for foreign films in India have increased from Rs.1.3 billion in 2001 to Rs.1.8 billion, up 33 percent in the four-year period.

The number of foreign films releasing in India increased at a slower rate of 23 percent though gross box office collections per foreign film moved up from Rs.20.1 million in 2001 to Rs.20.3 million.

The growth of multiplexes has also played a role in popularising Hollywood films in the country. Multiplexes contribute 29-35 percent of the Hindi film industry's revenues, and they are reckoned to have impacted the collection pattern of foreign films as well.

Apart from good box office performance destination, India is luring some of the prominent Hollywood names like - Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Cameron Diaz, Peter Weir... who are making a beeline for India to shoot or research film projects.

It has mostly been made possible by the power of Bollywood, one of the largest film industries in the world based in Mumbai, that is slowly but surely popularising India in the West.

The result is quite stunning. Will Smith has signed a deal with PVR Cinemas and has expressed a desire to work with stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai and also ace director Karan Johar.

Angelina Jolie is already on her way to India to shoot a film concerning American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed in Pakistan four years ago. The film is based on a book on Daniel's life by his wife Marianne "A Mighty Heart" and will be shot in Pune.

Jolie, who will be playing the role of Marianne will be in India Oct 1, along with boyfriend Brad Pitt and their three kids. They are expected to stay for a month.

With the growing popularity of Bollywood in the US and Hollywood stars heading for India, it seems the boundary lines are fast melting.

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Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna


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