Thursday, August 10, 2006
Washington (UNI): Popular movies from India, also known as ''Bollywood,'' is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as the latest South Asian blockbusters bring in millions at the box office and new fans, especially the second generation Indian Americans, eagerly await the next release. Yash Raj Films, one of India's largest film producers and distributors, has reportedly said in September 2005 that Bollywood films in the US earn around 100 million dollars a year through theatre screenings, video sales and the sale of movie soundtracks. Even though this is a small number compared to the mainstream US film industry, these figures contribute significantly to the bottom line of Indian filmmakers. Films from India do more business in the United States than films from any other country, according to the Internet Movie Database, an organisation that tracks box office sales in several countries.
The increasing popularity of Indian cinema, often called ''Bollywood Mania'' by the media here, is driving Indian filmmaking to new heights in terms of quality, cinematography and innovative story lines, critics say. As technical quality advances, moviegoers come in ever increasing numbers to watch the latest movies arriving from India's largest city. The now 8 billion dollars Indian film industry produces more than 900 movies a year in more than 20 languages, which makes India the world's most prolific film producer, according to Entertainment Weekly. Most of the movies are actually flashy ones that typically run more than three hours and showcase Indian culture, dance, songs and, most important, romance. Whether set in the modern day or in colonial times, most films boast a lavish wedding scene, as authentic Indian weddings still remain a highly valued tradition.
Realising the value of catering to the Indian American taste, many film makers from Mumbai have themes that could easily relate to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, known as K3G, was released in December 2001 in the United States and grossed more than 1 million dollars in its opening weekend. It ended its one-month run in the United States with 2.9 million dollars in box-office sales. The appeal was not only the star-studded cast and the exotic scenes filmed at the pyramids of Egypt but the emotional story line of a well-to-do family torn apart when the eldest son rejects a prospective bride his father chooses and marries a woman of his own choice.
Veer-Zaara, marketed to both Indians and Pakistanis, followed in K3G's footsteps with its November 2004 release in the United States, also bringing 2.9 million dollars during a two-month period. The familiar plot of a Hindu falling in love with a Muslim was filled with unfamiliar twists and turns. ''Seasoned Bollywood fans will be in heaven,'' said a New York Times film review. The growing popularity of the films led to a joint Bollywood/Hollywood production, Bride & Prejudice, the adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It opened in the United States on February 13, 2005, and grossed 6.6 million dollars by May 22, 2005. The film starred Bollywood idol and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai playing the part of Lalita Bakshi (the equivalent of Austen's Lizzie Bennet) with actor Martin Henderson playing the snobbish William Darcy. Aishwarya is the latest Bollywood ''crossover'' star in Hollywood, and will appear with actress Meryl Streep in Chaos, due out in 2007.
Currently, Bollywood's super hit movie, Krrish, is competing with America's own Superman. According to the Los Angles Times, the Indian film brought in 6,43,000 dollars (in 59 locations) in its first three days in North America, averaging about 11,000 dollars per theatre. It has been reported that tickets to the movie were sold days in advance and in New York, almost half the crowds were non-Asian. Globally the film brought in 15 million dollars in its first week, an all-time record for an Indian movie. Krrish, released June 23, is now playing on 75 screens across the United States and has topped the 1 million dollars mark. It is still playing in select theatres nationwide, according to media reports.
For the South Asian community in major US metropolitan cities like Edison in New Jersey, Chicago, Pittsburgh in Philadelphia, Houston in Texas, several cities in California, and New York, the names of Bollywood megastars Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachan, Hrithik Roshan, and Abhishek Bachchan, are just as big, if not bigger, than Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, or Brad Pitt, but critics say much of the commercial potential of Indian movies remains untapped. ''If more improvements are made in marketing and distribution, Bollywood films can earn significantly more revenue,'' says Gitesh Pandya, editor of online movie sales-tracking site boxofficeguru.com. ''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. According to the US operations of Yash Raj films, no more than 80 theatres in the United States show first-run Indian movies.
Over the past 10 years, Indian filmmakers have set their sights on the United States also when it comes to location filming. With growing numbers of south Asians migrating to the West, plot lines increasingly include scenes in America. A few recent prominent films made in the United States include Kaante (Thorns), Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Be), and Chocolate. With its movie industry gaining popularity in the West, Bollywood enjoys instant access to American living rooms via ''Bollywood On Demand'' provided by Comcast Corporation, the largest cable television provider in the United States, and more movie titles are being offered through video rental companies Blockbuster Video and Netflix.
Not only have Bollywood films achieved million-dollar revenues in the United States, but Bollywood ''star shows'' featuring the much sought-after stars of Indian cinema are staged in different cities where tickets are sold out in advance. These shows bring old and new films to life with songs from popular movies, live dancing, pyrotechnics, costumes and audience participation. This brings a taste of Bollywood and all that it represents to an audience hungry for such shows.