Bollywood beaten in own yard

Hollywood films are enjoying greater success in India, much to the distress of the country’s own industry. Insiders suggest Indian audiences are more interested in foreign films, which are crowding out domestic fare at cinemas.

The Jungle Book was India’s biggest release in the first half of this year. The top five Hollywood films earned more in India than the top five domestic films in the same period, and their market share rose. Courtesy Disney
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Bollywood is considered a mainstay of Indian culture, but Hollywood is increasingly giving India’s film industry a run for its money at the country’s box offices.

Hollywood is rapidly growing its revenue from Indian cinemas, while Bollywood’s revenue is declining, as moviegoers seek out higher quality films with richer content.

“You have a huge English-speaking population in India, and it was just a matter of time before English language films and Hollywood films started kicking in and doing well,” says Abhimanyu Singh, the chief executive of Contiloe Pictures, a production house in Mumbai. “Bollywood has been challenged by Hollywood because – I feel – we as a film-making country haven’t reinvented the kind of cinema we are making.”

The biggest film in the first half of the year was The Jungle Book, which made more than 1.8 billion rupees (Dh98.5 million) at the box office, more than any Indian film in that period, according to figures from, a Hindi film site.

Fitoor, a Bollywood film based on Charles Dickens's Great Expectations starring Indian actors Tabu, Aditya Roy Kapur and Katrina Kaif was one of several box office flops this year, grossing just over 190m rupees, while it cost 700m rupees to make.

“Some [Bollywood films] cost as much as $20m to $30m, and it doesn’t have the kind of market to be able to sustain such high pricing,” Mr Singh says.

Many Bollywood productions are not recovering their investment and “a lot of the films are complete disasters”.

He says Hollywood films, meanwhile, are becoming better and better.

“Indians have access to content [from] all over the world [and] as an audience are becoming more unforgiving, and their expectations are increasing and that expectation is getting fulfilled by Hollywood and not Bollywood,” Mr Singh says. “Very few films have done well as far as Indian cinema is concerned this year.”

The top five Bollywood films in the first half of this year grossed 4.7bn rupees compared with 5.1bn rupees last year, according to the financial daily Business Standard, which says the number of Hollywood releases has doubled in the first half of this year compared to last year.

This year, Captain America: Civil War did well in India, with collections of 590m rupees, according to BollywoodHungama figures. The Conjuring 2 managed to net 52m rupees on the first day of its release, while Bollywood's TE3N, starring the industry veteran Amitabh Bachchan, took half of that on its opening day at 26m rupees.

Data from the professional services company KPMG shows that the top five Hollywood films in India collected more than 5bn rupees last year compared with 2.9bn rupees in 2014, and that its share of the market had grown.

Factors that have propelled this growth include wider releases for Hollywood films across screens and the rise of dubbing of movies into regional languages, according to KPMG.

Overall, film revenue in India increased by 9.3 per cent last year over 2014 to 138.2bn rupees, but this growth was driven by the rise of Hollywood and regional films, whereas the Bollywood or Hindi language market was flat, KPMG says.

“The lack of screens is a key constraint to sustained growth, especially for Bollywood content,” KPMG says. “Bollywood is constrained by the slow pace of screen growth and inconsistent quality, and has been facing increasing competition from Hollywood and regional content.”

Ashish Saksena, the chief operating officer of cinemas for, a ticket-booking website, says there has been a marked increase in the number of Hollywood releases in India.

“On an average, at least two such films are being released in India on a weekly basis,” Mr Saksena says. “Besides the existing Hollywood movie distributors, a number of independent distributors have also now started releasing movies for the Indian market.”

Franchise films coming out of Hollywood, such as Fast and Furious, Star Wars, Avengers and Mission Impossible, have proved enormously popular.

“The audience has also started to highly anticipate sequels of famous franchisees, and because of this Hollywood films tend to get more screens for their releases,” Mr Saksena says.

“This then translates into box office success for them.”

Even the Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan has voiced his views on the issue of Hollywood’s rise and its effect on the film industry.

"We need to raise our standards," he told The Indian Express daily.

“We are the biggest market in the world and it will be unfortunate if our Indian products don’t do well in the Indian market,” he says. “If technology and presentation of cinema doesn’t become international fast, there is going to be a chance [of Hollywood taking over].”

Kriti Nagar, the director of Kraction Films, a production company in New Delhi, says Indians have more confidence when it comes to Hollywood productions in certain genres.

"The Indian viewer will be more interested in watching movies like Star Wars than any … Bollywood sci-fi movie," she says. "It's the Indian mindset that is not ready to explore the possibilities that Bollywood too has the capability to make such incredible films."

Hollywood offers the Indian moviegoer more variety, she says.

Bollywood films tend to be “more sentimental and melodramatic”, while “Hollywood movies have clear genre and are more specific and sophisticated”.

The rise of Hollywood has also prompted the industry to take steps to avoid putting Bollywood’s big films in direct competition with American releases.

“Interestingly, a concerted effort is now being made by the Hollywood and Hindi film distributors to plan the dates of their releases in consultation with each other,” Mr Saksena says. “This is primarily because Hollywood films have been performing superbly in India, especially in the past couple of years, and therefore, release clashes are now avoided as far as possible. The fact that blockbuster Hollywood films get dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu helps us expand their reach on BookMyShow.”

But Bollywood's appeal is so huge among the masses that when filmmakers do get it right, the films can still deliver impressive results. One Bollywood movie that has taken the Indian box office by storm is the recently released Sultan, with Salman Khan in the lead role.

The film, centred around a wrestling champion, was released on July 6 and has already taken more than 2.3bn rupees at the box office, figures from BollywoodHungama show.

“But that is one film in the whole year that has really done those kind of numbers,” Mr Singh says.

He says that in Bollywood, in general too much money has been spent on actors instead of investing in a good script and content. India’s film industry urgently needs to up its game to compete with Hollywood, Mr Singh says.

"I hope that India is able to reinvent the kind of cinema it makes," he says. He cites the example of Neerja, starring Sonam Kapoor, which is based on the true story of an air hostess who lost her life protecting passengers from terrorists who hijacked a plane. The film cost about 200m rupees to make and grossed more than 750m rupees at the box office.

“Twenty years ago people may not have gone to the theatres to see it, but today I think people want more of such kind of cinema, which is meaningful – a biopic. India is so rich in story and heritage, and none of those stories are being tapped. I’m sure that Indian content can travel the world. I wonder why filmmakers are not making that kind of content. Until you see there being some new wave of cinema makers who understand the business of cinema and also understand storytelling, I actually see that Hollywood is only going to make further strides in our country.”

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