It's ballyhoo for Bollywood movies

India Dispatch: Corporate money impacts Indian cinema as Bollywood stages a comeback.

The Bollywood blockbuster Bodyguard, which stars Kareena Kapoor, received poor reviews. Amit Dave / Reuters
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The Bollywood film Bodyguard, the remake of a Malayalam film by the same name, was released last week to overwhelmingly poor reviews by film critics, but is on its way to become this year's biggest blockbuster in India's Hindi film industry.

Bodyguard grossed 860 million rupees (Dh68.6m) at the box office in the first four days alone - higher than last year's biggest hit, "Dabangg", which netted 810m rupees in its first week.

Starring superstars Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor,Bodyguard was released across 2,250 theatre screens in 70 Indian cities and more than 400 screens oversees.

Its production company Reel Life Entertainment, which was recently bought by the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Entertainment for 640m rupees, is widely being credited for the film's success.

Reliance says it reserved a record 220m rupee budget to launch a slick pre-release marketing campaign - the largest for any Bollywood film. The outlay was swiftly recovered in the film's opening weekend alone.

"Bodyguard has had a monstrous, earth-shattering, mind-boggling opening," Taran Adarsh, a Bollywood trade analyst, wrote on Twitter.

Bodyguard's record earnings are a sign, observers say, of how corporate funding is changing the nature of business in Bollywood, an industry where a film's success depends entirely on the vagaries of audience interest.

The industry saw a dramatic reversal of fortunes last year, as only a quarter of the 237 films released turned a profit, according to Box Office India, a Bollywood trade journal based in Mumbai. Losses exceeded 5 billion rupees.

The ill-fortune continued for the first half of this year. Bollywood productions worth 3.5bn rupees managed to amass collections of between only 2bn and 2.2bn rupees in the six months until June.

But come July, all six major releases declared record-breaking profits, with cumulative box office collections exceeding 2.1bn rupees, 80 per cent more than the collections in July last year.

Taran Adarsh, a film trade analyst in Mumbai, attributes the recent spate of successes at the box office to a "triumph of craft".

He says innovative marketing strategies with catchy promotions and outdoor advertising by production houses - a strategy replicated by Reliance in the case of Bodyguard- lured viewers in droves to movie theatres.

The Indian government's relaxed regulatory initiatives and a liberalised foreign investment regime has creating a favourable climate for investment by corporate houses, observers say.

With 100 per cent foreign direct investment allowed in most segments of the entertainment and media sector since 2000, it has become less tedious for private production houses to raise capital.

"Previously, India's film industry was dependent on only a handful of private financiers," the advisory firm KPMG said in a recent report. "However, it is now raising funds through private equity … and initial public offerings both in India and abroad."

Large production houses, including Eros, United Television and Reliance Entertainment - all backed by corporate funding - are diversifying revenue streams, reducing the industry's dependency on ticket sales.

Many are selling satellite rights for films to television channels, to exploit India's large penetration of TV, which KPMG says grew from 58 per cent in 2009 to 61 per cent last year, to 600 million viewers.

India's 81.9bn rupee Hindi and regional film industry - the largest in the world in terms of ticket sales and number of movies produced each year - is expected to blossom into a 128bn rupee enterprise by 2015, says the lobby group Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Ernst and Young, the global consultancy, says 400 Bollywood and other regional language production houses produce more than 1,000 films annually in 20 languages.

About 3.3 billion movie tickets are sold every year, the highest number in any country, across 12,000 theatre screens. About 800 of them are multiplex theatres.

Industry growth drivers include a slew of factors such as digital screens facilitating wider releases - 60 per cent of the print run was on digital and 40 per cent were physical prints last year - and supplementary revenue streams such as digital downloads, according to a report last year by KPMG.