Year of smash hits for Bollywood after a poor 2010

India Dispatch: The Hindi film industry had a horrible 2010 and a poor start to this year, but the tide turned dramatically last month, when all six major releases proved to be big hits.
A scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The movie, along with five other releases last month, helped reverse the tide of flops that blighted Bollywood last year.
A scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The movie, along with five other releases last month, helped reverse the tide of flops that blighted Bollywood last year.

Three Indians go on a jaunty, all-boys road trip through Moorish Spain. The narrative of this light-hearted tale is lavishly garnished with pulsating adventure scenes, rambunctious song-and-dance routines, and candyfloss romance - all the right mix of ingredients to make a Bollywood hit.

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Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara - which translates as there is only one life to live - set the box office on fire last month, grossing 1.08 billion rupees (Dh88.6 million) in the first 10 days alone.

The film, starring superstars Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif, "superseded all expectations", says Nandu Ahuja, the senior vice president for distribution at Eros Internationalthat bought the rights for 600m rupees.

The film also reversed the tide of flops that blighted the Hindi film industry last year, causing losses of about 5bn rupees. Fewer than a quarter of the 237 films released turned a profit, according to the trade journal Box Office India.

The industry's ill-fortune continued for the first half of this year, with distractions such as the cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League (IPL) luring audiences away from cinemas. Bollywood productions worth 3.5bn rupees only managed to recoup a maximum of 2.2bn rupees in the six months to June.

But last month brought a change of scene - and record profits.

All six major releases - ZNMD, Delhi Belly, Buddah Hoga Tera Baap, Murder 2,Chillar Party and Singham - were hits, with cumulative box-office collections exceeding 2.1bn rupees, 80 per cent up on July last year.

"This has been a tremendous period for Bollywood, one of the best the industry has witnessed, with these continuous hits," says Kamal Jain, the chief financial officer at Eros, which released ZNMD worldwide after it bought the rights. "This reversal of fortunes is likely to continue, with a strong line-up of movies in the pipeline."

India's film industry is the largest in the world in terms of ticket sales and number of movies produced each year . The country has 10,000 theatre screens.

The global consultancy Ernst & Young says Bollywood and other regional language cinemas 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.

The film industry is a part of India's growing media and entertainment sector, which generated US$14.54bn (Dh53.4bn) in revenue last year, a growth of 11 per cent on 2009, according to the global consultancy KPMG.

India, which has the second-largest population, is also among the world's youngest nations. More than half the population is under 25 and this aspiring age group is boosting spending on leisure and entertainment.

But in recent years, the movie business has witnessed a sharp slowdown. KPMG estimates that industry revenues declined by a fifth in the past three years to $1.85bn last year from $2.3bn in 2008. Many big-budget movies flopped last year. Kites, starring Hritik Roshan, is reported top have lost half of its total investment of 1bn rupees. Raavan, an offbeat, arty film staring the husband and wife pair of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai was made with a budget of 900m rupees, but lost about a third of its investment.

To increase the numbers of cinema goers between March and May - when the cricket World Cup and IPL was played - some multiplex owners screened live matches, which attracted packed houses.

Now the industry is on a growth trajectory, analysts say, helped by a slew of factors. These include a rise in the number of multiplex screens, improving revenue from overseas, digital screens facilitating wider releases and supplementary income streams such as digital downloads, according to KPMG.

Experts say the government's relaxed regulatory initiatives and a liberalised foreign investment regime is creating a favourable climate for business. With 100 per cent foreign direct investment allowed in most segments of the entertainment and media sector since 2000, it has become much less tedious for private players to raise capital. "Previously, the industry was dependent on only a handful of private financiers," KPMG's report said. "However, it is now raising funds through private equity … and initial public offerings both in India and abroad."

The relaxed regulations are also attracting foreign entertainment businesses to India.

The industrial policy and promotion department says the Indian broadcasting industry received foreign direct investment inflows of $2.04bn in the past decade.

Ernst & Young says the number of multiplex screens in the country is expected to rise from 800 to 1,500 in the next two or three years. Cinepolis, a Mexico-based multiplex operator, says it plans to set up 40 multiplex theatre screens by next year with a total investment of $28m.

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

Innovative marketing strategies, with catchy promotions and outdoor advertising by production houses, he says, have lured people in droves to the cinemas.

Creative and cerebral themes - and not necessarily the age-old formulaic films peppered with song and dance - are most likely to work at the box office, says Aamir Khan, an actor, director and film-maker.

His company Amir Khan Productions has so far produced five films, one of which was nominated for the Oscars in 2002. His last three films - 3 Idiots, Ghajini and Taare Zameen Par - grossed a total of 7.5bn rupees.

"This is Bollywood's 'decade of content'," says Mr Khan.

business@thenational.ae

Published: August 7, 2011 04:00 AM

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