Bollywood-Hollywood Hybrid Film Genre
Bollywood and Hollywood are joining forces to produce a whole slew of hybrid movies with money, stars and scripts flowing in both directions. The motivation is clear: Both purveyors of entertainment are looking to expand their audiences. "It's the right time for these two giants to shake hands," Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Indian writer and director, told the Wall Street Journal, adding that Hollywood stands to benefit from India's large movie audiences. "We have stars like Aamir Khan, who has more eyeballs than Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, anybody."
Though it is dwarfed by Hollywood's $10b in sales last year, India's domestic film industry is growing much faster at 15% annually and is projected to hit $4 billion by 2012, up from $1.9 billion in 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Wall Street Journal is reporting a number of joint projects currently in development: Screenwriter Paul Schrader, famous for such films as "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," is working on a thriller with an Indian producer. Sylvester Stallone will appear in "Kambakkht Ishq," or "Incredible Love," an action-filled comedy shot in Los Angeles and starring Akshay Kumar. Indian film mega star Shahrukh Khan is producing and starring in a superhero film that will be co-written by American and Indian screenwriters and digitally souped up by American special-effects technicians.
The critical or commercial success of such projects, however, remains a big question mark based on the reception of the recent releases of Slumdog Millionaire and Chandni Chowk. While Slumdog Millionaire grossed about $70m in America and received nominations for many of the most prestigious Hollywood awards, it was greeted by howls of protests in India. Bollywood's biggest superstar of all time, Amitabh Bachchan, scolded Slumdog producers on his blog for showing India as "a third world dirty under belly developing nation (sic)" when poverty can be found in rich countries as well. Contrast that with Chandni Chowk's miserable performance, with less than a million dollars gross in spite of being released on 125 screens, the biggest ever Bollywood release in America. Chandni Chowk was considered an average draw at the Indian box office, with Rs. 400 million in ticket sales.
American audiences may not warm to Indian-style kitschy, song-and-dance sequences and melodramatic staples. In 2007, Columbia Tri-Star funded and produced "Saawariya," which failed to capture a wide audience in India and flopped in its limited U.S. release, earning $885,574 in American theaters. Executives at Sony Pictures, which owns Columbia, declined to say how much the film made in India but noted that they more than recovered their investment.
In spite the huge gap in taste between the South Asian and American audiences, it would be hard to dismiss the new Indo-American hybrid film genre, given the amount of talent, money and serious interest by the big studios and investors in Los Angeles and Mumbai going in to make it a success. It will be very interesting to see how such a wide gap is bridged by the undeniable talent on both sides.
Here's the title track for Chandni Chowk to China:
India's Bid to Extend Cultural Dominance
Harry Potter Versus Hari Puttar
Amitabh Bachan Slams Slumdog
Highest Grossing Bollywood Films
Highest Grossing Hollywood Films
A few weeks ago, the famous producer Karan Johar was interviewed on the business of cinema and he said something that insiders have known for a long time, that the number of people watching movies in India was actually falling every year.
Some of the reasons for this are to do with infrastructure. India has only one screen per lakh of the population. The United States, the world's biggest film industry, has 12. China, which through Hong Kong has the second biggest film industry, has about 2.5 screens per lakh.
As cities in India begin tearing down old cinema halls and build malls, the number of screens is set to go down even further. The other problem is that the multiplex screens in new malls are too expensive for most middle-class families. Tickets are around Rs 250 and taking a family to see a movie regularly would severely dent household incomes. Service tax and entertainment tax rates are high and there is not that much scope to reduce the prices of the tickets.
And it is not as if the producers and studios are being greedy. In fact, one major producer, Walt Disney, announced recently that it would exit the Bollywood movie production business after it made big losses.
Some of the reasons for the decline in movie watchers have to do with the industry. A friend of mine said to me that the big Bollywood stars did not make enough movies and there was little to watch. Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan now acted in only about one film each year and made money through advertisements and television. This meant that many people, even if they had the money to spend on a movie and wanted to go, often had nothing available for them to watch.
Bollywood is one of only three major film industries, along with Hollywood and Hong Kong and each of these three has a star system. This means a list of famous and recognisable actors who can guarantee a film will attract a certain number of viewers.
The problem has been that Bollywood, though it makes the most movies (if we include the films also made in the south Indian languages of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam) per year, has a limited number of big name stars. Hollywood has many more people who can star in a big movie.
The other issue is that unlike Hong Kong's movies, Bollywood's are not universal. Why do I say this? Hong Kong's martial arts movies are quite physical. Their stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan have become famous heroes in America and also in India. The Hongkong movies, because they are action-oriented, do not lose much of their quality when they are dubbed.
Indian movies are not action oriented, and the quality of the action is not as high as in Hongkong movies. Because there is music and dancing, the dubbing is not as easy to do and the loss of quality is much more. This is the reason why the export earnings of our movies is much less than Hollywood and Hongkong movies. It is mostly people of South Asian origin which like and watch our movies.
Even here, the audience may be narrowing. In Pakistan, there is a big market for Indian movies in their multiplexes. For decades this revenue was lost to Bollywood because the movies were pirated. Under former president Pervez Musharraf, the official screening of movies was allowed, benefiting both nations. Today all Bollywood movies are shown there. Unfortunately, the current state of ties between the two countries has been allowed to deteriorate so much that we should not be surprised if Musharraf's wise decision is reversed.
It is because of all of these reasons that Bollywood is not growing though it has great potential. It seems destined, along with the rest of India's economy, to be showing promise that it cannot match through delivery.
Could this year end up being the worst for box office growth in India?
In April 2013, PVR's five-screen multiplex at Grand Mall in Chennai's Velachery was ready for business. It was, however, only in December 2015, under a court directive, that the licence to open was issued. The interest costs, that of keeping the property fully-staffed in anticipation of the licence and the opportunity cost is not something anyone at the Rs 1,485-crore PVR cares to discuss. "Capital is not a constraint (for growth), the ecosystem is," is all Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, says.
There are dozens of theatres like PVR, ready in various parts of the country, awaiting a licence to start. Getting permission to open a multiplex remains "the single biggest challenge to expansion," says Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts, which owns 38 screens across the country.
In a country where more than three-fourths of the Rs 13,000-crore film industry's revenues come from the box office and where single screens have been shutting down at an alarming rate, this delay in opening new properties is almost criminal. While multiplexes have been doing a good job, adding 150-200 screens every year, single screens have been shutting at twice that rate. From over 12,000 screens five years ago, there are now just about 10,000 left in India.
The result: in 2014, growth in box office revenues screeched to a halt. While the numbers are yet to come in, 2015 is not expected to have done much better. This is simply because there aren't enough screens around.
Over the years, multiplex chains like PVR and Inox have grown at a fast pace. The initial growth that came from metros and large cities is now plateauing. More recently, the chains' growth has come from consolidation, rising ticket prices and higher contribution by food & beverage sales and advertising. Average occupancy at multiplexes remains 30 per cent. For more than five years now the number of Indians watching films has fallen consistently - from 82 million in 2010 to just about 78 million in 2014.
Without faster addition of screens, especially in small-towns and rural India where single screens are shutting down fast, the Indian film industry is up for some tough times, say analysts.
China had about 9,000 screens in 2011 when the government decided to push investments into building screens. By 2014, China had over 24,000 screens and its box office revenues - 90 per cent of all revenues - had more than doubled to $4.8 billion. It is now the world's second largest film market after the United States.
The, "speed of (screen) growth has to increase," says Alok Tandon, CEO, Inox Leisure. A jump of 10,000 screens will mean more than doubling of revenues and a more equitable distribution of money, especially among different genres instead of just Hindi, English, Telugu and Tamil.