Bollywood cinema: 10 lesser-known facts

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Lights, camera, action! As pounding music blares out on large speakers all around, more than 50 men dressed in identical brightly patterned shirts do a somersault and break into a jig.

Yet another dance sequence is being recorded in India's film industry.

While Mumbai is the hub of the Hindi-language Bollywood film phenomenon, India is also home to a diverse range of regional studios, making movies in more than 20 languages.

With more than 1,000 films a year, the cinema industry here is the world's most prolific.

Start Quote

Producers are more willing to invest... even if [a movie] is made by first-time directors. It's a good time to be in the industry”

End Quote Balaji Tharaneetharan Film director

But it faltered for several years and has only recently bounced back. Last year, the industry grew by 21% to $2bn.

The revival is partly because of a transformation from celluloid to digital.

This has brought costs down dramatically. Distribution, for instance, is now just one-fifth of what it used to be. And digital is cheaper to screen too, so the reach is five times greater now.

As a result, budgets no longer define the success of a film.

'Taking risks, getting edgy'

One example is a recent film in the Tamil language, the comedy thriller Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. Made for less than $180,000, it earned more than $16m on its opening weekend.

To keep the budget low, it was shot in hi-definition with a small digital SLR camera, the kind that many ordinary people could own - not specialist equipment at all.

The movie, starring a young cast to keep the budget down, was filmed in just over a month. In contrast, big-budget movies elsewhere often take six months to a year and actors' salaries account for as much as a third of total production costs.

Cut-out of Tamil film actor Rajinikanth to promote his film Endhiran (Robot) Although Indian cinema is best known for Bollywood, Tamil-language film Endhiran (Robot) is the country's biggest-budget blockbuster to date

The director of the film, Balaji Tharaneetharan, says: "Technology has made movie-making affordable. Producers are more willing to invest in a small-budget movie, even if it is made by first-time directors. It's a good time to be in the industry."

There have also been low-budget films in Hindi that have clicked at the box office.

Start Quote

We celebrate if our films do a maximum $20m of business. That's peanuts in a way”

End Quote Anil Kapoor Actor

Director Zoya Akhtar says that multiplexes are responsible for this new-found taste for a different type of cinema.

"Since multiplexes came in, there are many screens and they need films. And you have 10 saleable actors. Now how many films can those actors be in? So what happens is you start competing [for] big stars," she says.

"That's where the financiers started taking risks, started getting edgy, making different films and slowly. That also starts affecting the palate."

Cheap seats but too few screens

The growth of multiplexes is a big factor affecting moviegoers.

For a country that's obsessed with film, there are still very few cinema screens. India has fewer than 13,000 screens, compared with nearly 40,000 in the US. That's the leading concern of some directors.

Projection room at the Pankajam cinema theater in Chennai The Tamil film industry, based in Chennai, hopes to rival Bollywood

Hindi film director Karan Johar says: "Of the 1.2 billion population of India, movies should reach out to at least 300 million people. But currently, our reach is limited to 45 million. If we figure out how to cover this gap, it will be a game changer for the industry."

Indians buy 2.7 billion movie tickets annually, the highest national total in the world, according to a report by the European Audiovisual Observatory.

But average ticket prices are among the lowest globally and revenues are still a fraction of what Hollywood makes.

Film budgets, meanwhile, have been growing. A big-budget Bollywood film can now cost anywhere between $2m and $20m.

However, this is a recent phenomenon. It was only five years ago that the first Indian film to earn more than one billion rupees (about $20m) was released. And yet nine movies grossed that much last year alone.

'Think globally'

The most expensive film made in India is in the southern language of Tamil. A science-fiction film, Endhiran (Robot), starring the biggest Tamil actor, Rajinikanth, cost $35m to make in 2010 and took more than $20m in its opening weekend.

Thanks to music, satellite rights, DVD and ticket sales, there are more revenue-earning opportunities to combat piracy.

And as the national film industry turns 100 years old in 2013, many in India are looking at new ways to reach out to world audiences and grow their revenues.

Popular actor Anil Kapoor says the problem is that Indian film-makers do not think globally.

"Our content, our intent, our performances, our aesthetics are all localised. That's the difference between the two," he says.

"We celebrate if our films do a maximum $20m of business. That's peanuts in a way. Films [in Hollywood] are doing $2bn to $2.5bn or more. That's the difference in terms of budgets and scale."

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