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Will Hollywood beat Bollywood in India?

June 28, 2007

There’s been a lot of hype about Hollywood films being a threat to Indian films, although trade pundits dismiss this. They feel that Hollywood will never be a serious threat…but I am not so sure. Maybe not in the short term…but what about 20 or 30 years from now?

Hollywood is still basking in the glory of Spiderman 3’s success in India. Profits for Hollywood producers are growing by as much as 35 percent every year. Apparently, Hollywood biggies have found the formula to beat Bollywood on it’s own turf.

So, what’s this formula?? Simple – release more prints…and release them in the regional languages. Not just Hindi and English, but also Tamil, Telugu and more! In fact more prints of Spiderman 3 were released than of an average Hindi movie…(an average Hindi movie is released with about 500 prints).

The increase in the number of prints tells us that Hollywood has figured it out:

588 prints of Spiderman 3 were released this year: 261 Hindi, 162 English, 78 Tamil, 81 Telugu and 6 Bhojpuri) as against just 303 prints (100 in Indian languages) three years ago of Spiderman 2.
480 prints of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 were released this year (just 80 of them in English!) as against 198 prints (all in English!) a year ago.
200 prints of the movie Transformers to be released, out of which 70 per cent will be dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.
And the new Harry Potter film will be released with over 70 per cent of the 300 prints in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

All this is pretty new for cinemagoers. Five years ago, English films were well…in English. It was a rare movie that was dubbed into Hindi. Forget about any other language…and now, not only are Hollywood films being dubbed into several Indian languages, they are being released at the same time as the English versions! That’s very very important. Cinemagoers in India don’t like seeing a movie weeks after the release…

But as I said there are those who feel that Hollywood films will never make a serious dent as Indian moviegoers are hooked on to the gravy that Bollywood films deliver. Sure, when they want to see a superior action flick, they turn to Hollywood…but they tend to come away with the feeling that something is missing. An emotional core perhaps??

When they want their dose of reality there are films like Metro and Khosla ka Ghosla (both of which did fairly alright well at the box office, in fact Khosla was a big hit). These films deliver reality plus plenty of heart-wrenching emotion. Hollywood films will never be able to replicate that.

But suppose our audience itself starts to change? Today, an increasing number of youngsters are growing up with different values from their parents, and there are far more westernised youngsters today than they were when we were growing up.

But doesn’t the fact that the NRI (non-resident Indians) audience laps up Indian movies prove that westernised Indians love Bollywood too? But who exactly are these NRI’s who see Bollywood movies? Aren’t they first generation Indians who turn to Bollywood for that much needed dose of nostalgia? What about their kids? Unless Indians keep migrating to the west in droves over the next 50 years, I see the Bollywood audience out there dwindling. In fact migration is bound to decrease and perhaps even stop as India becomes more developed and the west stops offering a better life.

The good thing is that this competition from Hollywood is forcing directors here to make better films. I feel that Bollywood is getting better every year. Although a lot of trashy movies are still released, there are some real gems nowadays too. Indian directors know they can’t compete with Hollywood when it comes to action films (not just yet) so they have started to make films without the usual Bollywood masala to please a certain section of the audience. Cheeni Kum for instance. Five years ago films like Khosla or Cheeni Kum would have flopped…this proves that our audience is changing, becoming more demanding. Today the flop films are the bad films, like Red Swastika or Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. The presence of stars is not enough anymore…

Competition is good and its going to make Bollywood take that big leap forward. After all, the movie industry is a 300 billion dollar business today, and I doubt that Indian directors will be satisfied with their current share of 3.5 billion dollars. And as for Hollywood, they are not going to be satisfied either. If they are jumping headlong into other markets because of the sheer numbers that India offers, they are going to do all they can to make more money out here. After all, more tickets are bought for Indian movies than for Hollywood movies…that is driving them. Today, the price per ticket (about 2 USD) may be peanuts for Hollywood, but they know its a matter of time before prices rise and India becomes a money spinning movie market. Movies you see are the life blood of Indians.

In fact, I won’t be suprrised if in this day and age of globalisation Hollywood producers start hiring Indian directors like Shekhar Kapoor and Mira Nair to make movies to please the Indian market. Oops, hasn’t already happened? Shantaram, a story about an Australian convict (starring Johnny Depp) who escapes from an Australian prision and hides in India is being directed by Nair.

I think we do need to worry about Hollywood. Not just because they have bigger budgets…but because they have the killer instinct. To beat Hollywood what our actors need to do is to start ignoring the Bollywood directors who don’t have scripts ready before they shoot a movie or those directors who shoot songs first and the movie later, or those who weave a story around particular actors, or those directors who want to bank on star value and not story value….

Related Reading: Hollywood and Bollywood are set to meet
Top Ten Bollywood and Hollywood movies of 2006
The different audiences of Bollywood and Hollywood
Double digit growth of Bollywood cheques (2006)
The narcism of celebrities
Bollywood’s good business and star paychecks continue to rise in 2007

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2007 8:54 am

    Wonderful article. I was just reading random blogs and i ran into yours. The moment I completed reading your post, I thought to myself that you should be some writer and when I checked your ‘about’ page, you were indeed one.

    Your writing is wonderful, unbiased, straight and insightful!

  2. June 28, 2007 10:28 am

    Thanks Rajesh for your appreciation. Really, that is one of the best things anyone has ever said..guessing that I was a writer. :)

  3. June 28, 2007 10:49 am

    I think its not just the bigger budgets or the killer instincts that we need to be scared of – even the quality. Yes, I agree Hollywood makes a great amount of crap movies, but they have a substantial amount of great movies to feel proud about (while we are still stuck in our Raj-meets-Pooja extravaganzas!) I dont think that we are producing many great “multiplex movies” either – its just that people are fed up of routine big budget films and they are embracing the low budget-low expectations movies!
    I still dont buy the excuse of having less budget the reason for us making bad movies. We have rarely made a Bicycle Thief or an Amores Perros for the world to stand up and take notice!

  4. Ken permalink
    June 28, 2007 12:22 pm

    Nita,

    Great work, when I compare my blog with yours, I understand a difference a professional writer can make ;) :P

    There are couple of things where Hollywood always scores more than Hindi Movies. I am not using the word Bollywood on purpose. The word originated when Hollywood was far ahead in competetion. Today we are talking about Hindi Movies competing hence I think this is the right time we give our self original identity.

    Coming to the point, variety of stories, technology, professionalism, acute business sense and production quality. I think these are the few things which will be keep Hollywood always ahead of Hindi Cinema till we start taking them seriously.

    Some of the core problems in our country are not allowing us to come out of cocoon and show our realy ability. Family owned production houses; unprofessional stars, underpaid story/ script writers and other technicians, overdose of music. Only star son and daughter can become leading man and lady in most Indian movies, including regional cinema.

    I see the ray of light at the end of the tunnel becuase of directors and script writers like Rajkumar Hirani (Munnabhai) and Prasoon Joshi (Rang De Basanti). I am not incliding Sanjay Leela Bhansali inspite of Black is because it was not original. I think if we can produce best directors and story writers we will win 80% battle. Makers of Hidden Draggon Crouching Tiger and Water has already proved that.

    In today’s multiplex culture and with rise of education in the country English movies will continue to gain advantage. Today people do not care much about English or Hindi as long as film offers good entertainment. Recent example is Bheja Fry, a small budget film, has no stars, very ordinary in terms of production valuel; but was winner purely on the ground of entertainment value and good script.

    Thx,
    Ken

  5. Alfred permalink
    June 29, 2007 9:15 am

    Nice analysis !!!
    When I arrived in Singapore 3 years ago, I discovered that Indian pop culture was very strong and that my NUS Indian classmates were more interested in Indian songs and movies than in the global offering of Britney and Hollywood.

    I saw “Bride and Prejudice” as a flawed attempt to close the gap between Bollywood and Hollywood, as the movie coud not choose a stand between both cultures.

    When seeing “Dhoom 2″, I felt that Bollywood was on the move to close the gap, with an entertaining and spectacular action flick, respecting the codes of both universes. While Dhoom 1 was a rip off of Taxi, Dhoom 2 was MI2 meets K3G… with one kiss (and what a kiss !).

    Tararoompoom was like “Days of Thunder” with bits of Hollywood (with a US setting), so it was written down as another Indioan attempt at closing the gap. I took a rain check on this one.

    Your article now tells that Hollywood is on the move too, by dubbing its movies. OPn a cultural point of view, this is not really “closing the gap”, but more adapting the product for local consumption.

    I guess that the ample ressources of the movie industry in terms of dubbing, post synchronization, etc. make it easy for American studios to adapt their movies.

    I just keep wondering what will happen in the near future. Will the Indian public, which is young and getting more educated every year, switch to “the real thing”, i.e. smerican movies in original vesion ?

    Globalization is at work in India too. A thai pop music star, Tata Young, made a cover of Dhoom 1 title song. It could have made it big in the West had it been in English.

    Will India movie stars release singles of English versions of the songs of their Bollywood movies ? “Excuse me”, from Dhoom 2, was a catchy tune, and the videoclip could have been made out of the movie section it was played in.

    Will Hollywood stars start to release singles of the songs of their movies ? “Ella Enchanted” had a partly Indian cast, and some nice singing numbers. Hollywood actors are increasingly good at singing (Anne Hattaway is a trained singer, Justin Timberlake starts an acting carreer).

    Will Hollywood movie production include a pop music segment with video clips to be aired on MTV for promotion (Cf. Men In Black 1). Will these video clips make it into the movies intended for distribution in India ?

    John Travolta’s Chilly Palmer was involved in movie making in “Get Shorty”, later moving on to pop music in the sequel, “Be Cool”. Does anyone see a pattern here ?

  6. June 29, 2007 9:58 am

    Alfred, you’ve given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

  7. Alfred permalink
    June 29, 2007 11:50 am

    And here is the “beefed up” version of the comments:
    http://coolbranding.wordpress.com/2007/06/29/bollywood-and-hollywood-closing-the-gap/

  8. June 30, 2007 3:26 am

    [...] When they want their dose of reality there are films like Metro and Khosla ka Ghosla (both of which did fairly alright well at the box office, in fact Khosla was a big hit). These films deliver reality plus plenty of heart-wrenching emotion. Hollywood films will never be able to replicate that. [...]

    Sorry, but I absolutely disagree with this statement. Bollywood has masala song-and-dance entertainers, Hollywood has the equivalent in comic-book/UFO/street-racing/natural-disaster movies. Fair enough – both sides have their formulaic crapfests.

    But when it comes to great drama, character development and inventive storytelling, Bollywood is nowhere close to Hollywood. Hollywood can’t replicate heart-wrenching emotion? Let me look at my DVD collection:

    21 Grams, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Children, American Beauty, Good Will Hunting, Forrest Gump, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, The Fountain, Babel, Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko – all fairly recent mainstream movies. If these films don’t offer heart-wrenching emotion, I don’t know what films do. There have been a few war movies here on Kargil/Indo-Pak – but they don’t make me feel the way Black Hawk Down/Saving Private Ryan do. It’s not about budgets and effects – it is about character-development and story-telling.

    Look deeper in American Independent Cinema and the quality of films (and I mean screenwriting, acting and direction) is simply phenomenal. I repeat, it is not about the money. Darren Aronofsky made ‘Pi’ on a $60,000 budget. The average song in a Yash Raj Films movie costs more than that to shoot! Donnie Darko had a $5 million budget. Pulp Fiction was shot on $8 million (most of it went to the A-list actors who worked for nominal fees). These budgets are peanuts by their standards but they are still groundbreaking, original, thought-provoking movies.

    Even ‘chick flicks’ and rom-coms: compare Garden State, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jerry Maguire to normal Bollywood rom-coms where characters seem to fall in love for no reason other than ‘because the script says so!’

    Hrithik Roshan won a Filmfare last year for Dhoom 2 – that’s like Vin Diesel winning an Oscar for The Fast and the Furious. There is simply no comparison. We are trying to match Hollywood by using over-the-top sets and Panavision cameras – but have forgotten about creativity and inventive storytelling. Hollywood is a land where Martin Scorsese had to wait decades to win an Oscar. There are very few actors/writers/directors who have won multiple Oscars. Compare that to how easy it is to win accolades in Bollywood. The vast majority of Bollywood movies are just devices to sell a Himesh Reshammiya/Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy soundtrack, advertise the latest Manish Malhotra/Rocky S collection and the latest in Sharmishta Roy’s interior designs.

    We diss Hollywood for their liberal use of profanity, nudity and ‘bad influence’; complain that our budgets aren’t enough and have no regard for Intellectual Property Rights. Maybe if the better Hollywood movies start getting into distribution here, people will realize there can be more to cinema than a Karan Johar-musical or a Hollywood Special Effects Summer Blockbuster.

  9. June 30, 2007 6:53 am

    Thanks for a very informative comment Noumankhan. However, either you misunderstood me or I did not communicate well enough. What I meant by when I said “These films deliver reality plus plenty of heart-wrenching emotion,’ I was talking in the Indian context. For example a film like Superman or Pirates deliver action and that is something Hollywood is better at. About the emotion, its the way the emotion is portrayed…naked and raw. Bollywood films do it that way and I am not saying that makes them better, I mean to say the Indian audience relates to it better. A westerner might actually shy away from it.I have not seen many of the films you have mentioned but I did see American Beauty. It didn’t move me much…I don’t know why. I guess western values are so different that it becomes difficult to relate to. In Hollywood films the emotion is muted.
    Indian films lay on the guilt, and extract emotion out of every scene…I think you know what I mean. Again, I am not saying this makes Indian films better, its something that Indian audiences are used to. I don’t know whether I have explained myself better…

  10. June 30, 2007 11:50 pm

    Aw sorry, I get your point. Yes, I misunderstood. Thanks for the clarification!

  11. sumandebnath permalink
    July 1, 2007 10:00 pm

    Technically, all this is correct since the cultural milieu known as ‘Bollywood’ never commanded any respect outside or inside India. However, there are thriving Indian film industries (Kerala, West Bengal, etc) which always have produced films which were as good as (or better than) anything produced by the United States, Europe or Japan. I don’t mean the so called ‘art’ films. These are mainstream films which are among the top money makers for the respective regions.

    Apart from the first generation NRIs, the recent financial success of Bollywood cinema is also due to multiplexes which charge Rs. 150 or more for a ticket. Simple arithmetic shows that actual ticket sales have dropped sharply. Films like ‘Cheeni Kum’ are perhaps successful in terms of money, but are hardly popular. The overseas success must be put into perspective as well; a film like ‘The Namesake’ outgrossed almost all Indian films in US put together (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=namesake.htm).

    Even with its lowbrow fare, Bollywood was unassailable for so long because it had the proven capability for delivering entertainment at low ticket prices to large numbers of people. I hear Bhojpuri cinema is gradually taking over that market. I predict that though Indian cinema will continue to thrive, Bollywood will not survive the clash with studio produced American films.

  12. July 3, 2007 6:56 pm

    Nita, that is an exellent article!
    You know I am not very much into movies, however I like to observe the dynamics of public choices. Recently I was reading a very interesting book on Indian film industry, it was an eye-opener for me in many ways.
    I just found an article on the most “important” Western films, I wonder what you would say to it: http://www.usatoday.com/life/top25-movies.htm

  13. July 3, 2007 9:22 pm

    Thanks for that link Axinia. Its a very interesting article! And I find that I have seen almost all those movies. Lord of the Rings, Matrix and Star Wars are my favourite movies and I consider them Hollywood classics and therefore was happy to see them listed in the top 25 Hollywood films with the greatest impact. I enjoyed Titanic too. I didn’t much like the Cable Guy (too dark for me) or Something about Mary much. But yes to Pretty Women (I loved that far more than the Titanic and have seen it five times!) and Indiana Jones. Total Recall was fantastic too, but I couldn’t connect too much with Philadelphia and Crouching Tiger, although they were good movies I guess. I thought Mission Impossible 3 did not deserve to be on the list though it was a pretty slick movie…and as for Saving Private Ryan. I didn’t like it much.
    Though I love action movies, I enjoy romance too. In fact As Good As it Gets should have been on that list. Its my favorite romantic Hollywood film, after Pretty Woman.

  14. July 4, 2007 1:21 am

    I saw Pretty Woman 17 times!!! – when I was 17 :)
    I appreciate your test and remarks, glad to hear we share so much!

  15. Phantom permalink
    July 4, 2007 5:22 am

    It is difficult to truly compare hollywood with bollywood as both industries have different types of audiences and different parameters for what rates as a “good” movie. While hollywood has a bigger emphasis on true acting ability, script, story line, special effects…bollywood leverages of the charismatic appeal of the lead stars, the emotive aspects to the storyline that tug at the emotions of the audience, the incredible sense of fantasy and idealism (rich, good looking, successful people in the movie).

    End of the day it really dies come down to the differences between american and indian culture. Indians may choose to segregate themselves on the basis of their own sub-community, religion etc, but there is really is a lot of stuff that binds us together culturally, then we think.

    I think bollywood and hollywood are going through a bit of a convergence of late. There are certainly quite a few bollywood movies that can match hollywood in terms of delivery, competency in script, storyline, social message, and acting talent. Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste, Dil Chahta Hai, Munna Bhai., rang de basanti…….i’d compare these to the successful hollywood social drama type comedies. These movies showed a more evolved sence of movie making than the ususal hand out of poor and over-doen acting, weak but over-the-top script and story.

    It will be ages before bollywood produces a true action movie in the genre of a die hard, indiana jones, star wars etc, purely because of the huge budget and technical expertise required for making such movies. Up until now most bollywood directors have fixated their movies on the poorer section of society as it is these people who come in droves to watch movies at the cinema. However, now even the middle class and NRI commmunity has been acknowledged, with their multiplex and dvds. Movies like Don (cant think of any others right now) while filmi to an extent, are definitely more sophisticated action movies than anythign else previously made, in terms of the pace of the movie, twist/s, action sequences.

    Of course, bollywood movies have, do and always will reflect the udertones of cultural masala that exist in our culture, and there is nothign wrogn with that. French movies will reflect french comedy and cultural preferences, as will korean/japanese/australian cinema.

  16. November 23, 2007 5:58 pm

    I think in 20 years time you will start to see a cross – over and cross pollination of film genres. At the moment, the Bollywood fare is targeted to the middle aged Indian, but I agree with the print suggestion and converting to multiple languages and dialects. Only then will Hollywood get a foot it…

  17. nitin permalink
    May 14, 2008 5:05 am

    Nice blog. I agree a lot with naumankhan views. Leave aside budget, even artistically, bollywood is far behind.
    Bollywood acting style is ..as per anupam kher…hammy, and the emotions are too loud. I disagree with the notion that bollywood represents indian culture or suggestion that it represents india/indians. The movies are far from indian reality and i hardly know people who express emotions the way they do it in bollywood. I stopped watching hindi flicks when i was 20.. and used to watch only recommended flicks like lagaan, ab tak chappan etc. Now, i cringe while watching and bollywood stuff, leave aside exceptions like black friday..
    I think the reason why even many sane indians love indian movies is because..well, that is what they are used to since childhood. There is a mass scale spell of bollywood and other regional cinema over indians. Try it, do not watch a bollywood flock for a year…watch only international stuff..french, hollywood etc. then try bollywood again. You will not be able to tolerate that song that comes all of a sudden in the movie..
    Indian cinemas best moment was in the strong script character oriented movies like anand, jaane bhi do yaron, masoom, jhoothi…etc. unfortunately, that talent seems totally lost now..

  18. amz permalink
    February 14, 2009 4:52 pm

    agree with naumankhan, sorry nita but flim making is an art, and it requires creativity. there is no creavity in bollywood, be it acting directing scriptwritting everthing! you are not moved by neither acting or directing! simply watch some holly flicks and copypaste from few holly flicks to bolly flicks..and ripping peoples money off! such hypocrites.i stopped watching hindi flicks cus i cannot understand what is so fairy about a boy meeting a girl. first of all horrible acting, i think i can do a better job on it! amir khan sharukh khan doing the same sobbing expression when they came 20 years ago??imaging, where is the challenge?khosla..was a below average pathetic movie with 20% script! so you see the loads of crap dished out by bollywood and poor people getting the other end of the stick!out of 800 odd movies released in a year only two are watchable and hit cus the rest was so pathetic, making the two movies oscar worthy! wake up bollywood and start reading blogs!

    what bollywood does is make those lazy actors and directors rich and make indians viewers so dull that they cant under stand a simple hollywood movie after wacthing those! and in addition make the rest of the world feel indians are fools(read sing is king cc2cc etc)
    the only star in bollywood is ar rahmana..shekar kapur., no wonder they are now in hollywood. the rest all but leeches fooling public!

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