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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
UK's Bollywood summer
Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai
Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai in new blockbuster Devdas

This summer Bollywood peaks in Britain.

We are seeing an eight-month long film festival, Selfridges's Bollywood makeover, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical and Channel 4's season of Bollywood programming dubbed the Indian Summer.

None of this would have been possible without the whole-hearted support of Hindi film industry.

"Bollywood has finally realised how important hype is for success," says Taran Adarsh, editor of Indian film journal Trade Guide.

Hrithik Roshan
Hrithik Roshan starred in both Yaadein and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
"Look at Spiderman - hyping it six months before the release made it open to high box office takings even in Asia."

Behind this willingness to promote itself far and wide, lies the grim story of an industry undergoing its worst ever financial crisis.

"Bollywood is in deep financial trouble as a string of films have bombed at the box-office - many of them big budget and high profile," says Adarsh .

"Most producers have not been able to even recover the basic costs."

In such a situation, Bollywood stars and producers have had to come down from their ivory towers and market themselves and their films, aggressively - both in India and overseas.

Indeed, since the early 90s, the overseas market has been a sort of buffer zone. Many films that flopped in India were big success stories in the UK.

Like Subhash Ghai's Taal and Yaadein, which failed miserably on home turf but were well received here.


The overseas market is hugely important because of the low valuation of the rupee

Dr Rachel Dwyer
In fact, the overseas market has become so important that many Indian films feature expatriate families and are shot in various European locations.

Ninety per cent of last year's hit Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was filmed in London.

Dr Rachel Dwyer has written several books and teaches South Asian cinema in London.

She says: "The overseas market is hugely important because of the low valuation of the rupee.

"A cinema ticket at an upmarket cinema in an Indian metropolis is unlikely to cost more than 2. Top producers have charged 15 in the UK."

The Hindi film industry is the most prolific in the world producing over 800 films each year - compared with Hollywood's 100.

Underworld funding

But despite an annual turnover of around 500m, Bollywood has always had cash-flow problems.

It did not have an industry status until very recently, which meant that banks and other financial institutions would not finance films.

Part of the problem can be traced to the breakdown of the studio system of the 1950s and 60s, where everyone from actors to technicians was paid a monthly salary.

From the 1970s began what the film world referred to as the 60-40 system, where 40% of a film's finances was paid in unaccounted cash to evade taxes.


Hype is probably the last hope of Bollywood

The rising cost of film-making and the unchecked flow of cash got the underworld interested in investing their money.

Soon this interest translated into a desire to control all aspects of film production. Those who did not comply, faced death-threats and were even attacked.

Crackdown

"Their (underworld's) control is all pervasive and they have frightened everybody," says senior police official Sivanandan, who masterminded one of the biggest crackdowns on the film-underworld nexus.

"From the drivers to the film boys to the directors, the financiers, and the distributors, everything has been controlled by them to a greater extent.

"There was a need to crack it, open it, and show to everyone that Bollywood and the mafia are absolutely mixed up together."

The police crackdown has brought respite to the filmmakers, but it still has not solved the problem of financing films.

"Film finance has been a problem in Bollywood since its inception, but the issue right now is more of returns than investments," says Mr Adarsh.

"How long can the industry keep investing money without getting back at least some of it?"

Hype is probably the last hope of Bollywood.

With as many as 20 films set for release this summer - including Devdas, Mumbai's most expensive film to date - Bollywood is leaving no stones unturned.

See also:

03 May 02 | Entertainment
20 Feb 02 | Entertainment
29 Apr 02 | Entertainment
10 Apr 02 | Entertainment
15 Dec 00 | South Asia
31 May 02 | Entertainment
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