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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Bollywood reels as fans mutiny
Monica Chadha
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Bombay cinema
Hollywood movies are drawing the crowds as Hindi films suffer

In movie parlance, it has been a flop year for the Indian film industry.

With not one movie making it big at the box office since last year's magnum opus Devdas, the industry is in the middle of a great depression.

Everyone is agreed on the reason - bad movies are being churned out with amazing regularity.

Film journalist Anupama Chopra says the past year has seen a slew of disappointing films, so much so that the usual "first day, first show" full houses are now almost empty.

The audience has revolted and decided it will not see anything that isn't good cinema. It has rejected mediocrity
Karan Johar, film director

"The audience is still around - it's not like they've put their foot down and said we will not watch films," the critic says.

"It's not even about television entertainment eating into the audience pie - just people refusing to watch bad movies."

Karan Johar, the director of two Bollywood hits, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Happens) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness), says it is a case of mutiny on behalf of the audience.

"I think after a long time the audience has revolted and decided it will not see anything that isn't good cinema. It has rejected mediocrity."

Poor return

The rejection has caused immense losses to the film industry.

In 2002 it lost $50m and in the first four months of 2003, another $15m has gone.

Last year only two movies made any real impact at the box office - Raaz (Secret) and Devdas - a poor return among the 226 films released.

Aishwarya Rai
New role: Aishwarya Rai will star in a Bengali regional film

Editor of trade magazine Film Information, Komal Nahta, says it is due to a lack of seriousness among film-makers.

"Not only do film-makers give in to interference from producers and film stars, thereby making a film totally different from what they originally set out to do, they also have their priorities mixed up.

"They try to make films that please the Indian diaspora and so lose out on the domestic market. It's not easy pleasing both and they need to figure out whether it is Indians at home they wish to cater to or the ones abroad."

More than 70 films have been released this year with not even one setting the box-office cash registers ringing.

This has also meant bad news for film distributors who, according to the director of Shringar Films, Shravan Shroff, have now hit rock bottom.

The distribution system has suffered so badly, distributors are not buying films any more - they have no money to shell out.

In the past year, distributors across India have lost $20m.

Now most films are released at the risk of the producer because distributors cannot afford any further losses.

Hooray for Hollywood

But while Hindi movies struggle to find an audience, Hollywood movies are drawing in the crowds.

Bombay cinema
India's industry hopes the downturn will generate a fresh approach

Theatres that normally play Hindi films are now showing three Hollywood blockbusters at any given time.

Uday Singh, managing director of Columbia Tristar films in Bombay (Mumbai), says that although the difference in earnings has not been as great as perceived, a bad year for Bollywood has certainly meant a good one for Hollywood.

"We had a good year in terms of the movies we brought to Indian markets," he says.

"Spiderman was our biggest hit last year. Movies like Monsoon Wedding, Bend it Like Beckham and XXX - the English as well as the Tamil, Hindi and Telugu dubbed versions - also did well, making it the highest earning year for us."

Despite the fact that Bollywood is in the doldrums, the industry is optimistic.

Karan Johar calls this a clean-up period.

Once you've hit the bottom, then the only way is up
Anupama Chopra, journalist

"The industry will be a great place for the new generation of film-makers and actors because there will be emphasis on quality and talent.

"People will realise that old formulae no longer work and they will begin to concentrate on well-researched scripts. They will release fewer, but greater quality films every year."

Anupama Chopra is also upbeat: "Film-makers will be open to experimenting with new ideas and hopefully we will see them make films they are truly passionate about.

"You already have big actors like Anil Kapoor doing an offbeat film like Allwyn Kalicharan and Aishwarya Rai starring in a Bengali regional film, Choker Bali.

"Big production houses are also giving new directors a chance to direct films. In any case, once you've hit the bottom, then the only way is up."

Nevertheless, hardly a single promising film is lined up for release in the next few months.

The good times are a long way coming.

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