Santosh Sandhu discusses the Indian Film Industry…
With 1 billion people, India has the world’s second largest population. The majority are very religious and music plays a strong part in Indian culture. India has 15 languages which are mainly differentiated by dialect. Hindi is the most spoken language and is used in most mainstream movies. Despite much of India being illiterate, most Indians are able to understand this language.
Imported Hollywood movies are therefore dubbed into Hindi, though they only make up a small percentage of the domestic market which is dominated by home grown product. India imports roughly 100 Hollywood films each year and successful blockbusters gross over 2 million dollars, however India is not a prolific market for Hollywood films.
Cinemas in India are many but old fashioned ranging from 1500 seat auditoriums to mobile cinemas in villages. Multiplexes have only recently begun to grow in popularity. Ticket prices are relatively cheap so despite India’s poverty many Indians can afford the price of admission and often visit the cinema as a means of escaping the hardships of reality. In this regard, India has a very strong cinema going culture where 14 million people visit the cinema every day.
Movies are promoted on huge billboards in most major cities particularly Mumbai which has been a film making centre since the 1920s. Like Hollywood, Mumbai has its own studio system. The Mumbai film industry is now affectionately known as Bollywood. Part of the funding for Bollywood and other Indian films comes from the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) which is a state agency set up to assist in the production and distribution of Indian films. It is also involved in the construction of cinemas, import of foreign films and the development of new technologies.
India now has the world’s most prolific movie industry producing up to 800 films a year. It currently exports to 100 countries selling 6 billion tickets worldwide with a global box office revenue at around 850 million dollars.
Bollywood films are currently Indian cinema’s most popular export. Thematically these films are escapist fantasy musicals with colourful MTV style song and dance sequences shot against stunning locations. The production values are very impressive and film budgets are roughly between 1 and 10 million dollars. Hollywood is a major influence on these films and certain English language films have been remade as these Hindi musicals. The most revered Sholay (Flames of the Sun, 1975) is a ‘curry western’ reworking of the Magnificent Seven (1960) in which a pair of ex-criminals protect a village from bandits. The film spawned the biggest Bollywood star ever Amitabh Bachchan. His ‘angry young man’ persona dominated Bollywood in the 1970s and 1980s.
The formulaic structure of Bollywood films means that there is a strong emphasis on romance, religion, culture and tradition despite the strong western influence. The world wide appeal of these movies has resulted in internationally recognized movie stars and entries into foreign film festivals and award ceremonies. Devdas (2002) premiered at Cannes and Lagaan (Tax, 2001) about a group of farmers taking on their British landowners in a game of cricket during the days of the British Raj was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
The soundtrack market in India is bigger than the market for conventional pop artists and so the soundtrack is often used as a marketing tool for the movie. Cable TV is also very popular in India whose main output is movies and soundtracks. Advance sales of music, satellite and TV rights can cover half of a films production.
The Indian government’s strict censorship laws has meant that despite featuring violence and strong language, Bollywood films rarely feature kissing or sex and nudity. Certain imported Hollywood films are therefore heavily censored, though the thriving VCD and DVD market and access to the Internet has meant that audiences can bypass the censor entirely.
Piracy is a major problem in India as it is very easy and cheap to copy VCDs and DVDs. DVDs are appealing to Indian audiences as despite being of inordinate length, several Bollywood films can be stored on to one disc. The popularity of soundtracks means that DVDs come complete with song selection menus. It is therefore cost effective for Indians to stay at home and watch these movies with their entire family than pay to see them at a cinema.
Since the immigration of many Indians to other countries around the world, they often consume Indian films as a means of reminding them of where they came from. Indian cable channels are therefore available in America, Europe, England and other countries.
Due to its large Indian community, the UK is the most important international market for Bollywood films. Since Dil Se.. (1998) made the Top Ten, British multiplexes have continued to screen Bollywood films and they are also very popular on cable and DVD. Other nationalities also consume these films as they enjoy the music, dance, colour and exotic costumes. The melodrama and physical comedy can also be easily understood.
The recent permeation of Bollywood into the western mainstream has resulted in a series of co-productions most notably the multi award winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The film’s basic plot about two poverty stricken kids who lose their parents and are forced to fend for themselves borrowed heavily from Amitabh Bachchan’s early ‘angry young man’ series of films. Director Danny Boyle intended his movie to be a tribute to Hindi cinema which was highlighted in the film’s final dance sequence and animated end credits that mimicked old Bollywood style film posters.
Santosh Sandhu graduated with a Masters degree in film from the University of Bedfordshire and wrote the short film ‘The Volunteers’.