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Hollywood finds formula to beat Bollywood in India

Dubbing Hollywood films like Spider-Man has led to box-office success.

By Staff writer / May 17, 2007



NEW DELHI

In the crowded and bug-infested movie halls of rural India, something is happening that has never happened before: An American superhero is saving the world while speaking flawless Bhojpuri.

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In the grand scheme of the "Spider-Man 3" massive global release, it may seem a small thing that poor villagers in central India were able to queue up the same day as audiences in Los Angeles to see the film, dubbed into a local dialect. But to Hollywood and its Indian alter ego, Bollywood, it could signal the start of a new turf war between the world's two most popular and influential film industries.

Worldwide, the film took in $230 million in its first weekend – breaking "The DaVinci Code" record by $75 million. In India, the $4.5 million opening set several records domestically as well:

• The best opening weekend for a foreign-language film, topping "Casino Royale" by 28 percent.

• The largest single day for any foreign-language film: $1.6 million on May 4.

• The fastest to cross the $2.4 million mark (100 million rupees): in two days.

• It is on a pace to move past "Titanic," which made $13 million here, as the highest-grossing foreign film ever in India.

The success suggests that after years of tinkering, Hollywood has at last discovered a formula for more consistent success here: flooding Indian cinemas with nearly 600 copies and dubbing versions into Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Bhojpuri. The tactic of simultaneously releasing several dubbed versions on the global release date is not unique to India, but it is new here­ and is yielding results.

For generations, Hollywood films here have been overshadowed by India's own kitschy brand of cinema, based in Bombay (hence Bollywood). But "Spider-Man" opens the market for greater Hollywood profits in India and marks a fresh challenge to Bollywood's virtual monopoly of the movie-obsessed nation's cinema. "Obviously, the success of the dubbed versions is a very big threat," says Anil Nagrath, secretary of the Indian Motion Picture Production Association in Mumbai (formerly called Bombay). "This is the first of more to come."

Bollywood has much to lose. It is fond of calling itself the world's largest film industry – and by many measures it is. In total, Indian filmmakers generally release more than 1,000 feature-length films a year, roughly double Hollywood's output. More people around the world buy tickets to Bollywood films than to Hollywood films, according to a 2004 study by the British Film Institute.

Yet its strength is clearly within India, where its quirky mix of absurdist plots, melodramatic love, and spontaneous dance numbers dominate the box office. As recently as 2005, foreign films accounted for only about 5 percent of about $1 billion in theater tickets sold annually here.

But Hollywood profits in India are growing at 35 percent a year, and the US film industry is becoming more aggressive.

Nadeem Khan says he hasn't been to a single Bollywood movie this year. Instead, he is here at the Saket Cineplex in south Delhi to see "Spider-Man" – one of the last people to get a ticket before it sold out.

In India, "Spider-Man 3" breaks records:

• The best opening weekend for a foreign-language film, topping "Casino Royale" by 28 percent.

• The largest single day for any foreign-language film: $1.6 million on May 4.

• The fastest to cross the $2.4 million mark (100 million rupees): in two days.

• On a pace to move past "Titanic," which made $13 million in India, as the highest-grossing foreign film ever in India.

Worldwide:

• Set record for the largest-ever opening weekend returns with $230.5 million from 107 countries.

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