Hollywood finds formula to beat Bollywood in India
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"I like it because of the performances and the story and the action," he says, looking the part of Bollywood extra in his faded jeans and gelled hair.Skip to next paragraph
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It is here in the new multiplexes of urban India that Hollywood first began making inroads. More theaters created more space, and a growing, globally aware middle class thirsted for something more sophisticated.
Yet only a few years ago, Hollywood films warranted only about 100 prints, and if there were dubbed versions, they were often released after the English-language version finished its run.
The tactic made most Indian moviegoers feel like second-class citizens and undermined what experts say is Hollywood's greatest advantage: marketing. The turning point, experts say, was last year, when some 400 prints of the James Bond film "Casino Royale" were released in India – including three versions in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu – simultaneously with the global debut. It established an opening-weekend record haul for a foreign film.
By releasing the films widely, dubbed, and on the worldwide release date, Hollywood brought the global buzz to India – not to mention product tie-ins with fast-food chains and mobile-phone ring tones, for example. "These are avenues where Bollywood is very sluggish," says Derek Bose, author of "Brand Bollywood."
Bollywood also lacks the financial wherewithal to compete with Hollywood marketing. Movie tickets in many part of India cost $1, meaning Bollywood's global revenues are about 2 percent of Hollywood's, says Mr. Bose.
"Hollywood can spend 8 percent of its normal marketing budget for a film and get the same amount of exposure as a top Hindi film," says Sanjay Ram of BusinessofCinema.com in Mumbai.
The most lavish Bollywood films rarely cost more than $10 million. "Spider-Man 3" is thought to have cost $260 million.
Now, the release of several massive Hollywood franchises this summer – "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Shrek," and "Harry Potter" – are expected to sweep away any Hindi-language competition. In what is shaping up to be an off year for Bollywood, "Spider-Man 3" has already been blamed for taking the momentum from one of the few major Hindi releases this year, "Ta Ra Rum Pum" ("Don't Worry, Be Happy").
But experts say that the new multiplexes have created space for everyone. No one expects Hollywood to trump Bollywood in India. But this summer presages a future of more choices for Indian moviegoers, and that sounds just right to Sabayasachi Banerjee, who is at the Saket multiplex to see the world's favorite wall-crawling mutant. "We like Western movies because they are different," he says. "But we still like Bollywood movies, too."
Adds friend Reshu Kandani, "We are starting to have some variety, and that's good."
• Mr. Sappenfield is the New Delhi correspondent for the Monitor and USA Today.
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.
• Set record for the largest-ever opening weekend returns with $230.5 million from 107 countries.