India, with its 1,325 films produced in 2008 alone, a figure approximately confirmed every year, is the most productive cinema industry in the world. This supremacy is, in part, possible because this industry can count on a potential audience of one billion two hundred million inhabitants who, whenever they have access to theatres, love and support national cinema. But India is still a relatively unexplored territory, from the point of view of foreign film distribution. American films get the highest market share in India (around 8% of the 2008 box office), almost all shown in the Mumbai area, where there were 239 out of a total 243 American films shown in the entire country in 2008.
Distribution in the same period included eight films from Hong Kong, ten from France, four from Canada, two from the U.K., and one each from Spain, New Zealand, and China.
To better understand what India has to offer, we have to discredit some commonly believed clichés, such as, “Indian cinema is all Bollywood.” Bollywood is a term that indicates only the features that are shot in the Hindi dialect, in Mumbai, which, in 2008, defined only 188 films among the 1,325 shot in the 26 Indian languages and dialects. “The term Bollywood comes from fusion of the words Bombay and Hollywood, coined in an English newspaper, and indicates a musical romance where actors are often stars in and sing to express their emotions,” said Mohan Agashe, actor and former director of the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune. “They would not be believable in that context, if they would express their feelings with words rather than singing. In other words, if the husband doesn’t sing, the character of the wife thinks that he is betraying her,” Agashe added.
According to Anjali Menon, emerging and prize-winning film director, “The medium budget of a Bollywood film is about four-and-half million dollars, but there are very few films with this budget. They are distributed worldwide, wherever there are Indian communities. Usually, they make more money abroad than at home. However, the medium-high budget for a film shot in another Indian state – such as Kerala, in the Malayalam language – is about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and very rarely are the films distributed outside India.”
Themes and styles of Bollywood movies, centre mainly around prudish and honey-like romantic plots, and are exclusively dedicated to Indian tastes. They are commonly perceived as boring or silly to a Western audience, which may watch it with curiosity but no involvement.
After Bollywood, the second most important film-industry centre in the country is based in Hyderabad (state of Andra-Pradesh); speaking in the Telogu language, they produced 286 films in 2008. Next comes the Tamil-language industry, based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capital, with 175 films. In fourth place, the Marathi industry, based in Puna, produced 116 films. Among the most important industry centres is also Kerala, with movies shot in the Malayalam language, numbering 88 in 2008.
These movies are often backed by local governments. Among the purposes of the International Kerala Film Fest, held in Trivandrum from December 11-18th, 2009, one goal was to promote a competition for films in the Malayalam language.
“Sixty percent of the movies produced in India are made in four southern states,” revealed Uma da Cunha, in charge of film selection for important festivals, such as Venice. “The latest trend is that, to make all the other Indian local film industries more appealing, we refer to ‘Mollywood’ for the films shot in the Malayalam language, ‘Lollywood’ for movies shot in Lahore, ‘Tollywood’ (from the name of the Thaligan Studios) for films shot in Calcutta, and so on,” she added.
Slumdog Millionaire’s box-office success, and the eight Oscars it won, certainly revitalized international interest in the Indian film industry and culture, even though it is a British-produced film, only shot in India. Perhaps Indians, so proud and caring of their own culture and cinema, should maybe make an effort to be more open to other cultures, not only to permit more foreign films to be seen in the country, but also to form possible partnerships.
Edited by Steven Yates
© FIPRESCI 2009