Mumbai: The red carpet rolled out earlier this week and stars including Aamir Khan and Anil Kapoor took their places.
But the glitterati pinned their hopes far, far from Bollywood. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which opens on Friday, has emerged as one of the summer’s great movie hopes here.
Pinning hope:A grab fromIron Man. In the wake of dismal box office returns, cinema owners are counting on major Hollywood hits.
In the wake of dismal box office returns, as the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament and a lack of novel story ideas kept cinema-goers away, theatre owners are relying on major Hollywood hits to help pull in the crowds and fill auditoriums.
Indiana Jones’ India release comes hot on the heels of the India launch of Iron Man, the superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. That film took in $1.9 million (around Rs8.1 crore) at the box office in its first three weeks in India, on worldwide takings of $260 million in the same period. In addition, audiences across the subcontinent can depend on a slew of Hollywood films due out later this summer, including Batman, scheduled for release in India on 18 July.
It contrasts a dismal year, so far, for Hindi cinema, with just a handful of films, including Jodhaa Akbar, Race and Jannat winning favour among audiences, amid disappointing, multi-crore films such as Tashan and U, Me Aur Hum.
Tashan, a Yash Raj Films production starring a combination of A-list actors including Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar, made only Rs6.6crores in its first week, while U, Me Aur Hum, which marked the directing debut of the actor Ajay Devgan, brought in Rs6.3crores in the first week. It compares poorly to the Rs20.1crores raked in by Jodhaa Akbar, and the Rs28crores delivered by Race, in the same period, both produced by UTV Software Communications Ltd.
“We have had a spectacular season,” retorts Siddharth Roy Kapur, UTV head of motion pictures. “But the IPL was on for 45 days during the summer which had not been factored into earlier calculations by some of the production houses. And it has had an impact on releases.”
While the industry has been keen to pin blame for flops like Bhoothnath and Mr. White Mr. Black on the last few months of cricket, they also point to other factors: namely, an appetite for a new type of story away from the big-budget feature film.
“The summer has been a bit of a washout,” says Preet Bedi, an industry veteran and the former chief executive of Percept Picture Co. “Audiences want good and different cinema, and there is a lot of sameness creeping in. Everything is big budget and identical, and I think for some people, the excitement of seeing a 42-year- old walking around has lessened.”
Bedi adds that with the decline in appetite for formulaic love stories and masala films in the mould of the conventional Bollywood musical style, smaller, niche and more experimental films will begin to attract a larger following.
“There is a lot of appreciation for small films, but they have not made much money,” says Bedi. “I think change will happen this year.”
Despite the hype and temporary fillip provided by large budget Hollywood films, and the glamour factor delivered by Bollywood stars on the red carpet, Hollywood films account for only about 5% of total box office takings in India and do not offer a realistic substitute for a Hindi language hit, according to Mahesh Bhatt, whose Vishesh Films was the production house behind Jannat.
“Experimental films are no substitute for an Indian hit, which cuts across all sections of society,” says Bhatt. “English is spoken by hardly any of the population at all. The challenge of our time is to cook for people who are not hungry. It is getting more and more difficult to get people on an opening weekend.”
However, with the upcoming releases of Sarkar Raj, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abishekh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, next Friday, as well as Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, a Yash Raj Films production and Contract, due out later this summer, there might still be reason for audiences to hold out hope. “I wouldn’t entirely write the summer off yet,” says UTV’s Kapur. “After all, Jannat was released during the IPL and that did well.”