Mumbai: Bollywood is preparing for what is historically its most lucrative period of the year with a string of big budget releases, hoping to end 2009 on a high after a disappointing 12 months.
Like the Christmas period for Hollywood, the run-up to the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, on 17 October is seen as a banker for Bollywood as many Indians are on holiday and looking to be entertained.
A glut of new films are due out as the $2.3 billion Hindi-language movie business looks to recover from a multiplex cinema boycott, swine flu fears that forced some theatres to close, and a series of expensive flops.
Trade analyst Komal Nahta predicted “good times” for the industry over the next three months.
“About Rs7 billion ($145 million) is at stake for Bollywood in the last quarter, as there are nearly two dozen films releasing by December,” he said.
But others, like the director of Shemaroo Films, Hiren Gada, were sceptical about whether the new releases, some made for up to Rs900 million, can recoup their outgoings.
He told the Sunday Business Standard the stakes were “extremely high for both producers and distributors as it is the first festive season in several years where over half-a-dozen very big films are scheduled for release”.
One unnamed analyst also told the newspaper that the films were “far too costly” and even if they do well, they may fall short of the investment put in.
Big budget films like the Warner Bros co-production “Chandni Chowk To China”, “Delhi 6” and the Shahrukh Khan release “Billu” all disappointed this year at the box office.
Producer-director Karan Johar’s comedy “Wake Up Sid” kicks off the battle of the blockbusters on 2 October, hoping to steal a march on three major films that are out on Diwali weekend itself.
“All The Best”, a comedy with Sanjay Dutt, “Blue”, an underwater odyssey with a cameo by Kylie Minogue, and Salman Khan’s second “comeback” film, “Main Aur Mrs Khanna” (Me and Mrs Khanna), are out on 16 October.
The following week sees the release of Khan’s third new film, “London Dreams”, about two friends who dream of becoming rock stars, and the animation “Aladin”, with voices by Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan.
Bachchan returns in November with “Paa” (Father), about a boy with a premature ageing condition, going up against “Kurbaan” (Sacrifice), with Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, “Jail” and “Tum Mile” (You Met Me).
“Jail” has been the source of much gossip here over actor Neil Nitin Mukesh, who stripped for the role. “Tum Mile” (Met you), with Emraan Hashmi, has the devastating 2005 Mumbai floods as its backdrop.
Actor-producer-director Aamir Khan rounds off the year with the release of “3 Idiots” on Christmas Day, 25 December.
The end of the two-month multiplex boycott, prompted by producers’ claims of unfair revenue sharing, led to the creation of a committee to organise the dates of new releases, many of which were postponed during the stand-off.
The committee, set up to maximise revenues after reported $63-million losses and avoid release clashes, has warned producers that they face a stiff fine if they change the date of a film’s release without telling them.
But Diwali regularly sees films compete with one another.
“Main Aur Mrs Khanna” director Prem Soni said he was unconcerned about going head-to-head with “All The Best” and “Blue”, taking heart from previous years where several simultaneous releases have done well.
“All films releasing on Diwali day have a different kind of subject,” he said. “One is an action thriller, another one is a comedy and mine is a romantic film.
“Ultimately, a good film works irrespective of whenever it is released.”