From villages to cities, movies are a big source of entertainment for all Indians. At one point, the cinema hall was the only place to watch movies and newspapers were the only source for information about movies. But with the rise of the Indian internet user, that has changed. Indians now are increasingly turning to the internet to watch movies, read about film news or, simply, ogle at their favourite filmstar.

Data from Google Trends, which measures search interest in different terms and topics queried on Google, shows that film-related searches have increased since 2015 and far outweigh the steadier news- and cricket-related searches.

Over the past five years, most internet film searches have been for Hindi or Bollywood movies. However, last year, Bhojpuri films were searched more than Bollywood films. In 2014, Indians were googling Bhojpuri films as much as they were searching for Tamil and Telugu films. Since then, search interest in Bhojpuri cinema has seen a sharp spike, with Bhojpuri cinema racing ahead of Bollywood in 2018.

Google Trends also shows that a significant portion of searches for Hindi films are for Hindi versions of south Indian films. Google searches confirm a growing trend in the Indian film industry where dubbed versions of films, especially from the South, are becoming popular. For instance, the Hindi version of the Telugu film, Sarrainodu, generated more than 200 million views on YouTube, making it one of the most-watched Indian videos uploaded on YouTube.

One of the most-searched-for films this year was Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s 2.0, which garnered the most search interest in Jharkhand, even more than in Tamil Nadu. While 2.0 has enjoyed great success at the box office, more search interest does not necessarily translate into box office success. For example, of the five highest grossing films in India this year, Baaghi 2 (review) was searched the most but had the lowest box office returns among the five. In contrast, Sanju (review), which was barely searched in comparison, brought in more than double the returns.

Among film stars, Salman Khan is the most Googled. Over the past five years, he has been Googled significantly more than Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar.

He is also more popular than most of his female colleagues, generating more queries than Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. In fact, Salman Khan is searched even more than Narendra Modi and Virat Kohli.

There are significant differences between the types of searches associated with actors and actresses. For instance, the most common queries for Salman Khan are about his movies or songs. However, with female actresses, queries are overwhelmingly sensual with variations of ‘hot/sexy’ and ‘Deepika/Katrina’ the most common searches.

Little wonder then that the actress Googled the most is Sunny Leone. The former pornstar is searched far more than Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra. She is by far the most popular Indian figure in terms of Google searches, generating more interest than even Salman Khan or Modi.

Interest in Leone also highlights how despite Indians’ fondness for films, their passion for online porn trumps all other interests, as the second part of this series had shown.

In terms of growth in search interest over the past year, Priya Prakash Varrier, who went viral for a wink in a video, led the race, according to Google’s year-end list of top trending personalities. Another increasingly popular figure is Big Boss contestant Sapna Choudhary, who has featured in the Google’s list of top trending searches for two consecutive years, and is immensely popular in the Hindi belt.

This is the concluding part of a three-part data journalism series on what Google searches reveal about India’s tastes and preferences.

Part 1: What Google reveals about search interest in Indian politics

Part 2: How India’s obsession with porn has evolved since 2016

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