Wednesday, January 29, 2003

BOLLYWOOD: Ever wonder why Indian movies--despite being hyper-popular worldwide and despite there being over a thousand of them made yearly--have an impact on American cultural life that approaches nil? Besides the cultural barriers (i.e., whether Americans want to see sprwaling three-hour musicals) there seem to be business reasons too:

Why is it that the world's biggest, noisiest and most colorful entertainment phenomenon hasn't yet reached the consciousness of mainstream America?

Most of the people I've asked agree on one thing: marketing. "I think the marketing and distribution has been a little undisciplined and unprofessionally handled," observes Amitabh Bachchan, at 60 still a reigning superstar and the only Indian star to be immortalized at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Bachchan also heads the International Indian Film Academy Awards, a huge, yearly event with revolving international venues. "I wish some of America's discipline and management philosophy would be taken by India," he says. "We are the largest filmmaking country in the world, and the sheer demographics would put our stars as more visible than some of the Hollywood stars."

Sometimes, too, Indian filmmakers pull some pretty stupendous gaffes. Last year, "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" made over $1 million on only 73 screens in its opening weekend in the United States. It was the biggest ever opening for an Indian movie here, but its producers didn't report the figures to Variety or Exhibitor Relations promptly, losing out on the chance to place the film in the U.S. top 10 and make international news.

Another mainstream Hindi film that's just hit theaters, and stars the sultry Bipasha Basu, has the title "Jism." The word means "body" in Hindi, by the way. Yes, the filmmaker and actors all speak English (but apparently not well enough).

Outside the ethnic press aimed at Indian immigrants, Bollywood films are rarely advertised or promoted to U.S. audiences. And let's not forget the piracy, death threats and scary Mafia connections (one major star, the Stallone-esque Sanjay Dutt of "Kaante," has even served hard time for stockpiling weapons). The industry's lack of discipline is legendary; it's not unheard of for an Indian film star to turn up hours late for a shoot, or for films to be shot without scripts. Sons, daughters, nieces and remote third cousins of industry players are regularly foisted on the public as "new discoveries" who, thankfully, tend to burn out after a single film.

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