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Bollywood's seven-billion rupee gamble

Bollywood box-office has huge moolah at stake this Diwali. Movies like Wake Up Sid, Blue, Main Aur Mrs Khanna, London Dreams and Aladin are scheduled for release around the festive season.

entertainment Updated: Oct 09, 2009 16:31 IST

Big BBollywood 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 12 disappointing months.

Like the Christmas period for Hollywood, the run-up to the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, on October 17 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-dollar 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 predicts "good times" for the industry over the next three months.

"About seven billion rupees (145 million dollars) 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, are skeptical about whether the new releases, some made for up to 900 million rupees, can recoup their outgoings.

He told the Sunday Business Standard the stakes are "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 Shah Rukh Khan's 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 October 2, 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 October 16.

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, December 25.

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-dollar 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's 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."