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Regional cinema moves out of Bollywood's shadow

Hindi movies, which dominated the Indian box office for years, are being edged out by regional films as they make their presence felt in foreign film fests and box office.
IANS | By Priyanka Khanna, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2007 07:13 PM IST

After remaining in the background for years, regional cinema seems to be poised to emerge out of the shadows of Bollywood. And the global success of Sivaji - The Boss is not the only indicator of this recent trend. Films made in Bhojpuri have been routinely eclipsing Bollywood fare at the box-office as well.

Hindi movies, which dominated the Indian box-office for years and have come to be indicative of cinema in India, are being edged out by regional films as they make their presence felt in foreign film fests.

Yash Raj Films' latest venture Jhoom Barabar Jhoom starring Amitabh Bachchan found itself lagging far behind simultaneously released Sivaji and even trailing Bhojpuri film Nirhua Rikshawala at the turnstiles.

Marathi filmmaker Sandeep Sawant's Shwaas remains one of the most critically acclaimed Indian films in recent times. Director Rajnesh Domalpalli's Telugu film Vanaja was the winner of the Best Feature Debut award at the Berlin film festival this year.

And Kolkata-based filmmaker Aparna Sen has upstaged all her contemporaries by making A Japanese Wife - the first Indian film in Japanese, Bengali and English.

"Bollywood is a mere percentage of the Indian cinema as a complete entity. But the Indian psyche is such that it has personified Bollywood as mainstream cinema, and sidelined regional cinema. We have to end such compartmentalisation to be able to produce world-class movies," Marathi filmmaker Amol Palekar said in an interview to a national daily.

The Marathi film industry boasts of legends like Dadasaheb Phalke and V Shantaram.

A country of more than a dozen official languages, India has several different hubs of cinema scattered across the subcontinent, churning out movies that cater mostly to regional audiences.

Bollywood's colourful song-and-dance spectacles generally boast the biggest budgets, the biggest stars and the biggest domestic and international penetration. But the Hindi film industry in Mumbai accounts for only about a quarter of the 1,000 or so movies produced in India annually.

The Tamil film industry and its Telugu-language counterpart in Andhra Pradesh - two entertainment powerhouses - together released nearly twice as many feature films last year as Bollywood.

"Everyone thinks Bollywood is the biggest in India, but it's actually the south Indian movie market that is bigger than the Hindi market," trade observer Hetal Adesara is quoted as saying in The Los Angeles Times.

The growth in regional filmmaking is taking the same route that the newspaper or the television industry has taken following influx of funds.

Niche is the way to go in a fast globalising world. It is projected that regional cinema will play a key role in fulfilling optimistic forecasts of the potential of the country's movie industry.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), India's film business was $2.1 billion in 2006 and is expected to more than double by 2011.

This year, Bollywood has struggled to match 2006's record at the box office.

Several high-profile films with big-name stars have bombed.

Bollywood has been feeling the heat from Hollywood studios as well. Year 2007 has been touted as the biggest year for Hollywood and things are no different in the Indian subcontinent. This month alone, five Bollywood films released but Ocean's 13 with George Clooney garnered better revenues.

Last month, Spiderman 3 hit the screens and became the highest-grossing Hollywood film in India, overtaking Titanic. The key strategy was its simultaneous release in five Indian languages, including Bhojpuri and Telugu.

Demand for quality regional films is clearly there and if regional cinema and Bollywood are not able to meet it then it will be left to Hollywood to make a sweep.

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