How multiplex arrival changed Bollywood

By Patrick von Sychowski | October 13, 2007 4:13 am PDT

King of Bollywood SRK A very interesting Q&A with author Anupama Chopr about her book King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema over at the Freakonomics blog by Melissa Lafsky. It looks at how the Indian/Hindi film industry (a.k.a. Bollywood) has changed in the last decade-and-a-half, partly due to the arrival of multiplex cinemas. The two key paragraphs are:

The Hindi film industry in Mumbai, or Bollywood, has been completely overhauled in the last 15 years or so. When I first started writing about film in 1993 for India Today, Bollywood was, generally speaking, a large cottage industry. It was hugely disorganized and chaotic, and run by a handful of powerful and independent film dynasties. Stars were power centers, but they were filming two to three pictures at a time and running from one studio to another (back then, a studio meant only “a space in which to shoot,” not a film-making entity). Filmmakers raised money from varied sources — which sometimes included shady men with mafia connections. The mainstream press rarely covered the industry; urban, educated, affluent India saw it largely as an anarchic space, run by crass people making low-brow fare for the masses.

But a combination of factors transformed Bollywood. A key event was the arrival of multiplexes in 1997. Prior to that, Hindi cinema usually played in 1000-seat halls, leaving no outlets for smaller, niche films — if you couldn’t fill a hall that large, you were, financially speaking, dead on arrival. Multiplexes offered filmmakers a chance to speak exclusively to educated, urban Indians who, thanks to liberalization and the ensuing affluence, didn’t hesitate before spending 200 rupees ($5) on a movie ticket. The high ticket prices (single-screen theaters, by contrast, only cost 40 to 80 rupees, or $1 to $2) then made smaller films financially viable. This created what we call “The Multiplex Film” (essentially the equivalent of the Hollywood Indie film).

I can attest from first hand experience that the multiplex growth in India is taking place at a furious pace. Though even with current mall/multiplex growth rates it will take years to re-adjust the imbalance for what is still a massively under-screened country (12 screens per million inhabitants, compared to 117 per million in the US), despite having the world’s largest film industry and collectively churning out 800-1,000 films per year.

Patrick von Sychowski
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