Bollywood: India’s Cultural Ambassador

The yearn for Bollywood is not recent. ‘Dharti Ke Lal’ was the first Indian film to have a commercial release overseas. It was released in the Soviet Union in 1949. ‘Aan’, was the first Indian film to have a worldwide release in 1952

February 28, 2019

Valued at around US$2.5 billion in 2018, the Indian film industry is the world’s largest producer of films. This figure is expected to grow to US$3.2 billion by 2023

A great return on investment, Indian films, especially Hindi, Telugu and Tamil films, sometimes generate an average of over 500 per cent of their original cost

Besides Bollywood’s growing market, India’s regional film industry has also been faring well with its contributions of up to 45-50 per cent of box office revenues

Joint production agreements have been signed with several countries, including China, Korea, Italy, Germany, Brazil, France, New Zealand, UK, Poland and Spain

In Las Vegas, the melting-pot of world entertainment, there is a good chance that visitors will come across an American musician, wearing boots and a cowboy hat, strumming a guitar and singing out loud and clear in Hindi, “Mera jootha hai Japani, yeh pathloon Englisthani, sar pe laal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustaani” (My shoes are Japanese, my pants are English, my red hat is Russian, yet my heart is Indian). The song cemented Bollywood, the Westernised name of the film industry based out of erstwhile Bombay, now Mumbai. Since then, the industry has secured many global partnerships amid a steady growth in international viewership.

Seldom has a song like this one, from the 1955 Bollywood film ‘Shree 420’, captured the hearts of millions the world over. Overnight, it catapulted auteur Raj Kapoor onto the world map and endeared the simpleton from India to millions abroad. The film revolved around romantic love that could break socio-economic differences and was a super-hit in the erstwhile Soviet Union, East Asia, Africa, and West Asia. It was included in the All-Time 100 Greatest Films by leading publications. Other films from India that made it to the global charts include ‘The Apu Trilogy’, ‘Charulata’, ‘Pyaasa’, ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Lagaan’, ‘Nayakan’, ‘Drishyam’, among others.  

International taste for Bollywood

The yearn for Bollywood is not recent. ‘Dharti Ke Lal’ was the first Indian film to have a commercial release overseas. It was released in the Soviet Union in 1949. ‘Aan’, was the first Indian film to have a worldwide release in 1952. With subtitles in 17 languages, the film was released in 28 countries including the UK, US, France and Japan, and earned big revenue overseas. Decades hence, Indian films continue to pull crowds around the world. Movies like ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, ‘Guide’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ to more recent films like ‘Dangal’ and ‘Uri’ reflect the aspirations of an evolving society.

India currently produces over 2,000 films annually, in more than 20 languages – the largest in the world.

This is true of powerful films in regional languages as well. Valued at around US$2.5 billion in 2018, the Indian film industry is the world’s largest producer of films. This figure is expected to grow to US$3.2 billion by 2023. Professionals associated with movie making are investing in India in different areas such as financing of films, co-production, post production services, outsourcing special effects, recreating shooting locales, offering visual props and photographic equipment, offering high-end data storage solutions, establishing distribution channels, film exhibiting infrastructure such as multiplexes, investment in local content, among others.

Growth in international box office

A great return on investment, Indian films, especially Hindi, Telugu and Tamil films, sometimes generate an average of over 500 per cent of their original cost. The strong box office performance of the industry is encouraging, with growing overseas contributions, particularly because of entry into emerging markets such as China. India’s regional film industry has also been faring well with its contributions of up to 45-50 per cent of box office revenues. Overseas collections for blockbuster films have been huge. Bollywood film ‘Sultan’ grossed US$22.5 million (₹161 crore) overseas, making it the sixth-highest-grossing Indian film in overseas markets.

‘Dangal’ has grossed the highest so far at over US$118 million, while ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’, a Telugu film dubbed in different languages, grossed US$60 million. With socially relevant context and universal themes, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films have also fared well in international markets. Substantial demand for entertainment, increasing digital user base and healthy growth in the nation’s economy have provided impetus to the domestic film industry. Increasing revenues from digital rights – one of the fastest growing revenue streams and technology which is playing a critical role in adding value – has made this industry attractive to investors.

Partnerships to boost opportunities

India currently produces as many as 2,000 films annually in more than 20 languages – the largest in the world. Additionally, the fact that India has moved up the value chain by enabling VFX and cutting-edge animation services for complex, high-quality film projects for both domestic and international markets acts as yet another investment magnet. Joint production and co-production agreements have been signed with several countries, including China, Korea, Italy, Germany, Brazil, France, New Zealand, the UK, Poland, Spain and Canada under the guidance of this office.

Major foreign production houses–such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Walt Disney Pictures–have already entered India to develop and market movies in multiple languages. Indian cinema has done much for building cultural relations between India and the world. The Indian diaspora abroad has also played an important role in fostering this connect. With the Government also now taking a more active role in building the industry capabilities, Bollywood and its regional compatriots are poised to make their presence felt even more, among international audiences.  

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