It took more than 16 tonnes of Spanish tomatoes to turn the coming-of-age film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara into the latest international cinema hit from Bollywood. The feelgood road movie’s subsequent huge success, both inside and outside India, is being taken as evidence that the country’s cinema is ready for global lift-off.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (“Won’t Get Life Back Again”) follows three young friends on a raucous trip through Spain. The film has grossed more than US$3.8 million internationally, the best figures for an Indian release this year. It has also led the charge in a record-breaking domestic summer at the box-office.
The tomatoes were used by the film’s director, Zoya Akhtar, to recreate the chaos of the La Tomatina festival in the small Valencian town of Bunol. Such attention to detail was another sign of a growing confidence that Bollywood could soon mount a serious challenge to Hollywood for world cinema takings.
London-based Kishore Lulla, executive chairman of the film company Eros International, believes that thanks to India’s economic boom, its film business will grow exponentially during the coming decade.
“Once that happens, marriage between Hollywood and Bollywood will take place,” he said in a recent interview. “Bollywood will be of a size that will matter to the world.”
Eros, which purchased and marketed Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, has seen its share price rise by more than 10 percent in the last month alone. Established by Lulla’s father in Mumbai in 1977, the company’s initial focus was on distributing Bollywood films abroad. Things began to change after Lulla moved to London and took over control a decade later. Today Eros has an annual turnover of 75 films as a producer, co-producer or buyer, and made a net profit last year of US$55 million on revenues of US$164 million.
“Eros began in a very small way, but today we’re India’s biggest vertically integrated company,” said Kamal Jain, the chief financial officer in Mumbai. “We have the largest film library, with 1,100 films; we dub films into 27 languages and distribute them in 50 countries; and we have a presence in every segment of the business, from production to satellite TV to new media.”
India produces about 1,100 films annually in several languages, with Bollywood a major center for Hindi film production. The management consultancy KPMG sees “tremendous potential” for growth for the country’s media and entertainment industry during the next five years, from the current US$17 billion annually to an estimated US$29 billion by 2015. Bollywood moguls such as Lulla appear confident that US$100 billion is possible in 10 years’ time.
Their optimism is based on demography. India’s burgeoning middle class is now estimated at 350 million, most of them young with much more money to spend than their parents.
There is also a prosperous diaspora of 50 million South Asians with estimated assets of US$1 -trillion, and a -passion for cinema.
Bollywood is changing as India surges ahead.
“The film business became more professional during the last decade once the government made bank finance available,” said Jehil Thakkar from KPMG. “Professionalism still remains a challenge, but companies such as Eros have brought in a new dynamism.”
The old drawbacks in Indian creative industries have also begun to recede. Producers are no longer dependent upon shady financiers, many of them from the criminal underworld. Professionally managed film companies have brought in US-style studio practices.