One of the great ironies of Cannes is that people are so busy networking that there is actually very little time to see films. This year, though, I made a conscious effort to see as many films as possible, especially those in the main competition ? there are 20 ? and try to assess where India stands in relation to world cinema. The problem is that India makes films that Indians love to watch, and since there are an awful lot of us, both in India and overseas ? the UK and US markets are crucial to the economy of Bollywood ? there has really been no need for Indian filmmakers to seek other markets. That is why someone like Amitabh Bachchan has been able consistently to argue that the Indian film industry should not be called ‘Bollywood’ ? Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, director of Rang De Basanti, has taken up this refrain ? and that India should not be influenced unduly by what others have to say. In other words, according to Bachchan, we should go on doing pretty much what we have been doing. This argument is supported by statistics in the most useful book I picked up this year in Cannes, World Film Market Trends: Focus 2006.
Although statistics can be tedious, they can also be very revealing. Take India, for instance. The book says: “Total 2004 cinema admissions in India were just under 3.6 billion, placing the subcontinent in first place world-wide in terms of attendance in a single market.” In other words, as we have always known and like to boast, we are the biggest. But the best? That is a more complicated question to answer. In 2004, home-grown movies accounted for 92.5 per cent of the Indian market, leaving 7.5 per cent to the rest. In other words, this is one country that Hollywood will neither conquer nor destroy as it has with countless others all over the world.
Listed are the top 20 movies in India according to box-office returns, with Tamil films, Chandramukhi (Rs 60 crore) and Anniyan (Rs 57 crore), taking the top two positions. With takings given in crores, this is followed by Bunty Aur Babli (43.56); No Entry (41.97); Black (31.95); Sarkar (29.30); Salaam Namaste (29.24), Mangal Pandey: The Rising (29.17); Garam Masala (26.91); Chhatrapati (in Telugu) (25); Waqt (24.06); Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya (21.75); Dus (21.35); Parineeta (19.72); Kaal (19.23); Sasura Bada Paisewala (in Bhojpuri; 17.00); Apharan (16.20); Bluffmaster! (15.89); Kyaa Kool Hai Hum (15.87); and Lucky ? No Time For Love (15.01). The statistics may not be 100 per cent correct, but they provide a good idea of what is happening in Indian cinema in relation to the rest of the world.
“In terms of the number of films produced, the Indian industry is probably the world’s most prolific, with a total of 934 Indian features certified by the Central Board of Film Certification in 2004,” says the book. “244 films out of this total were Hindi language films, but a total of 404 films were certified in three Southern Indian languages; Telugu (203 films), Malayalam (71 films) and Tamil (130 films).” From this one might conclude that all is well and nothing more needs to be done with Indian cinema. As the clich? goes, why mend something if it ain’t broke? Before reaching a conclusion, it may be useful examining China, whose GDP in 2004 was $1649 billion, compared with India’s $685 billion. But China had only 138 million admissions at 38,496 screens, compared with India’s staggering 3,591 million admissions at 10,500 screens (and we could do with many more screens ? Goa, incidentally, I am happy to report, is building a 2,500-seat theatre that will match the Grand Theatre Lumiere in Cannes). However, China, in common with South Korea and Hong Kong, is becoming a cinema world power and making excellent movies for global audiences. “Film production surged ahead once more with a total of 260 features made during 2005, a 23 per cent increase on 2004.”
Included in the list of Chinese films is Jackie Chan’s The Myth, which stars our own Mallika Sherawat (who provided endless amusement in Cannes last year). But the market we need to match eventually is that of the United States, with its GDP of $11,734 billion, and 1403 million admissions. “The number of films on first release in the United States increased by 15 titles in 2005 to 535 films (520 films in 204),” we are told. “Warner Brothers was the distributor earning the top market share on the domestic market in 2005, obtaining 15.7 per cent of total receipts principally due to the success of Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Batman Begins. Last year’s leader, Sony, dropped back to the third place with a share of 11.4 per cent. Fox, placed 5th in 2004, climbed to second place and a domestic market share of 15.4 per cent in 2005, thanks principally to the final installment of Star Wars, but also to Mr and Mrs Smith and the Fantastic Four. Warner, Fox, Sony and Universal all earned revenues in excess of one $1 billion at the domestic box-office in 2005.”
It adds: “North American box-office charts were dominated by fantasy and science fiction genres in 2004 with six of the top 10 films falling into this category. Star Wars ? Revenge Of The Sith was the top ranked film, closely followed by Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire and War Of The Worlds. In 2005, seven titles grossed more than $200 million.”
But there is a worrying trend for the Americans: “Total admissions to cinemas in the US in 2005 were 1.4 billion, an 8.7 per cent fall on the 1.54 billion tickets sold in 2004. This represents the lowest level of attendance since 1997 and the third consecutive year in which overall admissions have dropped. A total of 38,852 screens were in operation in 2005, a 6.2 per cent increase reported for 2004.” The average price of a ticket is $6.41, compared with Rs 8.91 (about $ 0.20) across India.
It is worth looking at the top 20 movies in the domestic US market in 2005, with gross box-office takings in millions: Star Wars ? Revenge Of The Sith (380.27); Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire (277.08); War Of The Worlds (234.28); The Chronicles Of Narnia (to me, this was the best film last year; 225.70); Wedding Crashers (209.22); Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (206.50); Batman Begins (205.34); Madagascar (193.20); Mr and Mrs Smith (186.34); Hitch (177.58); King Kong (174.56); The Longest Yard (158.12); Fantastic Four (154.70); Chicken Little (132.27); Robots (128.20); Meet the Fockers (116.74); The Pacifier (113.09); The 40-Year-Old Virgin (109.29); Million Dollar Baby (99.39); and Walk the Line (92.4). What is really significant are the overseas revenues raked in by American movies: $15.92 billion in 2000; $16.96 billion in 2001; $19.76 billion in 2002; $20.34 billion in 2003; $25.23 billion in 2004; and $23.24 billion in 2005. Even though budgets can be anything between $50 million and $100 million, the successful American movies more than get their money back. The export potential of the entertainment industry is second only to weapons.
The logical conclusion for Indian filmmakers is to make one set of movies for the Indian mass market, and another sort, preferably but not necessarily in English, for educated urban Indians and a global market. Judging by the films I have seen at Cannes this year, we are as good as the rest of the world in the art of filmmaking. All we now have to do is to make more very good films.