MUMBAI: Bad scripts, flimsy characters and poor-quality production are hindering Indian cinema as it attempts to capture new global audiences, leading industry figures say.
Top actors, film-makers and executives said India needed to raise its game if it was to replicate the success of “My Name Is Khan,” which recently became the biggest Bollywood movie of all time on overseas revenue.
The movie has taken 39 million dollars worldwide since its release in February, including 17 million dollars outside India, distributors Fox Star Studios said, hailing it as “Bollywood’s first truly global film.”
Its success is now being seen as a possible model for “crossover” films, as Indian cinema looks to recover from a 14 per cent decline in revenues to 89.3 billion rupees (about two billion dollars) in 2009.
The overseas market — which makes up seven percent of India’s total film industry revenues — fell 30 percent last year, hit by the economic downturn, poor-quality films and fewer releases after a strike by Bollywood producers.
“My Name Is Khan” actor and co-producer Shah Rukh Khan said that increasing Hollywood involvement in India was key.
The United States accounts for up to a third of Indian cinema’s overseas market and a number of US studios, including Warner Bros, Disney and DreamWorks, have struck deals with Indian production houses in recent years.
“Bollywood is lagging very, very far behind in three areas,” Khan told a media and entertainment conference in Mumbai this week.
Indian film-makers needed to understand the Hollywood format “and not adhere to our own stubborn narratives,” he said.
“The sooner Indian film companies realise that screenplay writing is not an art form but a science, the faster our films will grow,” he said.
Help was also needed to develop the special effects sector and bring the discipline and organisation that was “woefully lacking in the business of films,” he added.
Indian cinema, particularly Hindi-language Bollywood, has a tradition of making highly stylised films involving set-piece song and dance routines, with some actors often working on up to half a dozen films at the same time.
Some 242 Bollywood films were released in 2009, according to an industry report by auditors KPMG, but with few succeeding at the box office, even domestically, there have been calls to favour quality over quantity.
Bollywood has been looking to diversify into more contemporary subjects in recent years but “My Name Is Khan” director Karan Johar said the current standard of home-grown script-writing was still “shoddy.”
“We have the people, we have the infrastructure, we have the mobilisation but we don’t empower writing and that’s of paramount importance,” he said.
Actor Irrfan Khan, who starred in the Oscar-winning hit “Slumdog Millionaire” and “A Mighty Heart,” called for greater depth and better production values.
“I don’t think ‘Slumdog’ would have got the kind of mention it got if the post-production was done here India,” he said.
“Our mainstream films are fantastic and have that unique quality of emotion. But our mainstream doesn’t welcome the complexities of life, it doesn’t welcome complex characters. We need to work on that.”
Vijay Singh, chief executive of Fox Star Studios, which distributed “Slumdog Millionaire,” said seeking “crossover” hits did not mean compromising Indian films’ specific cultural and social themes.
But better content, combined with targeted marketing and distribution, could help raise the profile of Indian cinema, its stars and wealth of backroom talent, he added.
“These are early days for all of us. We have done the best that we can for ‘My Name Is Khan,’” Singh said. “Some of these new road maps that we have laid out will help Bollywood across the board.”