Bollywood At 100: How Big Is India’s Mammoth Film Industry?

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Bollywood, the name given to India’s Mumbai-based movie industry, is the world’s largest filmmaking entity -- the largest the planet has ever seen.

The Indian cinematic tradition commenced exactly 100 years ago with the release of the black-and-white silent film “Raja Harischandra” on May 3, 1913.

Of course, the title “Bollywood” did not exist then.

"The term Bollywood is an invention of the late 20th Century, after Bombay cinema caught the imagination of the West," Nasreen Rehman, a historian of South Asian cinema, told BBC.

There are some misconceptions about India’s huge film colony -- for example, take kissing. While it is true that open-mouthed kissing is largely avoided in Bollywood films even today, it wasn’t always like that.

In 1954, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru received a petition from a group of concerned women who wanted to limit what they viewed as the corrupting influence of films, particularly with respect to the exhibition of  "precocious sex habits.”

"Post-independence, the kiss vanished into a miasma of prudery and false modesty and a misguided notion of what was Indian culture and tradition and not,” said Shubhra Gupta, film critic for the Indian Express newspaper:

In addition, although Bollywood stars become instant pop icons in India, the overwhelming majority of Indians do not even watch their films.

According to BBC, Karan Johar, a film director, said: "Of the 1.2 billion population of India, movies should reach out to at least 300 million people [the size of India’s middle class]. But currently, our reach is limited to 45 million. If we figure out how to cover this gap, it will be a game-changer."

This means that less than 4 percent of Indians go to the movies regularly.

Moreover, India does not really have that many cinemas for people to go to – less than 13,000, versus almost 40,000 in the U.S. (a country which has only one-fourth of India’s population).

Still, with 1,000 films produced annually (about double Hollywood’s output), Bollywood is the world’s most prolific cinema factory.

According to the DI International Business Development (DIBD), a consulting unit of the Confederation of Danish Industry, Bollywood generated revenues of $3-billion in 2011 – this figure has been growing by 10 percent a year.

By 2016, revenue is expected to reach $4.5 billion. Bollywood gross receipts have almost tripled since 2004.

But since ticket prices are so much lower in India than in the US., Hollywood generates much higher revenue – as much as $51 billion annually, according to Bollywoodcountry.com.

On the other hand, it might be easier to turn a profit in Mumbai than in Los Angeles – the average Bollywood film costs only about $1.5 million to make, versus $47.7 million for Hollywood. Marketing costs are also significantly lower in India.

Outside of India, Bollywood has many fans in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, as well as countries with large Indo-Pakistani communities, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, parts of East and Southern Africa and the U.S.

Bollywood is even popular in nations with virtually no Indian presence – like Japan, Germany and Russia.

DIBD noted, however, a huge salary discrepancy between Bollywood’s elite actors and actresses – the top male stars can command wages as high as $16 million per film (comparable to the most popular western stars), while Indian actresses make no more than $1.5 million per movie.

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