The Hindi film industry struck gold in 2011, revving a lackluster box-office with some help from its leading men, wooing audiences after a dismal run last year.
Domestic revenues for the year clocked in at Rs. 19.25 billion, up from Rs. 14.5 billion in 2010. In addition, the year saw an unprecedented four films collect more than a billion rupees each! Two of these films starred Salman Khan.
This is in sharp contrast to 2010, when the industry hardly saw commercial success and only films like Dabangg and Golmaal 3, released in the second half, brought some cheer to producers.
Audiences and filmmakers have gone back and discovered stories that are close to our Indian roots, says Sanjeev Lamba of Reliance Big Pictures, which produced two of the year's biggest blockbusters -- Bodyguard and Singham. The former, with Salman Khan (once again) in the lead role, was hugely successful, having grossed in excess of Rs. 1.5 billion. The latter starred Ajay Devgn.
Both films were centered on strong heroes (modeled on films of the early 80s and 90s), a villainous central character and the battle between the forces of morality.
Audiences have always loved the dilemmas of the hero, a little bit of action, some drama and some romance, Lamba said, We had a lot of that this year.
However, this did not mean alternative themes weren't successful. Offbeat films like The Dirty Picture and Delhi Belly proved to be sleeper hits, taking industry analysts by surprise and proving audiences had the stomach for both mass and niche films.
It is not that more people are watching movies, but that the same audience is watching more movies. For instance, in the month of July, people would have seen a film like Delhi Belly and Singham, says Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax Media.
Unfortunately some big-ticket films, like the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Ra.One, which, in spite of a publicity blitzkrieg, did not live up to expectations and grossed merely Rs. 1.2 billion in net box-office collections; the film barely made a profit.
However, it could be argued that Ra. One was an exception, given its science-fiction plot. For the most part, Bollywood managed to keep its purse strings in check. Production houses learnt that budgeting a film correctly was half the battle won. Small budgets helped most films make some amount of money.
They have made The Dirty Picture at a budget of less than 30 crore (Rs. 300 million) but have chosen themes and subjects which are interesting and publicised their films so well that audiences have felt compelled to watch them, says trade analyst Vajir Singh.
Big studios, like Reliance and UTV, have also changed their models, preferring to co-produce films rather than acquire them after completion. Last year, Reliance suffered losses after two big-ticket acquisitions, Mani Ratnam's Raavan and the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kites floundered at the box-office.
This year, all our films have been co-productions or our own productions and we have seen the successes, Lamba said, We prefer to be creatively involved from the beginning of the project rather than coming in at the end in an acquisition scenario.
Meanwhile, Indian audiences also warmed up to Hollywood blockbusters this year... whether it was the Harry Potter series or the more recent Tintin film.
These days, the box-office collections of good Hollywood film can rival those of a Bollywood film, said Sunil Punjabi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Cinemax chain of multiplexes.
The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn, which released along with Ranbir Kapoor's Rockstar in November, made more than Rs. 70 million in its opening weekend.
However, Hollywood action star Tom Cruise could prove to be an even bigger draw. The fourth film in his Mission Impossible series, which opened in Indian cinemas on Friday will compete with Farhan Akhtar's eagerly anticipated sequel to the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Don.