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Bollywood looks for Diwali success

Bollywood is gearing up for a slew of new releases over the Hindu festival of Diwali, with expectations high that they will provide some cheer after a lacklustre year at the box office.

At least 10 big films are due to hit the screens in the coming weeks, with hopes of success pinned on the comedy "Golmaal 3" and the time-travel romance "Action Replayy" (eds: correct) that will be released on Diwali itself on November 5.

Like the Christmas period for Hollywood, Diwali has traditionally been seen as a money-spinner for India's Hindi-language film industry, as studios look to attract the holiday crowd with well-trailed movies featuring big name stars.

Industry watchers estimate that Bollywood could make four billion rupees (90 million dollars) by the end of the year.

"The year has not been so good," said leading analyst Amod Mehra. "The success ratio has been very low. The worst period for the industry was in May and June when two films, 'Kites' and 'Raavan' bombed badly.

"The losses from these two films was two billion rupees and it was a huge blow.

"A ray of hope has been provided by two films, 'Dabaang' (Fearless) and 'Robot'. Things are looking very promising this festive season."

"Dabaang", starring Salman Khan, grossed 10.8 million dollars during its opening weekend last month, surpassing the record of Aamir Khan's hit "3 Idiots", which took nine million dollars earlier this year.

The sci-fi fantasy adventure "Robot", made in three languages and starring the South Indian film legend Rajinikanth, opened two weeks ago and took more than double that, according to industry figures.

Trailers for "Golmaal 3" have been well received, amid hopes it can repeat the success of previous editions of the comic capers of a group of young friends.

"Expectations are huge from 'Golmaal 3'," said critic Komal Nahta. "It's a sure shot winner. It's the same with 'Action Replayy'."

"Golmaal 3" stars Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor with a return to the screens for veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty, "the Indian James Bond", whose spy films from the 1980s have become cult hits.

"Action Replayy" sees Akshay Kumar go back in time to the 1970s to try to save his parents' ailing marriage.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan - fresh from her success alongside Rajinikanth in "Robot" - also stars, with a supporting cast of huge flares, wing collars and platform shoes.

A successful Diwali would raise spirits in Bollywood, which was hit last year by a producers' boycott of multiplex cinemas, swine flu fears and a string of big budget failures. The economic downturn also affected overseas takings.

Overall revenues fell 14 percent to 89.3 billion rupees in 2009, consultancy KPMG said in a report for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The chief executive of the Star India group, Uday Shankar, told Businessworld magazine this month that only 14 of the 235 films released in the 12 months to August this year made a net profit.

Concerns have been expressed about the fees demanded by some leading actors and the need for studios to diversify revenue streams through cable and satellite television rights, the DVD home rental market and music downloads.

Salman Khan also echoed another long-standing worry in an interview with Businessworld.

"Perhaps not enough attention is paid to the script or sometimes viewers just don't like the film," he was quoted as saying.

"There are many entertainment options these days. It is a difficult phase for the industry but the show must go on."