Bollywood looks to Aamir Khan to end 2009 on a high

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The Independent Culture

Bollywood is looking to Aamir Khan to bring festive cheer to the industry after a disappointing 2009 hit by a producers' strike, swine flu fears and a lack of box office success.

The actor-producer-director's heavily-marketed "3 Idiots", based on Chetan Bhagat's best-selling debut novel "Five Point Someone" about three struggling students at a business school, is released on Friday, Christmas Day.

Bollywood watchers hope Khan - known for only making one big film per year in an industry where leading actors can be working on several films at the same time - can replicate his previous year-end successes.

His 2008 Christmas offering, "Ghajini", became Bollywood's highest grossing film and followed the acclaimed "Taare Zameen Par" (Stars on Earth) in 2007.

"We hope he creates a hattrick this year," said Amod Mehra, a Bollywood trade analyst.

Another leading critic, Taran Adarsh, gave the film 4.5 stars on his bollywoodhungama.com site and said it "easily ranks amongst Aamir, (director) Rajkumar Hirani and (producer) Vidhu Vinod Chopra's finest films".

Bollywood began 2009 after a muted end to 2008 due to the deadly terror attacks in Mumbai, which saw the cancellation of a number of films.

Audiences had already dwindled due to recession fears and disaffection at under-performing big budget films.

But the much-anticipated "Chandni Chowk To China", a co-production with US studio Warner Brothers and the first Bollywood film to be part-filmed in China, bombed at the box office.

Leading star Shahrukh Khan's own production "Billu" also disappointed, as world attention focused on the British film about a Mumbai teaboy, "Slumdog Millionaire", and its runaway success at the Oscars.

In April, Bollywood producers began a two-month boycott of multiplex cinemas, calling for a fairer share of box office receipts. The strike saw the postponement of scores of films and losses estimated at 63 million dollars.

Rising numbers of swine flu cases in Mumbai and the surrounding area added to Bollywood's woes, leading to the temporary closure of cinemas on public health grounds and the postponement of several films.

Despite a glut of new releases since then, only a handful of films have been considered hits, like "New York", about a group of friends in the city on September 11, 2001, and the thriller "Kaminey" (Scoundrel).

A new hero was found in Ranbir Kapoor after his hit "Wake Up Sid" and "Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani" (An Amazing Story Of Strange Love), while Salman Khan made a successful comeback in "Wanted".

But Adarsh told AFP: "It's not been a good year. In my opinion, it's been the worst year for the film industry.

"You can't blame anyone apart from the industry for churning out such bad movies. This results in perhaps 90 percent of films failing. It's not a good situation. We need to concentrate on quality."

Mayank Shekhar, national cultural editor at English-language newspaper The Hindustan Times, agreed and suggested that Hollywood - which still has only a tiny market share but is trying to make inroads into India - has benefited.

Roland Emmerich's "2012" crossed the 900 million rupees (19.2 million dollars) mark last weekend, making it the highest grossing Hollywood film in India, The Times of India newspaper said on Sunday.

Dubbed and original versions of James Cameron's "Avatar" and the hit comedy "The Hangover" have also done well.

Shekhar said "2012" would turn out to be the biggest hit in India this year, and had proved popular in both more expensive urban multiplex cinemas and traditional single screen cinemas in small towns and villages.

"This is the first time we've seen something like this. It may be an indicator of things to come, that people are now willing to choose," he told AFP.

"The Indian movie market has been the only one in the world where no one cares that (Hollywood director Steven) Spielberg is releasing a film. That might change."

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