String of hits brings smile back to Bollywood

Bollywood has had a better start to the second half of 2011 after a tough first six months of empty cinemas and postponed releases caused by clashes with major cricket tournaments, analysts say.

Long queues and "house full" signs have returned to cinemas in India's entertainment capital Mumbai and across the country since the start of June for a string of films that have proved a hit with audiences.

The upward trend started after the end of the back-to-back World Cup and Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournaments with the Salman Khan action comedy "Ready".

Since then, Sanjay Dutt's slapstick "Double Dhamaal", Aamir Khan's comedy "Delhi Belly", the thriller "Murder 2" and the Hrithik Roshan-Katrina Kaif road movie "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (You Only Live Once) have all done well.

The boxofficeindia.com website, which tracks industry takings, on Wednesday said that "Zindagi" had taken 443.2 million rupees ($9.9 million) since it opened on July 15, calling it a "hit".

"Murder 2" had taken 444.7 million rupees in under two weeks, deeming it a "blockbuster", while "Delhi Belly" had returns of 540.3 million rupees in three weeks, classing it as a "super hit".

"Double Dhamaal" was assessed as "above average" with takings of 452.1 million rupees in four weeks, according to the site.

"Singham", a crime drama starring Ajay Devgn, has had rave reviews since it came out last week and is also expected to do well.

"We've never had it so good. We've never had four successes back to back," said trade analyst Komal Nahta, referring to "Ready", "Double Dhamaal", "Murder 2" and "Zindagi".

"They were good films. There weren't too many releases in March or April but thereafter 'Ready' worked and the other films worked," Nahta, who writes for India's biggest film trade journal, Film Information, told AFP.

"When the World Cup and IPL were on there wasn't much filmed entertainment, so there was a hunger for films and people rushed to the cinemas."

The Indian releases had been expected to suffer as they hit screens around the same time as the last instalment of the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and the latest "Transformers" movie.

The boxofficeindia.com site said that first-week takings for the English version of the final Potter movie were 102.6 million rupees and 61.4 million in Hindi, as of Wednesday.

The English version of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" had taken 125.3 million rupees and 49.6 million rupees in Hindi in three weeks, it added.

The results were more positive news for the Indian film industry, which has seen overall revenues fall 20 percent in the past three years from $2.3 billion in 2008 to $1.85 billion in 2010.

Domestic box office revenues still contribute 75 percent of an Indian film's earnings, according to research by KPMG.

Poor quality content, rising overheads, the global economic crisis and an increase in other ways for people to spend their spare time have all been blamed for the downturn.

Vinod Mirani, another industry analyst, said the recent successes proved that good films would work no matter what.

"It's as simple as that," he added.

All eyes are now turned to the next big release, "Aarakshan" (Reservation), starring Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone, on August 12.

The film has already proved controversial as it tackles the sensitive issue of reserving posts in the government and education sector based on caste.

Nahta said concerns expressed by political groups representing low-caste Hindus were unlikely to harm the movie.

"In fact, controversy more often than not helps a film," he added.

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