Sree's Stories

[This story is a short sidebar of a two-page Memorial Day spread about the business of popular culture around the world.]

Indian Cinema: These Heroes Can Dance

Monday, May 27, 1996


Going to the movies in India is an interactive experience. Audiences often jeer and make catcalls, sing along to the tunes and yell warnings to victims-to-be. "Indian cinema enables Indians to dream with their eyes open," says Shashi Tharoor, author of "Show Business," a novel about the Indian film industry. They can dream of palatial homes and fancy cars, of glamorous parties and foreign travel.

Like the country itself, movie theaters are colorful, noisy, redolent, and yes, quite crowded. And then there are the movies, generated at the rate of 750 annually, making India home to the world's largest film industry. It produces a wonderful multilingual mix of the predictable and the fantastic.

A typical Hindi movie plot: A poor and saintly father and mother are killed by a rich villain. The couple's twin babies are separated. They grow up to be handsome heroes, fall in love with voluptuous beauties, then encounter the villain and his son. The heroes defeat the villains' nefarious scheme, beat them senseless and marry the heroines.

Anything that strays from the formula is instantly labeled an art film and doomed to a limited run. These are not how Bollywood (as the Bombay-based industry is known) makes money. The key to its profits is repeat business. And one thing that brings the audiences back is that great staple of Indian movies, the song-and-dance sequence. Usually set amid lush gardens and obviously fake rain, actors and actresses lip-sync and cavort in long, carefully choreographed numbers. Soundtracks are often among the best-selling albums, luring audiences back to theaters with their easy-to-hum, disco-infected beats.

Most movies last three hours, with a 15-minute intermission. Seats can be reserved, and tickets in the big cities range from 7 rupees (20 cents) for the seats right next to the screen, to 50 rupees ($1.35) for the balcony. Profits are steady but the industry cannot be complacent. The boom in satellite television threatens to cut into audiences and profits.

TV Programs

1. Malayala Manorama (The Beauty of Malayala)
Malayalam-language cultural and literary magazine
2. Kumudam (White Lotus)
Tamil-language news and features
3. India Today
English-language general-interest news and feature magazine
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, Bombay
(July-December 1995)


1. Chandrakanta
Serial from an 18th-century novel with evil viziers and good knights
2. Rangoli (Rainbow of Colors)
Muscial variety show, a collection of Hindi songs and film clips
3. Movie of the Week: Gazab (Wonder)
A reincarnated man's vengeance against those who killed him
Source: Doordarshan Audience Research Television Rating, an Indian Government service.
(Week of April 14-20)


1. Papa Kehte Hain (Father Says)
A woman finds love as she searches for her father (in Hindi)
2. Agni Sakshi (Fire Is The Witness)
A Hindi-language film resembling "Sleeping With the Enemy;" a wife tries to flee an abusive husband
3. Dilwale Dulhaniya Lejayenge (I Will Take Away My Bride)
A couple, returning from London, find their affair offends the traditional village where they settle (in Hindi)
Source: Box-Office Magazine
(Week of April 26-May 2)

CD Titles

1. Urja
Movie soundtrack
2. Boom Boom
Various artists
Hindi rock
3. Papa Kehte Hain
Movie soundtrack
Source: Pioneer Top Ten
(Month of April)

Nonfiction Books

1. Butter Chicken in Ludhiana
Pankaj Mishra
India's changing villages
2. Degeneration of India
T.N. Seshan
An election officer's view of India
3. The Road Ahead
Bill Gates
Microsoft co-founder's vision
Source: United Book Sellers, a book distributor
(Week of April 26-May 2)

The Media Business: What They're Buying in 10 Countries

[Intro to the two-page spread]

Satellite photography has made detailed images of the planet's folds and ripples commonplace. The earthbound lenses of statistical researchers are less precise. Still, data from media research sources around the wor ld do offer a sampling of the images, sounds and ideas people are turning to for enlightenment or escape. American exports are everywhere, but Japanese love their own pop and Indians like their own movies. Among book buyers, history and self-improvement seem to be universal passions. What follow are snapshots of national tastes and vignettes that try to explain them.