Bollywood film? What is that?
IMDB.com poll reveals startling results
With the tremendous buzz the success of Lagaan in North America and the United Kingdom generated, Bollywood pundits widely believed that the Indian film industry was close to making a splash in the mainstream, especially in America.
It looks like all the enthusiasm may just have to wait a little longer. The talk could also well have been overblown, if you were to take a look at the results of an online poll.
The premier web site for movie lovers in America, IMDB.com polled users on their favourite Bollywood film August 8. They were asked to select from recent films such as Lagaan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Dil Chahta Hai, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Films of yesteryear such as Mother India, Pakeezah and Awaara were also mentioned.
An astounding 83.3 percent of the voters (totaling 2,808, as of 12.30 pm IST, Friday) said they had never seen a Bollywood film. Lagaan followed at 5.3 percent (179 votes). Six percent also selected Other, noting that their film was not among the ones listed. More than a dozen titles grabbed a handful of votes.
After Lagaan was in the shortlist of films that could be nominated for a foreign film Oscar, Sony Pictures Classics picked up its rights for distribution in America. The company opened the film on a handful of screens, but the results were disappointing as it made only $60,000.
"All of us involved with Bollywood films have said Lagaan was the first true crossover film in America," observed Jawahar Sharma, head of US operations of Yash Raj Films, whose hit films such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge were included in the poll. "Mainstream America has not seen Lagaan. The commercial audiences, the ones that see films like Star Wars and Austin Powers in Goldmember, have not seen a Bollywood film. I am not surprised by the results at all."
Even more so than Lagaan, a true crossover film could be Monsoon Wedding, a $3 million movie about a Punjabi wedding made by Mira Nair. It has grabbed $13.6 million in North America, making it a solid hit for USA Films. The film is set in India and has Indian actors playing the lead roles, but Monsoon Wedding was not part of the poll.
Neither Nair nor a spokesperson from Sony Classics were available for comment. Yet Sharma is also proud that a US-based web site would mention Bollywood in one of its polls.
"Great films are made in Italy and France. When they come to America, primarily the audiences for those are the art house moviegoers," he noted. "Those who have seen Lagaan, as a result of the Oscar nomination, have liked it. If the commercial audience sees a Bollywood film, that's when we make the true crossover and I think we still have a long way to go.
"People who answered the question are the ones that enjoy commercial cinema. It's the same in India where the audience sees a Bollywood film that has all the elements in a typical film," Sharma continued.
Lagaan, released last year, was the third Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category. Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! in 1989 and 1957's Mother India were the others.
While such films as Bobby, Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan may have to take solace in the fact that they were part of the poll, the immediate success of Lagaan was one reason it was in the second spot. It is likely IMDB's editors selected the older titles based on the searches and hits those titles received.
"Lagaan had the hype and publicity," Sharma said. "It is just a matter of visibility with the Oscar nomination. That's a huge achievement."
IMDB.com is part of the Amazon.com family. It draws thousands of visitors each day who read about the latest Hollywood news as well as get information about particular films.