Bollywood faces horror show at box office as streaming services steal the limelight

India’s Bollywood film industry, long part of the cultural fabric of the movie-mad country of 1.4 billion people, is facing its biggest-ever crisis as streaming services and non-Hindi language rivals steal its sparkle.

The South Asian giant churns out on average around 1,600 films each year, more than any other country, traditionally headlined by glitzy Bollywood, with fans worshipping movie stars like gods and crowds thronging premieres.

But now cinemas have fallen quiet, even in Bollywood’s nerve centre of Mumbai, with box-office receipts plunging since Covid curbs were lifted.

“This is the worst crisis ever faced,” veteran Mumbai theatre owner Manoj Desai told. Some screenings were cancelled as the “public was not there”.

The usually bankable megastar Akshay Kumar had three back-to-back films tank. Fellow A-lister Aamir Khan, the face of some of India’s most successful films, failed to entice audiences with the “Forrest Gump” remake “Laal Singh Chaddha”.

Of the more than 50 Bollywood films released in the past year — fewer than normal because of the pandemic — just one-fifth have met or surpassed revenue targets, said media analyst Karan Taurani of Elara Capital. Pre-pandemic it was 50 percent.

In contrast, several Telugu-language aka Tollywood movies — a south Indian competitor to Hindi-language Bollywood — have soared to the top.

Embarrassingly, around half the box-office takings for Hindi-language films from January 2021 to August this year were dubbed southern offerings, said State Bank of India’s chief economic adviser Soumya Kanti Ghosh in a recent report.

“Bollywood, after decades of storytelling… seems to be at an inflection point unlike any other disruption it has faced before,” Ghosh wrote.

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