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New 'Ollywood' Draws Indian Moviegoers 

India's movie industry raked in about $2.1 billion last year, a figure that experts expect to double in the next four years. "Bollywood," the film industry centered in Bombay, has become synonymous with Indian films, but India has other "Ollywoods," each with its own devoted fans. Raymond Thibodeaux reports from Thiruvananthapuram- better known as Trivandrum - the capital of Kerala State in southwestern India.

The cinema in Trivandrum's town center is packed, as it has been nearly every night since the movie Hallo was released last month.

Hallo is a three-hour hodge-podge of slapstick comedy and suspenseful drama. But more importantly, it is a chance to show off the dramatic range of Mohanlal, a Kerala film superstar, who - from the looks of him - does not skip meals or waste time working out in a gym.

The film is one of the latest offerings from Kerala's film industry, which produces movies in the local language, Malayalam. The industry is known as "Mallywood."

It is one of a number of major regional film industries that together churn out nearly 900 films a year in several of India's 22 regional languages. That is almost twice the output of that mother of all film industries, America's Hollywood. The fast-growing movie industry here is being fueled by the country's faster-growing economy.

Mallywood releases about 60 films a year - tiny compared with Bollywood, the Bombay-based industry that dominates with its Hindi-language films. India has about 300 million Hindi speakers, nearly a third of the country's population, compared with only about 35 million Malayalam speakers.

One of the 35 million is Thomas Mathews, who, like most people in Kerala, is an avid Mallywood fan. He explains why.

"Our own movies are very much natural and it is from our day-to-day life. Actually, the Keralites, or the Malayalees, we like always reality," he says. "We don't like too much of artificial fights, bombings, shootouts and so on."

That leaves out many Bollywood movies, which are known for their flashy musicals and over-the-top melodrama that often borders on unintended comedy.

By contrast, Malayalam films focus on social issues that Bollywood - and conservative Indian society in general - tends to shy away from.

K.R. Meera is a screenwriter, whose latest film Ore Kadal is scheduled to be released later this month.

"We say we like to look into ourselves. We are kind of a narcissistic people, always willing to talk about ourselves, our realities, our ambitions," Meera says.

What specific types of subjects do Malayalam films deal with?

"Most of the films are centered around the family. We are all closely knit families. We give a lot of value to family relations: father-son relationship, mother-son and even husband-wife relationships," explains Meera. "Our stories are basically about relationships. That is something a Malayalee cannot escape from."

Through the prism of family, Meera says, Malayalam films often tackle India's controversial issues, such as the remarriage of widows, the injustice of the country's caste system, and abortion.

Malayalam films do not have the global reach of Bollywood movies. But when one was recently accepted at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, Bollywood took notice.

It is set to release a remake of a Mallywood film next year. This will not be the first time Bollywood has copied hits from India's other "Ollywoods" - and it probably will not be the last.

India's Film Industry

(The "Ollywood" nicknames - and many of the plotlines - come from Hollywood, the capital of the U.S. film industry.)

Bollywood: Hindi-language films production mainly from Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, which accounts for the B in "Bollywood." Style: Musicals and melodrama.

Mallywood: Malayalam-language films from Kerala, a Communist-run Indian state on the country's southwestern tip. Style: Generally serious, strong social commentary. Some comedies.

Kollywood: Tamil-language films that many say sprouted from Kodambakkam, a neighborhood in Chennai.

Tollywood: Refers to two separate film centers - the Bengali film industry based in the Kolkata suburb of Tollygunge, and the Telugu film industry in Andhra Pradesh state in southeastern India.