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Hollywood Challenges Bollywood on Indian Film Industry's Home Ground

For decades, the first choice of movie-obsessed audiences in India has been the Hindi-language films produced by the country's hugely popular film industry, known as "Bollywood." But a surprisingly successful run by the American-made Spider-Man 3 reveals the rising popularity in India of Hollywood movies. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.

When Spider-Man 3 was released in India in early May, it was not just English-speaking audiences in the big cities queuing up to watch the film.

People poured into more than 580 theaters in small towns across the country to watch versions dubbed in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and other Indian languages.

Hollywood won new audiences in India's most populous states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, by dubbing the film in Bhojpuri - marking the first time an English-language movie has been dubbed in this widely spoken language.

The result: Spider-Man 3 has turned out to be Hollywood's biggest hit ever in India, grossing approximately $14 million since its release.

Although popular Hollywood movies such as Titanic have been dubbed in local languages for some time, until now only a limited number of dubbed prints have been released - and that long after the films have run in English.

Anil Nagrath, secretary of the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association, says the decision to release hundreds of prints in local languages such as Bhojpuri turned out to be a key factor in the film's success.

"Hollywood films are having such a big canvas and budget that they obviously have a very good market, and Spiderman has proved that if it is dubbed, that market can be very successfully tapped," Nagrath said.

Film analysts say the rising popularity of Hollywood films is no threat to India's own Hindi-language film industry - which is centered in the city formerly known as Bombay, and is commonly referred to as "Bollywood."

But Nagrath says Spiderman's success does show that Hollywood can challenge Bollywood's near-monopoly among Indian moviegoers.

"We expect more and more films from Hollywood to be coming and attacking our audience," Nagrath said. "Cinema space is limited, and if more and more Hollywood products come dubbed like this…this will make a big difference."

Other film analysts say the release of several Hollywood movies in the coming months, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek, could give Hindi films a run for their money.

These are likely to be accompanied by the same type of aggressive marketing used to promote Spider-Man 3, and they, too, will probably be released across the country in hundreds of theaters.

Already, the success of Spider-Man has been blamed for wooing audiences away from a Hindi film released around the same time, Ta Ra Rum Pum, made by one of Bollywood's biggest directors, Yash Chopra.

Profits raked in by Hollywood movies in India are estimated to be rising by about 35 percent ever year.