Bollywood Wraps up Strong 2012 With Ninth Blockbuster

Salman Khan in "Dabangg 2"
Salman Khan in "Dabangg 2"
 AK Productions

Talk about ending the year with a bang. Bollywood's latest blockbuster, Dabangg 2, has already hit the coveted $20 million (rupees 1 billion) mark in just six days following its Dec. 21 release. It is estimated to be the ninth film to hit the blockbuster mark this year, and the second for top star Salman Khan who also delivered summer hit Ek Tha Tiger.

Overall, 2012 has been a strong year at the Indian box office. While the year's overall take is anyone's guess - thanks to a lack of credible independent box office data - the string of hits is still a good indicator that the industry is on a roll. Other films to join the billion rupee club were late iconic director Yash Chopra's last film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, India's Oscar entry Barfi! and action movies Agneepath and Rowdy Rathore, among others. And observers estimate that the number of films hitting the billion rupee mark is about twice the 2011 figure.

According to an annual report by FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) and consultants KPMG India, the film industry reached overall revenues of $1.86 billion (Rs 93 billion) in 2011, up 11.5 percent over 2010. This is projected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 10.1 percent to  $3 billion (Rs 150 billion) in 2016. The FICCI and KPMG data shows an all-time record in 2008.

While Hollywood and international films continue to command a small market share – an estimated eight percent of the total box office pie – there were many success stories that indicate potential for future growth.

The highest opening weekend ever by a Hollywood film in India was recorded by this summer's The Amazing Spiderman, which grossed about $6 million (rupees 340 million). The superhero film eventually collected an estimated $14.5 million here.

Skyfall set the second highest opening weekend gross for a Hollywood release in India, collecting about $ 5.1 million (rupees 275 million).

One of the year's standout hits was Ang Lee's Life of Pi starring a mix of Indian talent - from newcomer Suraj Sharma to well-known stars Irrfan Khan and Tabu. Partly shot in India, the film crossed the $10 million mark here within its first two weeks of release, making it a breakout hit for its India distributor Fox Star Studios.

What 2012 also showed was that Indian audiences were increasingly opening up to offbeat and smaller films without marquee Bollywood stars. The best example of that was comedy Vicky Donor, which introduced a new talent in actor Ayushman Khurana who played a Delhi-based youngster who ends up becoming a sperm donor to earn some extra cash. Budgeted at an estimated $1 million, the film grossed more than $8 million.

A familiar face in international cinema, Irrfan Khan delivered one of the year's most notable performances in the biopic Paan Singh Tomar about an athlete-turned-gangster. Produced by UTV-Disney, the film grossed an estimated $5 million, a respectable performance for a small-to-medium film budgeted at under $2 million.

The year got off to a good start with the mystery thriller Kahaani starring actress Vidya Balan, proving that a female-centric film can also deliver in India. Produced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the film grossed an estimated $12 million.

Beyond such hits, 2012 will go down as the year when a new breed of Indian filmmakers received international attention. Cannes saw an Indian summer with four titles in the programming lineup - Anurag Kashyap's two-part gangland epic Gangs of Wasseypur, Vasan Bala's drug drama Peddlers and Ashim Ahluwalia's take on Bollywood's C-grade underbelly Miss Lovely. Similarly, Toronto showcased first-time director Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus which, along with Miss Lovely, was picked up for international distribution by Fortissimo Films.

Indian talent is also getting wider exposure. One of India's most acclaimed actors, Anupam Kher, featured in Silver Linings Playbook co-starring with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. Life of Pi further enhanced Irrfan Khan's international credits, which also included The Amazing Spiderman. And top Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra ventured into international pop music after being signed to Universal Music/Interscope and CAA. Chopra debuted her first English single “In My City” - featuring will.i.am – on the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football.

There is more to come in 2013 as the trailers of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby already show. The film sees the Hollywood debut of Indian star Amitabh Bachchan, who co-stars with Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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