Bollywood cricket films cash in on World Cup

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MUMBAI - A slew of cricket-themed films are set to hit Indian cinemas soon as Bollywood tries to cash in on the World Cup fever that has gripped the country.

The seven-week cricket tournament that began in the Caribbean has spawned spin-off business worth millions of dollars, with hotels, bars, shopping malls and public parks catering to fans keen to watch the matches.

Bollywood filmmakers also want their share.

"Hattrick", the first of at least three cricket-based films, opened on Friday, and famous Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle makes a cameo appearance.

With the World Cup as the backdrop, the film tells the story of five people -- their lives connected through cricket -- and the Indian cricket team's fictional fortunes.

"Cricket is used as a metaphor for life and the various characters in the film are each batting against their problems," said Milan Luthria, the director of "Hattrick".

"It is a humorous and tongue-in-cheek initiative that talks about the habit of winning."

One of the film's songs, that Luthria describes as a "cricket anthem", has risen up the Indian music charts.

Luthria says he decided on a sports-themed film to expand Bollywood genres, but trade analysts believe the decision was also driven by the World Cup.

The fervor surrounding the tournament guarantees box office success and in a bid to reel in more revenue, filmmakers have cast cricketers.

Anil Kumble, the top Indian spinner in the World Cup, makes a guest appearance in "Meerabai - Not Out", a film about a woman's obsession with the game.

It stars actress Mandira Bedi who has found more fame as a cricket host on a television channel than in her films.

Bollywood rarely makes sports-themed films, but one of its biggest hits, "Lagaan" (Land Tax), centered around the victory of a group of poor Indians over an English cricket team.

The film received an Oscar nomination in 2002 in the best foreign film category.

In 2005, another film "Iqbal", about a deaf and dumb cricketer, had commercial success and won critical acclaim.

"Say Salaam India" is the story of four boys' struggle to make it big in cricket. It is expected to hit cinemas during the closing stages of the World Cup.

Big budget Bollywood studios are also betting on sports-themed films this year, including "Chak De India" (Come on India) starring Shah Rukh Khan who redeems himself as coach of a women's hockey team.
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