Dubbed Hollywood fare trumps Bollywood

'Avatar' finishes second only to '3 Idiots' in 2009

MUMBAI -- James Cameron's 3D blockbuster "Avatar" was the second-highest grossing film of 2009 in India, a feat hitherto unthinkable for a foreign film in the world's most prolific movie industry.

"Avatar" routed the best of Bollywood at the boxoffice, finishing second only to the homegrown "3 Idiots" in the strongest indication yet that local audiences were warming to Hollywood fare.

Sony's apocalyptic movie "2012" didn't do too badly either. Its takings of 950 million rupees ($21.3 million ) at the Indian boxoffice placed it just behind "Avatar" in the list of most successful Hollywood films released in the country.

"Today, we are taking Hollywood films to the smallest center in India -- that wouldn't have happened earlier," said Kercy Daruwala, managing director of Sony Pictures India.

"But because of better screens and the fact that so many films are being dubbed in regional languages now, these films have a much bigger reach and hence do much better."

Trade analysts believe reaching out to audiences in their own languages was a strategic move that is helping Hollywood films click with non-English speakers.

Sixty percent of India revenues for "2012," dubbed in four regional languages, came from those versions.

"Hollywood has a lot of things going for it -- technology like 3D, great special effects and great stories," said Vajir Singh, executive editor at Box Office India magazine.

"If you dub the film in the right language, audiences will come to watch these films."

Nearly 60 foreign films were released in India last year, and did a combined business of 3.8 billion rupees, according to a report by accounting firm KPMG.

The unexpected haul may also be seen as Bollywood's failure to come up with big-ticket projects that could stave off the challenge of Hollywood.

Not that it's all hunky-dory for American films.

Hollywood stars do not fly down to India for publicity campaigns and the threat of piracy still looms over the industry. The average Hindi film opens with as many 500 prints, more than twice that of a Western project.

But there's still no stopping the Hollywood brigade.

Studios are awaiting the release of the Jackie Chan starrer "The Karate Kid," "Resident Evil 4" and the next "Shrek" sequel, all movies that will be dubbed and shown even in the smaller cities across India.

The success of "Avatar" has also opened the door to more 3D films in India, with Olympian epic "Clash of the Titans" making a strong start earlier this month.

"This year we have as many 18 3D films coming out and a lot of theatre owners including ours are going all out to increase 3D screen penetration," said Tushar Dhingra, COO of Big Cinemas.

"The Hollywood film market is a niche market now but its share in the pie is becoming bigger with every passing year."