Bollywood puts up stage shows to tap greener pastures

July 20th, 2008 - 8:44 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amitabh Bachchan
By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) The mammoth Hindi film industry is pinning its hopes on high-pitched live stage shows to fulfil the ever elusive dreams of achieving crossover success. From legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan to Bollywood Badshah Shah Rukh Khan, everyone is busy with world concerts. Based on the unique format of popular stars dancing to hit songs from films and, at times, indulging in daredevil stunts, the stage shows are the latest — though time-tested — salvo from Bollywood aimed at expanding its markets.

The renewed interest in live shows among the A-list stars is fuelled by the desire to break into virgin markets without having to change or compromise on what the industry is intrinsically known for.

The Amitabh-led “Unforgettable Tour” that kick-started this week is by far the biggest-ever coming together of Bollywood’s big guns and nothing less than a well-orchestrated marketing strategy for an industry that is cash-flush and itching for more.

The multi-nation tour has virtually every big star angling to be part of it. The importance of these live shows can be gauged by the fact that the industry is having one of its best runs ever as far as cash inflow is concerned and the calendars of top-bracket talents are booked up for the next couple of years. No matter how successful, no live show can match the opportunity cost of these stars.

The gruelling high-voltage “Unforgettable Tour” stars the first family of Bollywood and a bevy of other top film stars. Legendary actor Amitabh, his star son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World, along with Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and Madhuri Dixit are the top draw. The show is billed as a “best of” Indian cinema - known for its elaborate costume and musical numbers - with 70 songs from different films reproduced on stage.

Attendance of die-hard Bollywood fans is guaranteed because it has been nearly two decades since Amitabh undertook such a tour. At 66, Bollywood patriarch has more than 150 films to his credit.

“I’m 66 now and it looks a bit ridiculous for me to be wanting to come on stage again, but I think the enthusiasm of the entire team and the fact that we’re about to bring out our Indian entertainment to foreign shores has inspired me and provoked me to come up here again,” news reports quoted him as saying.

After performing in 11 cities in Canada and the US, the show will travel to Netherlands, Africa and Southeast Asia. In all, it is a tour of 28 cities across five continents.

On the other hand, Bollywood’s reigning star Shah Rukh Khan will also be performing across 25 cities for the “Temptations Reloaded” tour that will pan out in two phases. “Temptations Reloaded” has Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal and Ganesh Hedge performing along with Shah Rukh.

Shah Rukh’s “Temptation” show in 2005 was a huge hit.

Though “Rock Star” with Salman Khan, John Abraham and Shahid Kapur did not do as well, the resurgence is popularity of all three is likely to get organisers to re-launch it.

Popular star Preity, who was a part of “Temptations”, said she believes the “Unforgettable” tour is just the start of the Bollywood industry expanding around the world.

“There was a time when there were very few shows, only Indians would watch our films. Today, our films are being screened all across the world. It is not just people from India originally who are watching these films, it is people from everywhere all across the globe that are now watching our films,” says Preity.

Even as Hollywood’s growth has reached a plateau across the world, Bollywood is tipped to be the sunrise industry in global entertainment. The fast-growing entertainment and media industries in India and other developing countries are attracting capital and building audiences in the way their Western counterparts have not.

Revenue from India’s movie industry hit $2.2 billion in 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, less than a 10th that of Hollywood. On the other hand, Bollywood is expected to double in size by 2012, thanks to 13 percent annual growth, versus less than three percent in Hollywood. The number of tickets, three billion a year, is tremendous but the cost of tickets is too low when compared to that in Western markets.

With this in mind, Bollywood producers are aiming for rich Western audiences.

But the song-and-dance drama-based film format has limited audience beyond the Indian subcontinent and major chunk of the 25 million people of Indian origin who live outside of India.

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