Bollywood ready to unleash mega releases

MUMBAI: India's Hindi-language film industry is looking to get back on track after the resolution of a damaging row between producers and multiplex cinema owners that halted new releases for two months.

More than 100 films are waiting to be released because of the standoff, which was prompted by a call from producers for an even split of box office takings and ended last week with an agreement on more equitable revenue sharing.

But with Bollywood films traditionally opening on Fridays -- and now not enough first nights left in the year to prevent too many big films releasing on the same day -- studios are working on a strategy to maximise revenues.

Big name films are normally released in time for the summer vacation in April and May, the Diwali holiday in October and Christmas in December. At other times, rival studios tend to avoid going head-to-head.

"Producers are forming a committee and will clear the backlog of films first," said Mukesh Bhatt, chairman of the United Forum of Bollywood Producers.

"There are six producers who will be a part of this committee and they will decide which films will release when. It is essential because we don't want to eat into each other's business." The first release slated to hit screens on Friday is "Kal Kisne Dekha" (Who Has Seen Tomorrow), which has small roles for two of the child stars from the Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire," Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail.

Another much-anticipated movie, "New York," starring John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Irrfan Khan, is due out on June 26.

The film charts the reactions of international students in New York at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the city by Islamist militants.

"Kambakkht Ishq," about an Indian stuntman who takes Hollywood by storm but is unlucky in love, is expected to be released in July.

The Bollywood-meets-Hollywood movie stars action hero Akshay Kumar and screen siren Kareena Kapoor, with cameos from the likes of "Rambo" and "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone and, reportedly, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Other films due out include "Aladdin," voiced by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, and "Blue," an underwater extravaganza about a sunken treasure ship said to have been inspired by the Hollywood production "The Deep".

"Blue" features Kylie Minogue performing in a song and dance routine with Kumar.

The multiplex boycott is thought to have cost Bollywood 63 million dollars, according to most estimates, although exact figures are notoriously difficult to come by as there is no official body monitoring film revenues.

The weekly news magazine India Today described the first five months of 2009 at "Bollywood's Worst Season" -- with net box office takings down to 51 million dollars, compared with 71 million in the same period last year.

Even before the boycott, India's 2.3-billion-dollar film industry was feeling the pinch from the global economic slowdown, reining in budgets and actors' fees as audience numbers dwindled.

Film critic Indu Mirani said the strike had been "very damaging" for Bollywood but even with a strategy not to release two big films on the same day, not everyone could benefit.

"The big studios and big producers will see what happens to their films but when it comes to the smaller films and producers, who will look after their interests?" she said.

But Sheetal Malpani, who analyses the Indian film industry at Mumbai brokerage Brics Security, was upbeat, saying Bollywood would recover and overall revenues would not be hit too hard.

"They can definitely bounce back. There are a lot of movies waiting to be released," he told AFP.

"Business should pick up again. We will see large occupancy in the movie theatres in the next one to two months."