Bollywood is on the verge of making the crossover to Hollywood, a leading Indian filmmaker says.
Speaking at the International Indian Film Awards in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Vidhu Vinod Chopra said cinema-goers could expect a sea change in the industry which has, for generations, copied Hollywood films, adding elaborate song-and-dance numbers, but stripping out sex scenes.
Soon too, Indian movie idols could be joining the meagre handful of Indian directors who have found success in the West. Though Indian screen stars have literally millions of fans, they would likely pass down a Manhattan street unrecognised.
That all might change, predicts producer Chopra, who says actors from India's huge talent pool could soon become international celebrities.
"It will happen, really. It's on the way," said Chopra, whose latest film, Parineeta, premiered on Thursday at the awards, the Indian Oscars. The awards will be announced on Saturday.
Chopra says his 2003 Hindi-language comedy hit Munnabhai MBSS is the first Indian film to be bought by an American studio. Twentieth Century Fox is putting it into production under the title Gangsta MD, the story of a hoodlum who pretends to be a doctor to impress his parents.
Though uncast so far, it will be typical Hollywood, with no on-screen link to India and all-American stars.
Bollywood releases about 900
films a year
But the director is Mira Nair, one of the first Indian directors to have scored with a traditional Hollywood film when she made Mississippi Masala in 1991.
Nair also is directing The Namesake, a story by the prize-winning American-Indian author Jhampa Lahiri, which has a cast of mostly unknown Indian actors.
Optimists in Bollywood - the Mumbai-based Indian film industry that releases about 900 films a year - say they have the potential to go global, in the same way India has become a leader in the hi-tech industry and in worldwide call centres.
Veteran Indian star Amitabh Bachchan is among those promoting Bollywood worldwide.
India has the world's largest movie business and the largest audience. About 3.6 billion tickets were sold last year in that country alone, and Hindi-language movies are popular throughout Asia and the Middle East.
But they rarely travel well to the West. Melodramatic and formulaic, they are made to appeal to the vast audience of the Indian hinterland who pay pennies to be entertained by up to three hours of music and escapist romance and adventure - too unrealistic for commercial success elsewhere.
To an Indian, there is nothing unnatural about a love-starred couple singing in the desert of Rajasthan, then being transported magically to the Swiss Alps for the next stanza.
"To understand our films, you have to understand our culture"
Vidhu Vinod Chopra,
Music is elemental to the Indian way of life. "The West doesn't understand this," Chopra says. "We have a lot of music in our system, and a lot of music in our movies. To understand our films, you have to understand our culture."
Indian movies also stay within the acceptable limits of Indian sensibilities. A full-lip kiss has yet to be seen in a Bollywood film, and love scenes are conducted suggestively rather than explicitly.
But the industry is maturing. What has been known as the parallel cinema - films dealing with serious issues and excluding the lavish musical numbers - are emerging from art houses into mainstream theatres, and established actors are less shy about appearing in them.
Even the sex scenes are becoming less inhibited, though even the most daring would likely get a PG rating in the West.
In a film he shot 10 years ago, Chopra used shadows, silhouettes, necklines. "This film has a lot more skin," Chopra said of Parineeta.