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B’wood bounces back

Hindi-language film biz will be back in black this year.

NEW DELHI — Thanks to a jingoistic war pic and a rare foray into sci-fi, Bollywood had a better 2003 than 2002 and is looking forward to the trend continuing.

The mood has been buoyed by a major KPMG report indicating the beleaguered Hindi-language film industry will be back in the black this year.

More than 20 of the 245 Hindi films released in 2003 made a profit compared with only two in 2002, industry analysts said.

The biggest hit was “Koi mil gaya” (Someone Found), in which heartthrob Hrithik Roshan plays a mentally challenged boy making contact with an alien. Bollywood’s first dabble in science fiction earned nearly 800 million rupees ($17.6 million).

“This year has definitely been better for Indian filmmakers,” said veteran moviemaker Subhash Ghai. “The audience has matured and are now more open to the new genre of films.”

He said Indian cinemagoers were also starting to go to movies that lack star power. One of 2003’s surprise hits was “Ishq vishq” (Love Schlove), the story of a college love triangle, which drew young crowds to the theaters even though it had no well-known actors.

But Bollywood also scored with its usual combination of big names, romance and music in pics such as the $6.5 million New York-set love story “Kal ho naa ho” (Tomorrow May Not Come), starring Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta.

Screen legend Amitabh Bachchan did his usual part in boosting returns with “Baghban” (The Gardener), about an elderly couple neglected by their children.

And the year ended with patriotic production “LoC” (Line of Control), filmmaker J.P. Dutta’s take on the 1999 Kargil conflict in which Indian troops battled Pakistan-backed rebels in Kashmir.

Average seat occupancy in India was 30% of capacity in 2003 compared with 20% the year before. But the figure still pales compared with the 45%-50% occupancy seen in the mid-1990s.

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