Strike, cricket buffet Bollywood

Top pick drops more than half

NEW DELHI — Bollywood box office grosses plummeted last week due to a strike in Mumbai by cinema owners and a gripping cricket series involving archrivals India and Pakistan.

Real-life cop flick “Ab tak chappan” (Till Now 56) kept its top slot but earned only 1.57 million rupees ($35,000) in Mumbai and Delhi, just under half of the sum it earned the previous week.

The story was the same for second-place pic “Munnabhai MBBS,” which earned $34,000 last week against $46,000 the previous week.

A strike by owners of single-screen theaters in Maharashtra state — home of Bollywood — against stiff entertainment taxes demanded by the provincial government combined with the cricket series in Pakistan gave Bollywood a particularly lean spell.

For auds, the pickings have been equally lean, however, with many producers delaying their releases due to India’s first full cricket tour of Pakistan in almost 15 years.

“Cricket is like a religion in India,” said Nestor D’Souza, president of the Cinematograph Exhibitors Assn. of India. Key film releases postponed so far include “Main hoon naa” (I Am There) and “Bewafa” (Unfaithful).

The only big-budget film due for release during the cricket series is “Masti” (Fun), starring Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta.

Bollywood on average normally releases about two big movies a week.

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