Saturday, January 27, 2007

Economics of Bollywood

Bollywood seems to understand the law of comparative advantage and specialization very well. To most Americans and Westerners in general, it seems strange that actors and actresses in Bollywood movies do not sing their own songs. The concept of a well established market for play-back singers is strange to them. Looking at it from an economic perspective it makes perfect sense. Most actors have pathetic voices and would top the charts of funniest and ridiculous singing talent that we see in the first few episodes of any season of American Idol. They could take singing lessons like Western actors do for their musicals, but then that would be an enormous investment in lessons etc and some good actors may not even be on the silver screen, cause they just cannot sing. That would be a disaster since singing and dancing is such a big part of bollywood, and also a lot of revenue is generated out of movie sound tracks (sale of audio cassettes, and cds). So Bollywood has put the law of comparative advantage to good use and has specialized talent in playback singing. Now, not only are there successful actors, there are also successful playback singers. Specialization, that is raking in money for Bollywood.

Taking this idea a little further is the presence of what are called item numbers in most commercial Indian movies (Bollywood and other regional language). Item numbers are typically very provocative song and dance sequences which are not connected to the plot in any way, but are essential cause they sell. Typical item numbers have terrific dance sequences by very sexy women (usually a top model of some kind), scantily clad and set to a great tune with lewd and double edged lyrics. Most Indian heriones are sexy, but may not be great at such dancing. For a long time, atleast until the late 90s, there were probably one or two 'item girls', Helen being the most well known and best of all of them. They tended to be B rated actresses, who failed to make a mark acting, but owing to a terrific body and dancing skills, got the roles of the vamps, but they were part of the plot in most movies. They were not well respected by the public, but it was known that their song and dance sequence was required to complete the movie. These days there are quite a few 'item girls', and what is more they are not part of the plot. The 'item numbers' are just random in any movie. Law of comparative advantage and specilization at work again. Although censorship is huge in Indian cinema, the entrepreneurial talent in the industry is obvious. It is truly an industry where individuals are rewarded or punished by the public. You make a good movie, you rake it in, you make a bad movie, however sexy your item number you bomb at the box office. Hurrah for the markets!!

1 comment:

rovinroustabout said...

just landed at yr blog, while doing sm research on bollywood economics.....well dont mind but yr analysis is disappointing.....but i am glad at least ppl are thinking in these lines....keep it up