MOVIES ABROAD: The New Maharajahs

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Their silk saris shimmering under the brilliant klieg lights, the shapely dancers swayed around the gaudy temple door. "Cut!" barked the director again and again. In a torrid Bombay movie studio one day last week, the simple, three-minute sequence was reshot eight times. But for the girls, it was worth every minute of a ten-hour day. Like such cinemorsels as Top Star Madhubala and a few other lucky ones, any one of the lowly dancing girls may suddenly grow rajah-rich in the third biggest—and zani-est—movie industry on earth.*

Centered in Bombay, Indian moviemaking is a montage of pomp, profit and speculation. The size of the market is fantastic : 730 million annual Indian moviegoers, plus Southeast Asia, the Middle East and many countries behind the Iron Curtain. But Bombay also has trouble: a severe star shortage. For all of Bombay's 20 studios, which make some 300 pictures yearly (in 19 Indian languages), there are only twelve top stars. They work in as many as 15 movies simultaneously, dashing from studio to studio in limousines, and often a hero and heroine do their parts in so many scattered bits that they actually meet only for a climactic clinch.

New Rich. As payment, the stars demand about half a movie's budget, and get most of it under the table ("black money") in order to bilk the tax collector. Although often of low-caste birth, they win such passionate public adulation (oddly mixed with India's idea that actresses are on a level with prostitutes) that they have to be constantly escorted by baton-swinging cops. "These are the new maharajahs," says one bitter moviemaker. "When I think of the money we gamble on them, I can't sleep."

In contrast to its star shortage, Bombay alone has 225 producers, including Actress Madhubala, 25. Unlike Madhubala's secure stardom, her role as a producer is fraught with peril. An Indian producer can afford to stay in business only by setting up a new company for each movie, then quickly dissolving it one jump ahead of the creditors. Chief reason: most of the movie capital comes from tightfisted film distributors—and the distributors are in turn bilked by the exhibitors, whose 33% chunk of total movie revenue is topped only by the government's 36%. For a producer, only about 8% remains before he even pays off costs.

Old Plots. To launch a new venture, the Indian producer first consults his astrologer and then bribes two top stars to work for him. He dreams up a title but does not bother about a script; dialogue is usually written just before each day's shooting. Favorite subjects are musicals (about three times more music than in a Hollywood production), "mythologicals," adventures. Whatever the category, the moviemaker cashes in by simply currying Hollywood plots and "adapting" them.

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