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Boom time as Bollywood goes global

  • Story Highlights
  • Indian film industry is emerging as a new global power player
  • Bollywood makes 800 films each year -- twice that of Hollywood
  • Ticket sales also highest in the world
  • Indian directors now daring to break with tradition in format, subject matter
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(CNN) -- Bollywood is booming. That's the message coming from the Mumbai-based movie business, which makes 800 films each year -- twice that of Hollywood -- and generates the biggest ticket sales in the world.

Its colorful storylines peppered with song and dance have won millions of fans.

But now the Indian film industry is emerging as the new global power player in the movies, and its directors and actors are daring to push the boundaries of its well-told tales with fresh confidence.

CNN spoke to the stars at the Indian Film Awards in Yorkshire, England, and traveled to Mumbai to discover what lies at the heart of the Indian movie scene.

Preity Zinta, star of "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom", explained the appeal of Bollywood films to their passionate Indian fans. "[In India] there is a huge amount of people under the poverty line," she told CNN. "The only source of entertainment for them is to go out and see a film. They don't want to see realistic cinema; they don't want to see what's happening because of global warming or some political issue. They want to escape, they want to see a happy life, they want to see a beautiful actress and actor, great music. So three hours for them is a way of escaping into their world."

But as Indian films' appeal spreads and its movies are increasingly appreciated by a global audience, is that changing the face of Bollywood?

As part of the Bollywood boom, directors are daring to step outside the set pieces and stories traditionally covered by the genre.

Abhishek Bachchan, actor and son of the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, explained to CNN, "The growth of many more multiplexes in India ... shows that we can reach out to more people, to a more select group if need be, and with the kind of funding coming into Indian cinema, I think a lot of makers get to make the films that they really want to make and not just bow down to commercial norms."

Actress Shilpa Shetty also believes that times are moving on -- and that Indian films are actively seeking a worldwide audience. "I think the whole face of the Indian film industry is changing," she told CNN. "It's a welcome change, 'cause film makers are willing to put in much more in terms of money, in terms of ideas, in terms of risks and they're willing to do all that it takes to put Indian films on the international scene."

But actress and superstar Aishwarya Rai is not convinced that this change signifies anything new. She told CNN, "Viewers will go through phases of assessing whether it's changing. But it has always been diverse: it has always explored different avenues, always different subjects, different genres that it has been compartmentalized into."

Perhaps some of the change that's happening now is indicative of a deeper issue. That's what Anurag Basu, director of "Life in a... Metro," thinks. He feels the split between traditional Bollywood films and their more modern cousins reflects the cultural divide in India itself -- and this is proving challenging for directors.

He explained to CNN, "The kind of films which are made for rural areas and urban India are different now. The films which have been doing good in urban India are not necessarily doing good in rural India... You are still making formula films with dance and songs and cliches, they don't necessarily work in urban India because they don't want to look at the same [stuff] again but [the newer films] don't work in rural India. So to make a film which does well on both the sides of the country is difficult."

Whether it's traditional or more cutting-edge films, no one can deny the magic -- and the draw -- of Bollywood. Abhishek Bachchan explained what enthralls people about the Indian film industry. "I think across the border across the world, people can relate to our films, to the emotion in it," he said. "Most importantly, like I've always believed, the audience gets poetic justice in three hours. You go through a wonderful journey and at the end of it you get poetic justice.

"A lot of people in their entire lives don't get to see that kind of justice. You get an experience with the song, dance, color and a gamut of emotions and you come out fully entertained. And I think that is very unique to Indian films."

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But as Bollywood grows, is Hollywood drawing influences from its Eastern cousin? "Each industry learns from each other," Bachchan continued. "There's a lot we can learn from there and there's a lot I hope they can learn from us. I'm glad the world is showing interest in India and in Indian films because I really do believe we have a lot to offer and I think it's about time they stood up and took notice. I'm very happy it's happening during a time when I'm actively working here as well."

And what inspires such passion in the Indian film industry's audiences? Aishwarya Rai told CNN, "Watch it and you'll know exactly why this world is so loved and adored by its viewers and I so cherish being a part of it. You've got to watch our movies to discover Bollywood." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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