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Amitabh Bachchan reveals the secret of Bollywood's success

By Susannah Palk and Lianne Turner, CNN
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Discovering the magic of Bollywood
  • Bollywood is the largest film industry in the world, making an average 1,000 films a year
  • Around 10 million Indian go to the cinema every single day
  • Choreographer: Song and dance is key to Bollywood's success
  • Bachchan says Bollywood is pure escapism and has "a bit of everything"

Mumbai, India (CNN) -- It's an extraordinary concoction of dashing heroes, evil villains, insurmountable obstacles and star-crossed lovers.

Welcome to the world of Bollywood, Mumbai's film industry, where anything can happen, so long as there's a happy ending and lots of singing and dancing.

The implausible plotlines and over-the-top dance moves may sound cheesy to some, but it's this very formula that has entranced an entire nation, with around 10 million Indians going to the cinema every single day.

"We have a bit of everything," said Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. "When people go to get entertained, they go to see a bit of music and dance and drama.

In India, a song can have absolutely nothing to do with the movie, but still you put them in there because they bring in the crowds.
--Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan.

A living legend in Hindi-language cinema, Bachchan, better known in India as "The Big B," has made over 150 films in a career spanning 40 years.

"Our films have a lot of escapism," he continued. "Many times the West (has) been somewhat cynical about the quality of our films. But I think perhaps they do not understand the reason why our films are made and why they have this particular nature," Bachchan said.

Producing over 1,000 films each year, Bollywood is the largest film industry in the world. But unlike its American counterpart, success comes not from international saturation, but its ability to cater to the millions of hard-working Indians across the subcontinent.

Farah Khan is one of Bollywood's most successful choreographers. She believes the essential element of any Bollywood film, and the key to the genre's success, is the iconic song and dance routine.

"It is not an easy life in India," she said. "If my driver or maid wants to go and watch a movie, they want to have a damn good time.

"In India, a song can have absolutely nothing to do with the movie, but still you put them in there because they bring in the crowds. Audiences want to dance, they want to have a party.

"They don't want to go and get depressed and watch some hard-hitting, realistic, depressing movie," she continued.

Bachchan agrees: "Indian audiences don't want to go inside a theatre to be educated. They want to go in for entertainment."

Bollywood's unique style and unapologetic "cheesiness" is, says Khan, its greatest asset. While Hollywood has infiltrated cinema industries across the globe, it has failed to dilute India's passion for the genre.

"I really feel that the only reason Bollywood has not been eaten up by Hollywood like other film industries, is because of our song and dance," said Khan. "We have that ingredient that Hollywood films don't.

That's not to say Hollywood doesn't have a foothold in India. But instead of seeing their presences as a threat, Bachchan sees the growing interest from the west as an opportunity to revolutionize the industry.

"With the opening up of the economy, there is a greater exchange of ideas," he said. "We are all trying to improve on our quality of films and I'm very happy to see the younger generation not being afraid to go out and search for the best technology available in the West."

Not only is Hollywood influencing the use of new technology, but working practices are changing too. Gone are the days where actors worked on six to seven films at any one time -- in the case of Bachchan, filming three movies in a single day.

Distribution and marketing practices are also changing according to Bachchan: "Hollywood (has) a great marketing acumen which is an element missing in Indian cinema. Now we can work alongside them to ensure our product gets the maximum viewers."

But despite collaboration with industry giants in the West, Bollywood remains to its core an Indian product, tailored exclusively to the Indian masses.

"At the base of it," said Bachchan. "The (films) that will really work big are still the ones that will be closely identified with our culture and with our morals and our ethics."