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Bollywood booms in Britain

Bollywood, massive in Asia, now appealing to more in the West
Bollywood, massive in Asia, now appealing to more in the West  

By CNN's Aysha Iqbal

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Fans of Bollywood -- Asia's answer to Hollywood -- are flocking to UK cinemas in record numbers, thanks to a film which fuses east and west.

Movie critics say "Asoka" has set a trend, breaking Bollywood out of its traditional format of boy meets girl in a colourful music extravaganza.

"Asoka", currently showing in more than 80 cinemas in Britain, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Bollywood industry.

The film has been described as "visually dazzling" and "adding a new dimension" to Bollywood by the showbiz editor of Eastern Eye and Asian Times newspaper, Asjad Nazir.

The film tells the story of a young prince in the third century who became a tyrant in his pursuit of other kingdoms. However he is overcome with guilt and turns to spirituality, dedicating his life to spreading the universal message of Buddha.

But some fans have complained that the film is not pure Bollywood. Saira Rahim, who attended the premiere in late October, said: "This film is not what I expected to see. When I come to watch a Bollywood movie I do not come to watch a serious philosophical film like "Asoka" -- the film defeats the whole purpose of what Bollywood is about."

The film has had an aggressive advertising campaign around London and has prompted glowing reviews from some of Britain's mainstream broadsheet papers, praising its "action, drama and musical undertones."

Some Bollywood insiders feel that a film like "Asoka" is what Bollywood needs to give it some more integrity.

"Bollywood films, although they have become popular, have been recognised more for being light and fluffy escapism. Asoka is showing that there is more to the industry, and that it can produce films that are thought provoking and have substance," said Ahmed Khan, a Bollywood critic. "It is something that the industry needs."

Bollywood's appeal has not been lost on Hollywood. Baz Lurman, who directed this year's box office smash "Moulin Rouge", featured Nicole Kidman in a choli, the cast wearing bindis and turbans and the illuminated Taj Mahal in the background.

But "Asoka" is a departure from the usual Bollywood film as it has a universal theme that everyone can relate to, says Jai Kumar, Bollywood expert and journalist. "There is a different style to the film that has a worldwide appeal."

Bollywood produces more than 800 films a year and sells billions of tickets all over the world. In parts of central England where there are large Asian communities, cinema chains like Warner dedicate several screens to Bollywood films.

The industry has received widespread recognition in the West. Last year composer Andrew Lloyd Weber caught the Bollywood bug and announced plans to team up with the Indian film industry for his musical "Bombay Dreams."

The musical will also feature Mumbai composer A.R. Rehman, who will write the score for the production and help will bring Bollywood to the stage in London's West End for the first time.

Meanwhile Madam Tussaud's has been creating a waxwork of Bollywood's living legend Amitabh Bachan.

The London museum decided that it was time for a Bollywood icon to stand among the likes of Mohammad Ali and Cher.


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