Friday, March 23, 2012

Why are Indian movies 3 hours long?

One of the famous saying in India goes - recession times or inflation times, three things would never lose their sheen in India - movies, cricket and marriages. I would try to cover all of these and more in this blog series, starting with movies.
Indian movies is a phenomenon considered bizarre by rest of the world. Movies are too long - 3 hours as against rest of the world which produces 1.5 hour movies. Most of these movies are unreal, extremely predictable and almost formula driven. Songs - which underline the disconnection from reality- are most difficult to swallow for them. The actors and actresses wear flashy make-ups, flashy clothes, give most unreal expression and virtually every situation is melodramatic. Why on earth do Indians love such movies, the world wonders.

Getting the facts right - India is the largest movie producer in the world. About 1,000 movies are produced in India every year across various languages and regions. The second largest movie producer is hollywood - USA which produces 500 movies. Although, currently, hollywood is the market leader in terms of revenues from movies, but things are set to change according to PWC. PWC's report on Titled "See the future" outlines Hollywood which is the global center for filmed entertainment today will steadily lose its influence mainly to Mumbai and Shanghai. Although, Hollywood would still be number 1 in 2040 in terms of market size, the gap between Hollywood and Indian movies would be much narrower. (source:

The question is why do Indians love such movies so much?

Cinema arrived in India in in 1913 when Dadasaheb Phalke produced a silent movie called Raja Harishchandra based on the sanskrit epic. The format of the movie was guided by the entertainment options that cinema replaced. The main competition for movies back the was musical dramas. This was a very unique entertainment option that ruled the sub-continent. The drama would be usually based on mythological story and characters. Songs were integral part of the story. These were based on classical ragas. The actors would not only act but also sing during the play. What is most astonishing is, these dramas would be extremely interactive, open ended performance . If the audience liked a song, they would request the on-stage actor to sing it again. And again and again. The actors would take pride in how many "once more" requests they got during any performance. A good play which would be scripted for 3 hours would take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to end. In fact actors would consider it a disgrace if the drama ended exactly 3 hours without any "once more" request.

Indian cinema was competing against such advanced, interactive form of entertainment. Naturally, some basic things such as songs could not be altered. Such as duration of 3 hours, which could not change at all.

But Why 3 hours? Isn't it too long. Considering the history and predecessor of Indian cinema, 3 hours is not too long at all. Dramas used to go on for much longer duration. In those days a significant chunk of the audience used to travel from nearby towns and villages. So the entertainment duration had to be longer than their journey time. Anything shorter and the option would no longer be attractive. Even these days, cinema is screened in multiplexes, the best value for money that is spent in reaching the cinema halls and buying tickets is in cinema that lasts 3 hours. Simple.  Various experiments of altering movie durations have met with limited success. What is even more surprising is longer movies (yeah, longer than 3 hours) have done better business than smaller movies. Hence, about 3 hour seems to be commercially optimal duration. Bizzare but this is the way Indians like their movies.

In my next blog, I would talk about "Why would songs be always an integral part of Indian Cinema?"

Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? – The Book

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