As the most productive film industry in the world, Bollywood is a well oiled machine. India’s entertainment industry produces over 2,000 movies a year across 40 different languages, and “Bollywood” based out of Mumbai is responsible for a third of all tickets sold.
To keep up that staggering output, Indian productions shifted to an ultra-efficient production schedule to accommodate the schedules of in-demand talent and capitalize on the industry’s momentum.
So how long does it take to make a Bollywood movie?
In total, the typical Bollywood movie takes 30 days to six months to shoot, with 30 to 60 day production schedules becoming more and more common.
That said, every production varies based on how many set-ups and locations are required by the script. And if the film includes special effects, that can also take more coordination in production and add time to the shoot.
However, the longest variable is the actor’s schedule and availability, which can delay a shoot for months to years.
So with the introduction out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the Bollywood film industry and also at the production time of some of the best Bollywood movies of all times.
How long did some of the most popular Bollywood films take to make?
Here’s how long some of the most popular Bollywood movies of the last few years took to make:
|Jolly LLB 2
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|Ki and Ka
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In the case of Housefull and Jolly LLB 2, the star of both films dictated the schedule wrap in 60 days or less. Akshay Kumar, one of Bollywood’s most in-demand actors, films up to four movies a year and thus expects each film to take no longer than 60 days total.
The two films with the shortest production timeline ever created were actually both Indian films as well.
Which Bollywood movie took the longest?
While three month production schedules are more common, some popular Bollywood films still take a long road.
For instance, the mythological horror epic Tumbbad took three years to finish, as the beautiful and critically well-received film took its time to turn every frame into an art piece.
On average, the epic fantasy Bollywood films can take three years with all the special effects.
However, the Indian film with the longest timeline to the screen was the historical epic Mughal-e-Azam, which took over 14 years to make it to theaters after production began in 1946.
The reason the film took so long was because it lost a financier and shifted cast and crew multiple times. To put it in perspective, the budget for a single song sequence was more than any previous Indian film.
Another part of the reason for the delay was the Partition of India, which separated “British India ” into what is today known as India and Pakistan. Adjusted for inflation, the film could still be the highest grossing Indian film of all time.
The Indian film with the second longest production schedule was the film Meri Biwi Ka Jawab Nahin, which took over 10 years to be produced before it was ultimately released in 2004. The film was technically shot in 1994, but was delayed a full release until 2004.
How much do Bollywood movies cost to make?
Bollywood movies can be made for as little as 1 lakh ($1,331) or as high as 100 cr ($13.3 million) depending on how much is spent on actor paychecks and marketing and distribution.
The average “big budget” Bollywood movie costs around 50 to 60 lakh (around $75,000 to $80,000) to produce without special effects and then the rest of that budget is then used to pay actors salary and for the special effects.
For instance, if you were to hire one of India’s most commercially successful actors, Salman Khan, you might have to pay him up to 80 crore for the role and pay another 20 crore for marketing.
This is according to the independent producer Vivek Jung Rana, who reported being able to produce an indie budget film for only 10 lakh ($13,970) without any special effects or name talent actors.
To accomplish this, he used tricks like hiring personal cooks instead of a catering company and renting an apartment for the cast instead of putting them up in their own hotel rooms.
What is the biggest film in India?
The highest grossing Bollywood film in India, not adjusted for inflation, is the sequel to Baahubali called Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, which grossed over 1,810 crore ($257.25 million).
However, the highest grossing Indian movie is the Hindi film Dangal which grossed 2,024 crore ($287 million).
How has the pandemic affected Bollywood?
Despite the pandemic shutdowns of the last two years, India still released 104 movies in 2021.
Indian cinemas mostly reopened to half or full capacity October of 2021, but by the time the major production “83” hit theaters, the Indian government of Delhi had to close theaters once again due to the omicron variant.
While the film industry was expected to boom again in 2022, many popular productions have been pushed back from being released in January.
Despite theaters still being open at half capacity, films like Jersey, RRR, Shyam, Prithviraj, and Anek will all have delayed releases in 2022, though the delayed release of Gangubai Kathiawandi came out the weekend of February 25.
What does this mean for Bollywood’s production schedule?
There are at least 63 Indian films that were set to be released between 2020 and 2022 that could come out in 2022 or 2023, and if last year’s production schedule is repeated, there will still be a steady flow of films throughout 2024.
That said, Bollywood’s biggest threat could be due to the growing popularity of films produced in South India.
Because Bollywood is already remaking a lot of South Indian films, many viewers are flocking to the original films from the Southern part of the country due to their originality, and easier distribution.
This is because regional films can be distributed in specific states instead of waiting for full theatrical openings at full capacity, as many major Bollywood films do.
The biggest question now is how many films will go direct to streaming as opposed to wait for a full theatrical release. For example, the filmmaker Karan Johar decided to skip the theatrical route and release his film Gehraiyaan over Amazon Prime Video instead.
Now the worry of the industry is that many more films will do the same, as the country has over 75 streaming services.
While many regions have floated the idea or actually launched their own regional streaming services, only some have broken through to be a major success. But as the industries of different regions grow, so too will the demand to watch these films on streaming.
What are the best Bollywood movies of all time?
If this is your first time learning about Bollywood films and want to watch some of the best films in India, check out the top 100 Indian films compiled by TimeOut. It’s an exhaustive list of the best films from India, and not all of them are strictly “Bollywood.”
The top 10 range from the 1960s to early 2000s, so keep in mind that they are “film classics” rather than modern commercial hits. But they are a great place to start for anyone interested in learning about India’s rich film history. They are:
- Sholay, a “masala western” about escaped convicts who help a town escape the clutches of bandits.
- Mughal-e-Azam, the historical romance we shared above
- Mother India, the first Hindi film nominated for an Oscar
- Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, an epic family-comedy and romance about the choice between familial responsibility or “forbidden” love
- Pyaasa, a tragic (musical) romance about a struggling poet
- Guide, an adaptation of a novel about a tour guide who turns into a great holy man after an extra-marital affair
- Deewar, an action thriller between two brothers who take the divergent paths of crime and law and ultimately face off.
- Lagaan, a historical drama about the perils of colonialism that follows an impoverished cricket team who combats imperial rule (also Oscar nominated)
- Pakeezah, a historical romance about two lovers and their challenge against “respectable” society
- Amar Akbar Anthony, a comedic and dramatic musical of three brothers separated at birth that set the template that many Bollywood films follow today
And as for my own personal favorite, the film 3 Idiots (#13) is a more modern film that tackles the balance of familial expectation and personal fulfillment.