On dozens of bare dirt lots an hour's drive from Bombay, which is now officially called Mumbai, Indian filmmakers churn out more movies each year than are produced anywhere else in the world. For most Americans, a Hollywood movie is just part of an exciting evening out, but for millions of Indians, a Bollywood extravaganza is a means of escape from the harsh reality they must endure each day. This need, say those who make and follow such films, largely explains the seemingly inexplicable hodgepodge of melodrama and music, madcap and mayhem, terror and travelogue that characterizes them. To begin to understand, think: "Fred and Ginger Meet Shaft and Britney During a Perfect Storm on the Road to Bali."
Bollywood itself is, to an outsider, as inexplicable as its movies. Most productions follow no story line at all; directors operate by the seats of their pants. Critics say new pictures are merely imitations of earlier hits, but most of the 800 or so movies Bollywood makes each year bomb at the box office anyhow. Some in and around Bollywood believe that organized crime has thoroughly infiltrated the industry. There have been gangland-style shootings, and recently a major star was kidnapped and held hostage for more than three months. But if the glamour of Bollywood fascinates criminals, it also continues to attract legitimate businessmen who invest big-time. "It is a risky business," concedes one such entrepreneur, "but if you work with a good director...you won't go