The website Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb, has found growing popularity in India in recent years, and the service is responding by increasing its focus on the subcontinent.

India now has the second-largest user base for IMDb after the United States of America, the service’s founder and CEO Col Needham told Scroll.in during a recent visit to Mumbai. Simultaneously, Indian audiences are opening up to cinema from across the country, Needham said.

This finds reflection in IMDb’s recently released Top 10 Indian Movies list for 2018, which includes the Tamil films 96 and Ratsasan, the Savitri biopic Mahanati and Bollywood hits such as Andhadhun and Sanju. This year’s list of Top 10 stars in Indian cinema is led by Deepika Padukone, followed by Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. Kubbra Sait of Sacred Games has also made it to the list, at number 7, as has Radhika Apte. The lists are based on page views, according to a press release.

The British-born engineer conceived of IMDb in the early 1980s. Following its launch in the 1990s, the website evolved into a user-managed database of films (and later, television programmes) and was acquired by Amazon in 1998.

In an interview, Needham spoke about his first experience of watching a movie in an Indian theatre and IMDb’s plans for the country. Edited excerpts.

What do you like about the Indian cinema experience?
This is my first trip here, and I am overwhelmed and inspired by the atmosphere in Mumbai. I went to watch a film in an Indian theatre for the first time. One of the thing we like to do at IMDb is to go to the movies together. We went to watch Kedarnath, and it was great. It was perfect cinema, and I’ll explain why. I don’t speak Hindi and the movie has no subtitles. I had to watch and absorb the story from the visuals. It is so remarkable how much you can pick up from the way a story is told on screen.

The wonderful thing about India is the interval. We don’t have those in the UK. So there was time for a quick catch-up.

Col Needham. Courtesy IMDb.
Col Needham. Courtesy IMDb.

The top-rated Indian films list of 2018 has an interesting mix of titles. How does IMDb view the list and its market in India?
The wonderful thing about the list is the representation of regional cinema in the top 10 along with the recency of the films. What we have seen is an amazing growth over the last couple of years and accelerating interest in Indian films from people in India. And because we are a global presence, there is an interest in Indian cinema from across the world.

One of the reasons I am here is that India is now our number two country by user base. We now have 200,000 pages on Indian titles and Indian celebrities and people who work in the Indian film community.

The interesting thing is that not only are people looking at global cinema from within India, but we have seen a lot of interest in local Indian titles, particularly the regional titles that are in the top four in the list. As our users are growing within India, more and more people are voting and we get a great representation of the whole India audience within the top 10.

We have also seen a lot of interest in Indian TV titles as well. I am here to find out more. It is an exciting time technology-wise. Filmmakers can easily connect to their audience globally.

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Andhadhun (2018).

Could you take us through IMDb’s plan for India?
We have a database of 250 million data items, and this is continually growing. The information in there comes from a variety of sources like production companies, official representatives, the talent and filmmakers themselves and ordinary users. We have seen a growth in the number of people contributing information about Indian cinema from people within the country and outside the country.

In terms of lists, we have our trending list and our most anticipated list that is updated almost continuously that gives a real-time feed for what is the interest for a particular title or a show. For the more long-term, we have things like the top rated movies list, a global list and an Indian list. We also have three regional cinemas and their top 50 titles. That is a great way for people to know the newer and older exciting titles in a particular cinema.

You have often spoken about how IMDb started off as your movie diary in the 1980s.
I am a lifelong film fan. All my earliest memories of seeing movies are initially in cinemas. Home video came along in the 1980s. I had a real passion for technology as well. I got my first home computer and I started to see so many movies that I couldn’t keep track of the ones I had seen and the ones that I hadn’t seen.

So my love of technology and love of cinema combined together to create my electronic film diary. I got online super early in 1985. So I have been online for 33 years since. I then met some like-minded film and TV fans on the internet before the web existed. One thing led to another and on the 17th of October, IMDb was launched as downloadable software. I called upon a group of volunteers who loved TV and loved films and had an interest in celebrity and wanted to share that passion with the world.

We first did that with downloadable software and then the web came along in 1993. We were one of the first 100 websites to launch and we were just doing this as a hobby and not as a commercial use of the internet. And by 1996 it just grew to such a scale that the best way to serve us customers and carry it forward and incorporate. We launched IMDb.com in time for the Oscars in 1996 and I quit my day job and became the first full-time employee. We later became Amazon’s first ever acquisition.

What was in your film diary?
I started with the title and the date on which I saw the film. And then I soon added a column for directors and producers, writers and cast. If I saw something on VHS, I would rewind the tape and just type in the credits myself.

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Ratsasan (2018).