Hollywood eyeing Bollywood market big time
The film’s release will also mark the finale of a turbulent 18 months in which Hollywood’s major producers have been battling to invest in Indian films subsequent to corporate investments in other parts of the entertainment industry.
Executives from Disney chairman Dick Cook to Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton have travelled to Mumbai in order to sign deals with the second-biggest movie industry in the world.
After months of talks, some of the projects are being fully financed by the Hollywood studios, while in other cases they are joint investments, with the studios frequently putting in 50 percent of the finance.
Warner Bros. have signed a deal to fund three films made by veteran producer Ramesh Sippy, with the first, “Made in China,” due to start shooting in January.
Paramount Pictures parent Viacom has formed Viacom-18, a joint venture with local television broadcaster TV18, and might make features through its subsidiary.
Meanwhile Sony has signed a deal with Eros International, an India-based production company, to make as many as six pictures during the next year.
“India is a huge subcontinent and it has a huge moviegoing population. Even if you forget the little pictures, it still supports 400 movies a year,” the Hollywood Reporter quoted Gareth Wigan, vice chairman of Sony’s Columbia TriStar division, as saying.
Richard Fox, executive vp international at Warners, says that his studio aims to make three to seven pictures annually in India.
“If you are in the business of local-language production — which we are — you can’t exclude Hindi-speaking movies, or movies in any of the top two or three languages in India,” he said.
Experts say that changes in the Indian economy and film business have made this trend more feasible than ever before, as the cronyism that once marked the Indian industry is passé.
“They all think that India is booming, which it absolutely is. Real estate, information technology, software, the telecom industry — it is just growing in a way I have never seen before,” said Ashok Amritraj, the best-known Indian producer based in Los Angeles.
For Disney president Mark Zoradi, the key to tap into the huge Indian movie market, is to invest in local product by teaming with established Indian producers.
“Our strategy is to make movies in India, for India. We are not trying to make global exports; we are looking to do Indian movies that can play locally in India and to Indian audiences in the U.S. and the U.K. and a few other markets. If we end up with a movie that can travel, that’s great. But our primary objective is to make movies that work for India,” Zoradi said.
However, some Indian filmmakers are sceptical of Hollywood’s long-term commitment.
“The Hollywood studios are here purely for commercial and not artistic reasons. They are here to cater to the Indian market with formulaic films. I don’t think they would be interested in offbeat and edgy fare,” said Vishal Bharadwaj, one of India’s most acclaimed filmmakers.
More insiders fear that Hollywood’s arrival will lead to price inflation, a trend that is already troubling many Indian filmmakers.
“A year ago, the most expensive films were probably around 10 million dollars; today it is commonplace for a movie to be between 10 million dollars-15 million dollars. Actors have gotten a 100 percent raise in the last year. The problem is that there are only probably 10 actors and five or six directors who are names of consequence. They are very sought after, and their prices have risen dramatically,” Amritraj said.