Nov 17, 2007

Hollywood comes to Bollywood

The Bollywood's Saawariya and Om Shanti Om duel be damned. With the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest film, Hollywood has officially entered the Indian film arena... and it’s time to pop the bubbly. According to the international studio, the movie grossed Rs 55 crore in its opening weekend. Quite encouraging for a market that promises to open up to bigger, better things, now that foreign investment has come in.

“India has a rich and a prolific film history and we at Sony Pictures recognise the potential and importance of the Indian market. Tying up with an Indian company (as Sony has done with Eros for six co-productions) gives us the opportunity to team up with not only a leading production and distribution house but also gives us the opportunity to work with the talent in India and interact with the enormous creativity that the Indian film industry has to offer,” says Vikramjit Roy, head (publicity) for Sony Pictures Releasing India.

While Sony produced Saawariya for the worldwide market, other Hollywood studios are getting into co-production with Indian studios. In 2006, UTV announced a slate of co-productions with leading Hollywood studios, with a total value across projects of $37 million.

UTV and Fox Searchlight announced a co-production deal on the film I Think I Love My Wife , starring Chris Rock. The $14 million production is UTV’s second venture with Fox after The Namesake. The studio has also announced a $30 million co-production agreement with actor-producer Will Smith and his production company Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment, for films to be created and distributed worldwide. “India is one of the most remarkable places on earth and its motion picture industry has always fascinated me,” said Will Smith.

What do tie-ups such as these mean for Indian players? Explains Siddharth Roy Kapur, executive vice-president (marketing, distribution & syndication) UTV, “Co-productions such as ours are a creative and commercial opportunity to play on a global stage. We are being able to mine new revenues across the world. Also, we now have the reach to take our movies to a non-diaspora audience.” The studio recently announced a tie-up with Fox for M Night Shyamalan’s next film The Happening. The movie has a budget of $57 million.

Can the co-production model really work in India? Or will it lead to ‘creative differences’ between directors and the studios? While Sony Pictures “fully supported the creative vision of Sanjay Leela Bhansali”, Shyamalan claims, “I won’t go ahead if the studio does not like even single page in the script. I won’t make a movie if the studio is not convinced about my rationale. My experience with studios across has been ideal and they have always let me have my will in making the movie.”

Come January 2008 and an Indian film will be shot on location in China for the first time ever. Starring Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone, Made In China is being co-produced by Warner Bros Pictures and veteran director Ramesh Sippy. “At the turn of the century there was a lot of promise in the air about globalisation in Indian cinema. With this venture, we are bringing that dream closer to reality. Both Hollywood and the Indian film industry stand to gain a lot from each other,” says Sippy.

Finally, it’s about the money. With Hollywood studios willing to put in big bucks, fees of desi directors and actors are skyrocketing. “The crore is the new lakh and nobody’s complaining,” says an insider.