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Bollywood takes on Hollywood: Newsweek

Bollywood may not ever develop as broad a global market as Hollywood, but it seems set to become a financier and marketer of global products - created at home or abroad, says Newsweek magazine.

entertainment Updated: Sep 05, 2007 15:06 IST

Bollywood may not ever develop as broad a global market as Hollywood, but it seems set to become a financier and marketer of global products - created at home or abroad, says Newsweek magazine.

The ticket sales for Indian productions are rising fastest outside India, even as its increasingly wealthy middle class heads to the box office at home for more unconventional fare, the magazine notes in its Sep 10 issue citing PricewaterhouseCoopers projections.

And as the muscle of new media titans like Ronnie Screwvala increases, it won't be long before they truly become household names - in India and beyond, the US weekly says comparing him to Jack Warner, the man who began the transformation of parochial US cinema into its modern global form.

Known by Hollywood insiders for producing the The Namesake, the groundbreaking hit about Indian immigrants, and for co-producing a Chris Rock comedy (I Think I Love My Wife), now Screwvala is co-producing The Happening, a new sci-fi thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) that seems destined to vault him into the big leagues.

With a budget of $57 million, it will cost as much as 10 Indian blockbusters, setting a new bar for Bollywood.

<b1>"Our ambition is to be a global Indian entertainment company - there's no reason we can't make big-budget Hollywood movies, too," Screwvala told Newsweek International.

Over the past five years Screwvala has led the transformation of India's prolific but chaotic film industry, it says, noting that India makes about 1,000 movies a year, including Bollywood's 200-odd Hindi pictures and others in regional languages - about 10 times Hollywood's total.

Innovators like Screwvala have begun professionalising the business, bringing in outside investors and accounting standards and aggressively marketing films with novel plots. His production company has cut the old three-and-a-half-hour marathons to between 90 and 120 minutes, and has hired Hollywood scriptwriters to make its features more watchable.

He's also gone straight to foreign shores - backing Mira Nair's New York-based production of The Namesake, a story about the Indian diaspora - to prove that his model will work. The film grossed about $14 million at the box office - nearly 95 percent from the United States, more cash than any other Indian production has earned abroad to date.

Indian movies are also enjoying an impressive domestic boom. In 2006, India's film business grossed about $2 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2004, Newsweek says citing PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that revenue will leap to more than $4 billion over the next five years.

"Our growth rates are much higher than Hollywood's, but in value terms we are way below [the US movie industry]," it quotes Timmy Kandhari, head of PWC's media and entertainment practice, as saying. But that will change as ticket prices - which now average less than $1 in India - swiftly catch up with the racing Indian economy.

This anticipated boom has foreign and domestic players scrambling to get in.

Disney bought a 15 percent stake in Screwvala's UTV for $14 million in 2006. This year, Viacom inked a 50-50 joint venture with budding news media mogul Raghav Bahl, head of the Indian entertainment conglomerate Network 18.

The venture, called Viacom 18, will produce and distribute TV shows, digital media and (eventually) 10 to 12 movies a year. A separate entity called the Indian Film Company - in which Network 18 and Viacom own stakes - will begin financing about 40 to 45 films a year within three years.

Billionaire Anil Ambani's Reliance ADAG conglomerate has acquired a 51 percent stake in a leading movie company called Adlabs Films for a little under $90 million. And three Indian studios made their international stock market debuts in London this year, raising a combined $220 million.

The next challenge for Bollywood is to branch out into the broader media and entertainment business, which is expected to grow in India from about $11 billion to $25 billion by 2011, says Newsweek.