For years, the Bollywood production sector has been laying claims to imaginary global conquests. Hindi films do occasionally break into the US and UK box office charts, but they never as a rule travel beyond the confines of the Diaspora.
So the perceived success of Bollywood movies in the West continues to be no more than a mere reflection of the growing numbers and monetary clout of Indian émigrés. It is by no means a measure of the real global reach of Hindi films.
The happy news is that the situation is on the brink of major change as a couple of Mumbai film production houses seek to expand their universe by going in for tie-ups with important Hollywood players.
Coupled with the fact that several Hollywood majors – Paramount and Sony Pictures among them – are eyeing India as a production base, the move by the likes of Adlabs and UTV Motion Pictures to globalise their business points to a welcome rise in Bollywood’s confidence levels.
|A file photo of Will Smith. Smith’s production house will produce two films with UTV Motion Pictures.|
The growing synergy between Hollywood and Bollywood can only work to the mutual benefit of the world’s two largest film industries. These developments will on the one hand enable the corporatised segments of the Mumbai movie industry to gain a foothold on the global scene, and on the other help US studios tap into the rapidly growing Indian market.
So it’s clearly a two-way street out there: some of what will go out in terms of resources will also come back into this country, helping the cause of the entertainment business here overall.
UTV, which is already in partnership with Fox Searchlight for Mira Nair’s The Namesake, has now entered into a formal co-production deal with the Hollywood company to co-produce a slate of films.
UTV has also inked an agreement with actor Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures for the production of films for worldwide distribution.
One of the UTV-Fox co-productions, I Think I Love My Wife, starring Chris Rock, has already been wrapped up and is slated to hit screens worldwide in early 2007. The Namesake, which premieres at the upcoming 31st Toronto International Film Festival, is due to open around the globe in March next year.
Sony Pictures Entertainment will distribute the UTV-Overbrook co-productions, two live action films and one animation feature, worldwide, with the exception of India. As the Bollywood dreams grow bigger, the world is destined to become smaller.
Another Indian company that has made rapid strides in the attempt to reach key global markets is the Reliance-owned Adlabs. It has a five-year 50-50 co-production arrangement with Ashok Amritraj’s Los Angeles-based Hyde Park Entertainment for a spate of films.
The first one in that line-up, Asylum, is all set to role with director David Ellis (of Snakes on a Plane fame) at the helm. Adlabs is also getting into the animated motion picture business, while setting up offices in the US and the UK in order to distribute 20-odd films globally every year.
To begin with, the films to be co-produced by Adlabs and Hyde Park are likely to be in the $20 million-plus range – big budget by Mumbai standards, but average at best by current Hollywood norms. But a beginning has been made, and companies like Adlabs and UTV can only grow stronger as they acquire experience of playing for big global stakes.
The Hollywood majors, too, have begun to see the advantages of growing out of the distribution-only mode and entering the full-fledged film production business in India. Tom Freston, CEO, Viacom, had said at the Ficci Frames conference in Mumbai earlier this year: “We want to produce films here; we don’t want to just distribute.”
The Viacom/Paramount Pictures has already set up a production office in India to pursue plans to make films in this country and distribute them worldwide. Sony Pictures is co-producing Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s youthful love story, Saawariya.
As Bollywood kitsch meets Hollywood production expertise, expect the world of Indian movies to become a more interesting place than it has ever been before. Only then will the word ‘global’, which is bandied about loosely and indiscriminately at the present juncture, acquire true meaning and force in Bollywood.