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World not yet stage for Indian cinema

The Indian film industry, which nurtures superstars, is not a global superpower yet, writes Udita Jhunjhunwala.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2006 03:44 IST

With a tally of almost 1,000 films a year, we have the reputation of being the second largest film producing nation after the United States. Yet the Indian film industry, which nurtures superstars, is not yet a global superpower. The world is not the stage for the satisfied and successful Indian market.

Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha might have made a global dent, but they are all NRIs. Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Om Puri, Gulshan Grover have bagged some prestigious international projects but are yet to earn the accolades of, say, a Penelope Cruz or Zhang Ziyi.

The main reason why mainstream moneymakers and hit filmmakers do not have international clout is because they chose not to. Consider that of 2005’s total revenues of Rs 68 billion, overseas box office revenues contributed only nine per cent, according to FICCI’s report on the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry, while the domestic box office bit off a massive Rs 77 billion.

From kitsch fare to soul food

Perhaps this is why Indian filmmakers prefer to stay rooted at home. As Karan Johar says, “We are the only filmmaking nation that is independent of studios and Hollywood money because of our strong domestic business. Our global success is increasing as seen in UK, France, Germany, Poland, UAE, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and Tanzania, among others, but we cannot compete with the North American market because of language limitations and because we have not yet penetrated the mainstream of most countries.”

The shift in perception away from ‘kitsch’ fare to films with soul might help Indian films, as might tapping new business areas like outsourcing. Offering services to international filmmakers for locations, line production, post-production, special effects and animation, thus combining Indian films with the film making acumen could put India onto the global film firmament.

Most agree that it will take the film industry considerable time to become a global power, particularly as our films and filmmakers are habitually inward looking. Indeed the FICCI report projects on a marginal increase in overseas box office revenues for the Indian film industry of just one per cent over the next five years.

Technology, content the obstacles

Manmohan Shetty, managing director of Adlabs Films, feels that the Indian film industry’s footprint and global footprint currently is “negligible”. “Penetration is only in the Hindi-speaking Indian diaspora or in countries that have near-identical cultures like Korea, West Indies and Malaysia,” says Shetty. Both he and Sandeep Bhargava, CEO of Studio 18, concur that the Indian film industries global impact will not happen in the next five years as “we are not attuned to making films for a global audience and hence cannot be seen as influential”.

The perceptible increase in market share and rising revenues internationally, are factors as are the changing import policies in countries like Pakistan, the greater number of cinema screens available and the newer diaspora audiences. “Our films are currently seen in 30 countries and it is projected that we will add 20 more countries by 2008,” says Bhargava. The next five years will tell their own story, and knowing our films, they’ll be dramatic and heightened.