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Lights, camera, India

Hollywood is deepening its presence in India by moving beyond merely distributing its films and entering Indian film production. The money promise is too big to miss, writes Rachit Vats.

mumbai Updated: Mar 21, 2010 21:59 IST
Rachit Vats

Hollywood studios saw a good 2009 in India, mostly releasing a large number of prints of major Hollywood films and increasing the number of dubbed film screenings in regional markets. Industry sources say about 60 foreign films were released, garnering about Rs 380 crore at the box office.

Smita Jha, associate director, entertainment and media practices, PricewaterhouseCoopers, comments: “At 50-60 films a year, the English film market in India is not very big yet, but it is growing. Increased multiplex penetration in tiers 2 and 3 cities, and dubbing, combined with local productions will fuel the growth of foreign films in India.” PwC expects the Indian film industry to touch Rs 17,000 crore in revenue by 2011.

Kercy Daruwala, MD, Sony Pictures Entertainment, says, “Most Hollywood studios have adopted a strategy to distribute major foreign films suited for local consumption. That’s why 2009 saw the emergence of dubbed English films. While in 1996, a Hollywood film would do a maximum business of around Rs 5 crore, now the average figure has jumped to Rs 50 crore.”

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers-Motion Pictures Distributors Association of India report, Hollywood’s gross output in India was Rs 492 crore last year, including film production and distribution, and film exhibition.

Hollywood studios in India are expected to deepen their involvement further in 2010. The Walt Disney Company’s recent announcement of its ambitious plans here is an indication. It is stepping up its production initiatives in India and betting big on localisation with a recent foray in a still-to-be-named South Indian epic fantasy, scheduled for release in January 2011. The Telugu movie will be dubbed in Tamil, providing Walt Disney an entry opportunity in south India. It also has 14 family-oriented Bollywood films projects scheduled to be co-produced in India. Five of these are in advanced stages of planning.

Mahesh Samat, MD, The Walt Disney Company (India), says, “We are pretty serious about India. Local content will make the Disney brand more relevant here. Going forward, our efforts will be to invest in Hindi films. Outside the US, India is the top market for investment in local content for us. There are a few projects in the regional space as well, starting with south India, an important market.”

Other Hollywood companies are also looking at film production. Warner Brothers and Fox Star studio have announced their plans to go beyond just distribution of Hollywood films. Vijay Singh, CEO, Star-Fox, says, “We are in the process of establishing ourselves as a one-stop shop for producers and are looking to co-produce at least five Bollywood films in India per year.”

Jehil Thakker, executive director, KPMG, says, “A slew of new movies are coming that will be a mix of acquisition and production. This market is definitely gathering speed. Most of the international players have realised that to be here, it’s important to make local content. Around the world, Hollywood studios have adopted localisation strategies. Regional production will be next. There will be more Marathi, Tamil and Telugu productions.”

While Bollywood films had very few big hits in 2009, such as 3 Idiots, the Hollywood studios managed a little over Rs 300 crore, with hits like Avatar (20th Century Fox) grossing around Rs 100 crore and Sony Pictures’ 2012 over Rs 90 crore, surpassing most Hindi releases.

This year began on an even better note. Fox Star Studio’s My Name is Khan (MNIK) managed box office collections of over Rs 150 crore within 10 days of release. Says Singh: “Keeping in mind a global audience, we decided to stick to a phased release strategy for the film, taking it even to markets where no Indian film has gone before.”

Warner Brothers’ first co-production, Athithi Tum Kab Jaaoge, released on March 5, earned Rs 28 crore. Warner will release Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai on April 9, and Hindi animation film Bird Idol on April 23. “We are confident that our other films will also do well,” says Denzil Dias, deputy MD, Warner Brothers Pictures India.

The Indian film industry, which releases an average of 1,000 films annually, eclipses Hollywood in number terms and in theatrical admissions —around three billion tickets in India compared to 1.5 billion in the US sold annually — yet lags far behind in overall revenues. Yet the size of the business and potential for growth is enough to attract the Hollywood brigade.