Bollywood muscles in on Hollywood
With India's entertainment billionaires seemingly blessed with limitless pockets, Bollywood is flexing its movie muscle, taking on Hollywood in unexpected corners of the globe and buying up theatres worldwide.
"Bollywood now has the muscle and (Indian) corporates have big money," prominent Indian filmmaker Jagmohan Mundra told AFP.
Mundra said Bollywood companies began the bid to buy into Hollywood cinemas and distribution networks after Indian films failed to get a wide showing in the West.
The slew of major entertainment deals announced this week at Cannes, the world's biggest film market, underlined Indian cinema expansionism.
Reliance BIG Entertainment, for example, the entertainment branch of India's mighty Anil Dhirubhai Ambani (ADA) Group, unveiled plans to spend one billion US dollars by the end of 2009.
ADA plans to use the cash to produce a slate of films in nine languages while ensuring the movies make it onto cinema screens outside India as well as on home video, online digital platforms, and television through the Internet (IPTV).
The group has already acquired 250 screens in the United States and made theatre acquisitions in Malaysia, Nepal and elsewhere.
"We believe it is the right time to make this move...(India) is the world's fourth largest economy and growing very fast, and we're the biggest filmmaking country," Reliance chairman Amit Khanna told the media.
Meanwhile, Indian films were reported to be selling briskly in the Cannes marketplace, which gathers some 10,000 industry types.
"Indian films are starting to spread around the world", said Alice Coelho of Eros International.
Outside of Britain, Germany is Eros's biggest market for Bollywood films. But there is also much demand for the movies in Russia, the market in the Netherlands is opening up, and Poland is currently India's hottest upcoming scene, Coelho told AFP.
On the sales front, traditional romantic Indian melodrama as well as newer-wave comedies and edgy arthouse are selling well -- sometimes to the most unexpected markets.
In Germany, Eros' new political thriller "Sarkar Raj", featuring Bollywood star and former Miss World, Ashwarya Rai, playing alongside her celebrity actor husband Abhishek Bachchan, generated huge unexpected market interest at the recent Berlin film festival.
Ashok Amritraj, who heads up Los-Angeles-based production powerhouse, Hyde Park International, says it is Indian skill in turning out films that entertain that is behind their success. "We're going for great entertainment," he said.
Many of the movies up for release soon, however, are time zones away from run-of-the-mill the Bollywood formula of good versus bad plus song and dance.
The trend some years ago to "cross-over" movies such as
Bride and Prejudice
, aimed at winning over Indian expats and foreign audiences, failed to make a big splash and dried up.
Yet many of the latest "new wave" Indian movies aimed at international and domestic movie-buffs still have a feel of crossing Indian and non-Indian cultures.
Jag Mundra's latest film,
Shoot on Sight
, is a suspense drama based loosely around the recent terrorist attacks in London with many of the lead roles played by British actors, including Brian Cox and Sadie Fox.
The Other End of the Line
, a light, romantic comedy that was the first collaboration between Amritraj's Hyde Park Entertainment group and Hollywood giant MGM, is to be released later this year.
While India's cinema top execs might again be bemoaning the country's failure to get a movie nominated for the top Cannes prize, the Palme d'Or, demand for Indian films in the marketplace is booming.
And the potential supply is massive. Eros alone has a library of 100,000 films and brings out 30 to 40 new films each year.