By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, Jan 20 (IANS) The appeal of Indian cinema is growing across the world and the burgeoning industry is wooing fans in Southeast Asia and in the Far East.
After filming scores of productions in Southeast Asian metropolitan cities, the film industry in Mumbai is now putting names of these cities in film titles and is even hiring actors from those countries.
"Bombay to Bangkok", directed by Nagesh Kukunoor and produced by industry warhorse Subhash Ghai that hit the theatres Friday, is a perfect example of Bollywood beginning to make efforts to capture those markets.
What began as a search for virgin locales by Bollywood producers later blossomed into well-oiled machinery in which fullest cooperation was extended for shooting movies. It was a win-win situation. Producers were able to rein in costs and their films acted as the perfect brochure aimed at Indian tourists. But Bollywood is now hoping to capture their entertainment markets as well.
Similarly, music and entertainment major Saregama is producing a period film that hopes to make a dent in Japan. Directed by Aparna Sen, "The Japanese Wife" features Rahul Bose, Raima Sen and Japanese actress Chigusa Takakoo.
The trilingual film, based on a novel by Kunal Basu, is in Japanese, Bengali and English. Set in Sunderbans and in Japan, it is a long-distance love story between Rahul Bose and his Japanese pen friend.
Indian films have long been known to do well in Japan like Rajnikant's "Muthu" that got a cult following there after it was released in a dubbed version. But movies targeting the mainstream foreign audience is new.
That is not all. Hollywood-based studio Warner Brothers is foraying into Bollywood with a movie called "Made In China" that will be shot in China. Known for its business acumen, Warner Brothers is hoping to make a killing in markets in India and China with the film starring Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone.
Post 1962 India-China skirmish, filmmakers routinely demonised the Chinese in films. But with globalisation and people-to-people contacts on the rise, past wounds have healed fuelling the hope that entertainment industries in the two countries will join forces to give Hollywood a run for its money.
Shekhar Kapur, an Indian filmmaker of international repute, suggests that Indians should be looking East and not West while evolving an exportable genre.
"The East has more in common with the East than it has with the West. The East sees life and storytelling as empowering destiny. In succumbing to destiny, they become bigger," he argues, citing the success here of movies like "Titanic", "Harry Potter" and "Braveheart" as examples.
The vibrant film industry in Mumbai has been making the highest number of movies worldwide despite handicaps like steep interest rates. On the other hand, the US film industry took on and weakened local film production in countries like Italy, Spain and Japan.
The reason it bypassed India had to do with the commitment of Indian filmmakers and the sector's cottage industry format which kept its individuality alive. "Entertainment business is the management of individuality. Let us not go for models that are consistently associated with a culture very different from ours," he said.
He feels that Hollywood studios have realised that absolute entertainment revenues for Asia will become higher than the revenues of North America and Europe put together.
The shift is also because the sector's relevant audience in the 15-35 years age bracket totals 650 million with a growth rate of 25 percent in China and India, while it is a smaller 65 million growing at five percent in the US. Further, more theatres are being built here. Ticket rates too have risen higher in India, compared to the US.
Big corporations have smelled this opportunity and perhaps that is why Warner Brothers chose to make a Bollywood film that would appeal to Japanese as well. Now if only more Bollywood producers would wake up to the untapped potential.
Kukunoor's first commercial venture - "Bombay To Bangkok" - has disappointed many in the industry. The film produced by Ghai's Mukta Arts has drawn flak for its disjointed script and mindlessness.
The film, with the tagline "We are same but different", has Shreyas Talpade of "Iqbal" fame in the lead. The film introduces Lena Christensen from Thailand as female lead.
Kukunoor who has carved a niche for himself as an independent filmmaker who tells good stories seems to have succumbed to market demands, say trade observers.
"In reality, big studios force the director to wade through layers of controllers and vice-presidents. Corporate bureaucracy is huge. By the time all that comes in, where is the movie, where is the idea?" says Kapur.
"Even corporate financiers are driven by the old financier's mentality. Nobody is identifying a good script," said filmmaker Vinod Pandey. Conceding benefits in corporatisation if "it leads to democratisation", he added, "I hope it won't be like the Mahabharat, where only the Arjuns get to make films and the Ekalavyas can't."