Future bleak for small-timers in Bollywood ...

By Priyanka Khanna, Indo-Asian News Service

imageNew Delhi,

Nov 26 (IANS) The trend of mergers and acquisitions sweeping across

various industries the world over is redefining business dynamics in

the Hindi film trade as well, leaving small-time operators out of

action.

While production studios are turning into conglomerates that can

make, distribute, market and even exhibit films, the ever-increasing

investment required for a movie venture and the paucity of saleable

stars are squashing starry dreams of many.

This week by releasing "Dhoom II" on their terms and conditions, the

famed and illustrious Yash Raj Films (YRF) movie studio has once again

shown that it is all-powerful.

News reports say that YRF demanded a 50 percent share in the first

week as against 48 percent, which is the norm. Many distributors who

did not give in are left licking their wounds given the staggering box

office opening that the film starring Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and

Abhishek Bachchan has garnered.

YRF had made similar demands for their previous release "Faana" as

well. News reports quoted trade analyst Amod Mehra as saying: "It is

unethical for any distributor to make outrageous demands. This matter

should be dealt with collectively at the association level. Individual

demands should not be entertained."

He is echoing the sentiments of many in the industry but is highly

unlikely to have any effect on YRF that is set to grow from strength to

strength, especially now that "Dhoom II" is about to become a

blockbuster.

And then there are some production houses going in for pacts with

leading stars and directors for a series of films under their banner.

Hrithik, recently, signed a Rs.350 million deal for three films with

Adlabs and Akshay Kumar got into a contract with them for four

films.

The Anil Ambani company has also signed up director Vipul Shah for

eight films at Rs.200 crore and Ram Gopal Varma for 10 films at Rs.100

crore, including the "Sholay" remake and "Sarkar II".

-*-

All saleable stars are simply out of dates. The situation is

exasperating for new entrants and even corporate houses that have big

funds and great scripts in hand aren't getting any stars who have the

time.

News reports say that the phenomenon is restricted to Shah Rukh Khan

and Aishwarya Rai. "If you plan a film today you will have to wait till

2008 or late 2007 because all top actors are booked," Vinod Mirani,

film trade analyst, said in an interview.

With little time to spare, stars are quoting and getting unheard of

prices. After Hrithik's deal with Adlabs, Venus offering Rs.850 million

to Akshay Kumar has made industry folks gasping.

Business-wise, a studio culture is the best bet. It makes movie

making more structured and legitimised. And since the number of films

will increase annually, it will improve the business average for many

production houses.

But in an industry where favouritism is rampant, a handful of all-

powerful studios could mean a stalemate in terms of creativity.

-*-

Waiting in the wings are big Hollywood studios that want a share of

the action in the country's bustling film industry, leaving even less

for small-timers.

After investing heavily in the local language cinema, including in

China, Hollywood studios are looking at India that has a vast network

of theatres and production facilities.

Thus, Sony Pictures is co-producing "Sawariya" directed by well-

known filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Paramount is keenly eyeing the

Indian market and recently one of its top brass, Tom Freston, said his

studio was determined to go global and had a lot to offer to India.

"We are restructuring Paramount to a global model. This will include

an entry into Bollywood for co-production projects with Indian

filmmakers," said Tom.

Though Hollywood is the world's most powerful film industry -

boasting more than 90 percent of the European market as well as a large

share in other movie-going regions - it has barely made a dent in

India, with only about four percent of the market.

Industry players say that the box office share of Hollywood films

vis-à-vis the local content has declined marginally from about eight

percent in 2002-03 to five percent in 2004-05. Secondly, Hollywood

studios have largely stuck to distributing films or dubbing them in

regional languages to reach a wider audience.

Given this backdrop, Hollywood studios have been toying with the

idea of co-producing films in India since 2002 when corporatisation of

the Indian film industry came into play.

Twentieth Century Fox was the first to ink a deal with Varma to co-

produce three Hindi films in India way back in 2002. The deal, however,

fell through as the Hollywood company shut down its operations in

India.

For Hollywood studios - with presence in film distribution in India

- production is a natural extension. That is where the big moolah

is.