Hollywood sharpens focus on India

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By Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Oct 5 (IANS) Hollywood stars, studios, technicians, directors and producers in their increasing numbers are trying to sink their teeth into India's burgeoning entertainment market pie.

While some are co-opting their Indian counterparts or staging cross-cultural casting coups, others are resorting to an aggressive marketing to strengthen their foothold in the country.

Sony Pictures decision to unveil "Quantum of Solace", the latest edition of James Bond's escapades, in India before premiering it in the US is a testimonial to how the business of global entertainment has undergone fundamental changes in the past year.

The escapades of the British superspy will be unveiled on screen in India on Nov 7, marking the first time a major Hollywood title has opened here before its US premiere. The film will debut in Britain Oct 31 and be released in North America Nov 14.

Hollywood is clearly upbeat after Sony Pictures' "Spiderman 3" grossed Rs.680 million at the box-office and Warner Brothers' "Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix", "Pirates of the Caribbean 3", "Ghost Rider" and "Die Hard 4" made a killing as well.

This year, Warner Brothers' "Dark Knight", which released July 18, same day and date release with the US.

Sony Pictures' "Hancock", starring Will Smith, Disney's "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", Columbia Pictures' "Vantage Point" and "National Treasure 2" have done well at the box-office. Indian market looks lucrative with the multiplex boom and localisation of content that has helped Hollywood fare better in India.

This week, Rupert Murdoch's 20th-Century Fox Studios announced multi-crore-rupee deal with Bollywood's Vipul Shah, whose latest film "Singh is Kinng" recently scorched the box-office.

Fox Studios is entering India for making and distributing films, and remaking Hollywood hits in Hindi. Already Warner Bros is ready with its first India production, the action comedy starring Akshay Kumar "Chandni Chawk to China", for which it will hold worldwide rights.

Similarly, Disney and Bollywood powerhouse Yash Raj Films will unveil "Roadside Romeo" this month.

As recession hits the US, Asian companies are grabbing headlines with a string of deals and presentations for ambitious films that reached far beyond their traditional markets prompting US studios to aggressively push their way in newer markets as well as look to produce local-language projects for a particular territory or territories.

Other factors that have tipped Hollywood's axis are that Japan, India and, more recently, Korea have often embraced native films at the expense of American offerings.

And in the past few years, titles like France's "Cht'is" (which has passed $180 million, nearly all of it at the French box office) and "Asterix at the Olympic Games," the German "Manitou's Shoes," Korea's "The Host" and Britain's "Hot Fuzz" have made enough money in their home territory that they don't need to travel.

And as Variety puts it, other pictures, including Focus' "Lust, Caution," Lionsgate's "The Bank Job" and U's "Mr. Bean's Holiday" have shown that a film can make enough outside of the US.

Though Hollywood fare flourishes overseas, it accounts for a small percentage of the box office in India-the world's second most populous nation. For example, Hollywood fare accounted for 85 percent of Spain's box office in 2006 but only 8 percent in India.

Hollywood has gone local in other places around the globe. Warner was a backer of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "A Very Long Engagement" in France, while Sony was key to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," often held up as the epitome of local production combined with Hollywood distribution strength. This amalgamation may be the key for India to cling its first truly crossover film.

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