Hollywood tie-ups galore for Bollywood in 2008


New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) The over $2 billion Indian film industry finally managed to lure Hollywood biggies like Warner Bros and Walt Disney to invest in it in 2008. What's more, some homegrown production majors also managed to penetrate Western projects.

Among notable deals were Yash Raj Films collaborating with Walt Disney, Ramesh Sippy with Warner Bros for the next Akshay Kumar-starrer and Reliance BIG Entertainment with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG to produce 36 films.

"People across the world are looking forward to Indian films. They are keen to watch Indian cinema. Our films are appreciated by both critics and audiences worldwide and for that good collaborations with good content will definitely work wonders in the future," Girish Johar, associate vice-president of UTV Motion Pictures, told IANS.

In 2007, Sony Pictures Entertainment-owned Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures was the first Hollywood studio to collaborate with an Indian production house. They co-produced "Saawariya" with Sanjay Leela Bhansali Films.

Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's "White Nights", "Saawariya", which introduced Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, was a box office disaster, but it did not dissuade other Hollywood production majors from investing in the Indian film market.

Following Sony, Hollywood studio Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures tied up with Raghav Bahl's TV 18 group and created a movie investment fund in early 2008.

Joining the league was Walt Disney Co. that invested in the Rs.13 billion ($324 million) Indian animation segment by inking a joint venture with Yash Raj Films (YRF).

Their first co-production "Roadside Romeo" tanked at the box office, but Hollywood production house will still come out with at least one animated film every year with voice-overs from Bollywood actors.

Another mega Hollywood giant to enter the Hindi film industry was Warner Bros. It ventured as distributors with the dud "Saas, Bahu Aur Sensex" and is now co-producing Akshay Kumar-starrer "Chandni Chowk to China" (2009) with Ramesh and Rohan Sippy.

Warner Bros also signed a three-movie deal with People Tree Films and a one film tie-up with Tandav Films, which produced "Khosla Ka Ghosla". The production house has also brought in internationally acclaimed Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur to direct a $200-million Hollywood fantasy-epic "Larklight".

While the Hollywood studios' production ventures bombed at the Indian box office, India's UTV Motion Pictures, which collaborated with 20th Century Fox to co-produce M. Knight Shyamalan's "The Happening", raked in $31.5 million at the US box office in the opening weekend.

"We did 'The Namesake' with Fox Searchlight (2006) and then 'The Happening' with 20th Century and both have been hits. We are very positive so far as collaborations are concerned - both business and economics wise," said Girish Johar of UTV.

UTV also entered into an exclusive pact with Disney for the sale and distribution of all their movies in India from January 2009.

Reliance BIG Entertainment didn't lag behind in laying its hands on entertainment infrastructure abroad - it signed $1.2 billion deal with ace filmmaker Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG to produce 36 films for the next six years.

Reliance also acquired over 200 theatres across 28 locations in North America to screen Bollywood and other regional content from India and other Asian countries.

Filmmaker Vipul Shah, who churned out blockbuster "Singh is Kinng", was signed on by Fox Star for a multiple film deal. Shah called the deal "the future of Indian cinema".

"This is the future for Indian cinema - we have to partner with the best technical and creative talent from around the world, while keeping the Indian soul in our films intact," Shah said.

The year also saw the India-Britain film co-production treaty coming into force. The treaty will allow Indian filmmakers to collaborate with a British producer and have access to a range of benefits, including tax breaks, sources of funding and practical support there.

Percept Picture Company, another Indian production house, is set to co-finance "Racing The Monsoon", a sequel to Michael Douglas' 1984 starrer "Romancing The Stone".

Vidhu Vinod Chopra too is set to direct Hollywood project "Broken Horses".

On the other hand, Jennifer Lynch is the first Hollywood director to wield the megaphone for a Bollywood project. She is shooting a Hindi film titled "The Hiss" with Mallika Sherawat in the main lead.

Down south, Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan was also roped in to star in two Disney productions - "Marmayogi" and "19 Steps". Earlier this year, the production house had bought the Home Video rights of Aamir Khan's directorial debut "Taare Zameen Par" for release in the US.

However, the industry did experience tremors, thanks to the global meltdown, the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and the losses in huge flops like "Love Story 2050", "Drona" and "Yuvvraaj".

"Entertainment and media segments will not be able to sustain the growth rate that we've projected because of the unprecedented global downturn," said Smita Jha, associate director (Entertainment and Media Practice) at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC).

"In terms of filmed entertainment, the attacks are unlikely to have a permanent impact on the market though the after-effects of the meltdown and the attacks will impact consumer spending temporarily."

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)-PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 2008 report projected the Indian Filmed Entertainment to grow by about 13 percent cumulatively over the next five years and reach around Rs.176 billion by 2012.

But Jha also said the collaboration scenario would not be the same in 2009.

"So far as Hollywood collaborations are concerned, the overseas partners are bringing a studio model kind of outlook in the country with their strategic partnerships, which was earlier not present here. However, the number of projects and the budget is likely to be lower in 2009 than declared earlier," Jha said.