'Saawariya' opens floodgates for Hollywood's Bollywood raid


By Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, (IANS) Although the film opened to a lukewarm response on home ground, the international draw of "Saawariya", Hollywood's first Bollywood film, has given a fillip to a score of US studios eyeing business opportunities in financing films in India.

Starring newcomers Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, the Bollywood musical that released internationally in 13 markets outperformed Tom Cruise's "Lions for Lambs" by more than $5 million in the first week of its release, according to the entertainment website Hollywood Reporter.

The three-hour-long extravaganza by ace film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali had subtitles in English and is the first Hindi film produced by a Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment. Though the film has come as a big disappointment to many, by becoming the number one hit international, albeit for a short while, it has restored the faith of other Hollywood studios like Warner Brothers and Disney Studios who already have projects on the floor in India.

"What's truly driving this phenomenon is the size of the market, how quickly India is growing and how much disposable income is available for entertainment," Vin Bhat, co-founder of Saavn, a digital distributor of South Asian movies, television shows and music videos in the US, was quoted as saying in a news report.

"The Indian consumer has certainly amassed more wealth per capita, especially in the urban areas, and that's what the studios have seen -- that the end consumer can afford the stuff and afford it en masse, and that's the trigger for them getting involved," added Bhat.

The multiplexes that are now flourishing in big and even not-so-big cities in the country, but still not able to satiate demand, are the biggest drivers for Hollywood. The big boys of entertainment are no longer content with merely peddling their ware in a variety of local languages but are creating Bollywood products that is for both the Indian and world markets.

"Sony is motivated by wanting to make motion pictures, to create movies the local people want to see. We would not go into a country where movies aren't an integral part of the local culture, and obviously there's this very long history of movie-making and with 1,000 movies being released a year in India it's obviously an integral part of Indian society and culture. We are excited that our first movie is a part of that," says Deborah Schindler, president of International Motion Picture Production at Sony Pictures.

Following the completion of "Saawariya" Sony has signed a deal with an Indian production company to make as many as six pictures during the next year, news reports say.

The bid daddy of Hollywood, Warner Brothers, is already knee deep in the making of a Hindi film along with Bollywood veteran Ramesh Sippy. Titled "Made in China", starring Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone, the film is being directed by Nikhil Advani of "Salaam Namaste" fame.

India's most successful movie business house, Yash Raj Films, is also working with Walt Disney Studios to co-produce an animated film. The first off the conveyor belt will be "Roadside Romeo".

For Bollywood companies getting into tie-ups with international studios will help them gain access to territories that they have never explored before. This in turn may help in finding newer audiences for the specific brand of movies.

The biggest fear, however, is that the influx of money may lead to production costs skyrocketing, squashing smaller players. Then there are apprehensions about Hollywood overshadowing Indian business.

Without outside competition, the hegemony of Mumbai-based Hindi film industry has left regional films and talented directors out in the cold.

The critical bashing that "Saawariya" has garnered notwithstanding, it has done reasonably well in terms of business. Though Bollywood King Shah Rukh Khan's "Om Shanti Om" is the clear leader of the box office and it may even emerge as the biggest ever hit of Shah Rukh.

Both "Saawariya" and "Om Shanti Om" have given Bollywood much reason to rejoice. And with more biggies like "Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal" which releases Friday and "Aaja Nachle" the week after, this year may still end on as good a note as last year.