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Hollywood studios have mixed record in India
Priyanka Khanna, Jan 30  [ Sun, Jan 30, 2005 ]
  • New Delhi, Jan 30 (IANS): Mixed signals are emanating from Hollywood studios about their future plans in India.

    While 20th Century Fox has decided to wind up its operations in India, some other studios have declared the country a "priority market". Buoyant after ticket collections of Rs.2.5 billion ($57.3 million) in 2004, Columbia Tristar Films and Warner Bros are bullish about the Indian market and are rolling out expansion plans in the subcontinent.

    In dramatic contrast is the news about Fox's India office closing down because of a decline in the market for dubbed English films.

    Is Fox's decision to pack up its India operations a hasty decision or are Columbia and Warner Bros' plans for expansion based on unfounded optimism? The answers seems somewhere in between.

    The box-office report for Hollywood films seems relatively better than that of Bollywood's ware.

    "Spiderman 2" grossed over Rs.350 million last year, the second highest English grosser in India after "Titanic", which made over Rs.500 million, reports indicate.

    In fact some Bollywood observers claim the English movie market is growing at 35 percent in India, which now ranks 15th in theatrical collections made by Hollywood studios.

    And studios like Columbia and Warner Bros have lined up a slew of big movies in 2005, like "Batman Begins", "Star Wars Episode III", "King Kong", "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", "Hitch", "Miss Congeniality 2", "Mr and Mrs Smith", "The Chronicles of Narnia", "Memoirs of a Geisha", "War of the Worlds" (a Steven Spielberg film) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

    Simultaneous global releases are becoming the norm.

    The total number of films made by Hollywood is peanuts compared to films made in India.

    The domestic movie industry makes around 900 films a year, compared to America's 100, making it the world's most prolific film-producing country.

    But given the low rate of box-office hits - less than one-fourth of them break even - the industry's market share in the $300 billion industry is a mere $3.5 billion.

    Though Fox's marketing manager Paresh Manjrekar was quoted as saying that poor box-office returns for Hollywood films had prompted the decision for a pullout, the facts tell a different story.

    Foreign studios have had a reasonably good run at the Indian box-office. Fox's "Garfield" netted a neat profit and Columbia Tristar made the highest profit in 2004 after setting up business in India.

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  • Insiders said the reason behind Fox's decision to close its India operations could well be the way the country conducts business and no way a certificate of Bollywood's triumph over Hollywood.

    Former Fox India's managing director Aditya Shastri had at many forums brought up the need for urgent change in policies and laws but to no avail.

    He had gone on record as saying: "We have multiple problems in India, including unsettled tax issues for the last eight years. So we are not seriously looking at production here."

    The biggest adverse impact will be on Indian producers like Ram Gopal Varma who were counting on funds from Fox.

    Industry chambers like FICCI have been advocating the need for transparency in Bollywood for eons. FICCI's S. Dasgupta said Bollywood needs a lot of catching up with regard to contracts, bonds and insurance procedures.

    Hopefully, his voice will be heard with Fox's withdrawal from Indian market.

    Restrictions imposed on foreign investors in the entertainment industry are probably more responsible for the low Hollywood stakes in the Indian film market.

    The world's biggest entertainment industry accounts for a mere five percent of the Indian market, whereas in most other markets its share is up to 60-90 percent.

    Domestically produced films capture up to 95 percent of the Indian market and there is no doubt that most Indians prefer Indian movies.

    Nonetheless, there is no dearth of connoisseurs of Hollywood products. Evidence for the demand is the fact that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said Hollywood's leading studios lost more than $896 million in 2004 because of rampant movie piracy in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Fuelling the demand for Hollywood films in India is the increasing demand for them by Indian TV channels. Channels like STAR and SET Max have made the airing of Hollywood movies dubbed in Hindi a rule rather than the exception.

    Hollywood films, particularly those big on action and special effects, are typically dubbed by voiceover professionals in Hindi to reach a wider section of the billion-plus population in a country crazy about movies.

    To further increase their reach, Hollywood films are now being dubbed in Tamil and Telugu.

    In fact, Sean Connery who uttered a few Hindi words in "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" will be seen speaking eloquent Hindi, Tamil and Telugu as the dubbed versions of his James Bond classics roll out across India.

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  • Ashok Amritraj has acquired the rights to dub the vintage Bond hits into the three Indian languages. He is also considering dubbing many action-packed films including the early Clint Eastwood movies for exhibition in India.

    The entry of major Hollywood studios into production has to a great extent quelled the resentment of domestic players. Instead of fighting off the trend, the high and mighty of Bollywood have joined the gang and recently superstar Shah Rukh Khan lent his voice to the Hollywood movie "The Incredibles".

    Some studios are mulling the possibility of Hollywood directors and producers making out-and-out Bollywood potboilers starring our very own homespun stars.

    No longer content with Hollywood blockbusters -- both dubbed and non-dubbed -- cornering a fair share of Indian moviegoers, the Western movie powerhouses are joining the Bollywood bandwagon.

    At a conference, MPAA's Asia-Pacific senior vice-president admitted Hollywood was keen to join hands with Bollywood to "bring the mystical magic of film to people everywhere through the new digital technologies".

    Hyperion Pictures India, a subsidiary of the independent Hyperion Studio Inc, is looking at three projects in India, including a musical directed by US director Willard Carroll, with an American heroine but an Indian hero, cast, crew and locations.

    Universal Music has announced its intention of producing three Hindi films. With this, Universal has stolen the march over Sony Pictures Entertainment, which was the first to get a Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance to produce and distribute films in India way back in 1998.

    Though Sony is going slow on the production front, it has significantly opened up its distribution line-up through its Columbia Tristar Films arm.

    Some Indian production houses have tied up with their Western counterparts for financing and distribution.

    Clearly, the future of Hollywood films in India is not too bleak. Some Hollywood studios are cooking up right for the Indian palate but changes in Bollywood's way of doing business are the need of the hour.