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Bollywood Goes Global: Should Hollywood Tremble?

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Allègre Hadida believes the discussion about Bollywood going global should not strictly be limited to Bollywood. There are many other Indian film industries than have global potential. In fact, Indian cinema has always been global. The Indian film market is worth $10 billion, and we are starting to witness a cross-fertilisation of Bollywood and Hollywood.

Patrick von Sychowski is COO of Adlabs, part of the Reliance Group (more specifically Reliance Entertainment). Their mission is to access as many consumers as possible through all forms of media, not only cinema. There are some interesting trends in the Bollywood market. For example, nonstandard Bollywood films are gaining in popularity (e.g. horror) over the classic ‘masala’ films. India only has 201 cinema screens run by Reliance. There is a large scope for simply increasing the number of screens in India. Reliance are also doing more collaborations with Hollywood and this is slowly being witnessed in the mainstream.

Rohan Sippy began by summarising the history of his new film. He believes the first genre to go global will be tamil-telugu films, not Bollywood.

Rohan Sippy

Film Director

Rohan Sippy directed his first film in 2003, the romantic comedy drama Kuch Naa Kaho starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai. “Eye-watering production values and a sparkling performance by Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai … an impressive debut by Rohan Sippy… (It) ranks as one of the classiest Hindi productions of the year.” (Derek Elley, Variety)

Bluffmaster (2005), Rohan’s second film, saw him team up with Abhishek again and a supporting cast of Priyanka Chopra, Riteish Deshmukh, Boman Irani and Nana Patekar. It succeeded as a slickly packaged entertaining con caper with a taut screenplay that is urbanely tongue-in-cheek. And for the first time a Hindi film featured truly international talent, including prominent Pharsi, Scandinavian and UK Asian underground artistes on a breakthrough soundtrack. Capping it was Abhishek’s singing debut “Right Here Right Now”, one of the top songs of the year, and whose video won MTV’s Most Stylish Song in Film Award for 2006.

After co-producing the sleeper hit Taxi No. 9 2 11 featuring Nana Patekar and John Abraham, Rohan produced Chandni Chowk To China, a Kung Fu song and dance action comedy featuring Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone and a host of Chinese and Indian talent, which Warner Bros released worldwide on 16 January 2009. He also produced the English language “indie” The President Is Coming, featuring Konkona Sen Sharma, Shernaz Patel and a host of talented stage actors, which after its release on 9 January 2009 has fast become a cult favourite with audiences and critics alike… “Savagely hilarious… a new wave in Bollywood!” (Shubra Gupta, Indian Express).

Rohan has spoken at international conferences and seminars, at Princeton University and the Wharton School among others. He has also served as a columnist for The Indian Express, as well as writing for India Today, Mint, Man’s World and Mid Day. He is currently preparing for his next film as a director, as well as developing scripts for production.

Patrick von Sychowski

Chief Operating Officer, Adlabs Digital Cinema

Patrick von Sychowski is Chief Operating Officer of Adlabs Digital Cinema, part of the Reliance ADA Group. Adlabs is India’s largest film services company and parent company of BIG Cinemas, the country’s largest cinema chain.

Patrick was previously a Senior Analyst with UK-based media research company Screen Digest where he pioneered the coverage of digital cinema and consulted on several major digital cinema projects, such as the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network. As well as writing, he has been active in the industry as Director of Business Development for both Unique Digital and Deluxe UK, launching the digital cinema operations of both companies. He lives in Mumbai and co-edits the blog CelluloidJunkie.com in his spare time.

Listen to the ‘And action’ podcast with Patrick von Sychowski

Allègre Hadida

Associate Professor in Strategy

PhD (Doctorat HEC, France)

The estimated value of the Indian media entertainment industry, according to PWC, is now around $10 billion US. And it is actually– well, that’s relatively small compared to Hollywood. But this figure is actually growing at a rate of– estimated rate of between 12% and 15% a year.

The increased cross-fertilisation of Bollywood in Hollywood now seems to be increasingly a reality. We have Indian conglomerates financing Hollywood studios and getting into development deals with major Hollywood stars– Hollywood, increasingly, turning to Bollywood movies for inspiration. So should Hollywood tremble?

What companies like Warner Brothers are doing internationally, I don’t think they fear India. I think more than anything, they want to be part of the growth story.

This isn’t the first time that a foreign country has gone into Hollywood and pumped money into it. In the 1980s, we had the Japanese electronics majors– Sony, Matsushita– buying up Columbia and Universal. In the 1990s, you had French utility companies and Canadian whiskey makers going in and buying studios. And then the ’00s now, you have India coming in. But you also have more of an invisible approach. You have the German production funds, as well, which put a lot of money into it. But unlike the previous French and Japanese, they do want to own the studio. They don’t want to have the right to the Paramount name, so it’s more of an invisible presence.

And what Reliance did in the partnership with Steven Spielberg, buying out the Dreamworks production offer from Paramount, is to establish a virtual studio in Hollywood.

And really, they want to engage with the biggest creative talents, directors, producers.

And what it comes down to is what Kal Patel from Best Buy yesterday talked about. Hollywood is all about relationships. So what Reliance and Big is buying here is not have their own little studio to play with. They’re buying relationships with the key talent, the key filmmakers, the key artists in Hollywood, and that way, establish long-term value.

And by the fact that they are building more of a virtual presence, a virtual studio, it doesn’t open them to as much exposure. But at the same time, they can reap the benefits, also, by going in and partnering with the talent, and not trying to bypass studios because what they don’t want to do is go in and try to alienate the studios.

If they don’t get involved, somebody else will take their ideas and redo it.

We sell over one million DVD players a month in India. A lot of time, buyers are the ones who are actually doing the test marketing for us, showing us where the consumers are, and what they want. You know? I really think that. They’re the entrepreneurs because they’re going out and showing us the opportunities where bureaucracies and big corporations don’t get to. So we have to find a way to find– to get them legitimate copies of our movies at the right price point.

About three years ago, I met up with Warner Brothers to start a conversation, discuss this script that we had, which had a country bumpkin from Chandni Chowk in Delhi who ends up being mistaken for a reincarnated Chinese kung-fu hero.

Speaking to Kunal a little bit about the experience of working in China, which I discovered was– you know, it took us about 18 months of many bureaucratic meetings, meeting with the China Film Corporation, and lots of lunches, and polite discussions with not knowing the language. The first word I learned was guanxi, which is all about the relationships you have.

I think any Hollywood studio is going to have a tough time going into India because there are certain ways of doing things.

I think the professor just talked about the economic distance and the cultural distance that might be a factor as well. Because ultimately, it’s an instinctive kind of job. You got to back people. It’s a very people-driven business. It’s all about relationships, you know, like, yesterday, mentioning. So it has to really come from that. So if that gets a little too bureaucratic and transaction-led, it’s not going to really, in the short term or medium, work.

That’s the most beautiful thing about our cinema. You know, Javed Akhtar, the writer, said, you know, you have these states in India– Rajasthan, Bihar, and Maharashtra, and these other states. Whether you are sitting in Bihar, or here in Cambridge, or Boston, there’s something that is magical about that that makes us feel we’re part of one community. And that’s really what we look for each time.

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