Bollywood set to cross ethnic borders in North America …

By Arun Kumar, Indo-Asian News ServiceimageWashington, Dec 24 (IANS) Bollywood films may not be exactly doing booming business in North America for now, but the team behind “Rang De Basanti” (RDB), India’s official entry for 2007 Academy Awards, is ready to go beyond ethnic audiences.

Ronnie Screwvala and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, producer and director of RDB, conveyed this impression after a recent visit to the United States.

Screwvala, who is also the president of the Film Guild of India, and Mehra came to screen RDB, dealing with the new generation’s discovery of patriotism, for as many people as may want to see it and to talk about the film and its impact on the Indian youth.

“The visit has been very encouraging and we look forward to raising the awareness of the ‘RDB effect’ in the US,” said Dolly Kapoor, COO of Altior, a niche public relations and entertainment marketing firm which is helping RDB producer United Television (UTV) in its lobbying efforts in the US for Academy awards.

“This is work in progress. They believe they are well positioned to take the next step beyond ethnic audiences,” she told IANS in response to a question about how far Screwvala’s team has succeeded in creating a viable American market for Indian cinema.

They are re-releasing RDB, which won critical acclaim along with popular success in India, in March 2007 for mainline audiences that appreciate world cinema. They believe this will be a great learning in effort to tap new markets and to reach audiences hungry for exposure to quality cinema from across the world, Kapoor said.

However, it is still early days in the growing relationship between Bollywood and Hollywood and “we have to go a long way before the business can be called ‘booming'”, she said.

Indian movies are definitely seeing much wider releases in North America than they had earlier, but a true ‘crossover’ film is yet to emerge, which is widely patronised by non-Indian audiences, Kapoor said.

“Co-productions between Indian studios like UTV and Hollywood majors like Fox, Sony and Will Smith’s Overbrook are breaking new ground in developing this relationship and we will definitely see more of the same in the months and years to come.

“The scope for cooperation and innovative projects between the US and Indian industries is tremendous and we are seeing this reach fruition across a range of industries from IT to knowledge process outsourcing to entertainment.”

The common binding factor is that Indians are educated in English and there is a mutual meeting of needs between the two countries, said Kapoor who is also director (entertainment & media) for US-India Business Alliance (USIBA).

Already UTV has two co-productions with Fox due for release in March 2007 – Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” and Chris Rock’s “I Think I Love My Wife”.

“We have also inked a two-movie deal with Will Smith’s Overbrook and Sony Pictures to produce one live action production and one computer generated (CG) animation production,” she said.

With Disney buying a 15 percent stake in UTV, the Disney-UTV association will span across a range of synergies, which apart from movie production will include animation, television production and new media.

UTV is currently in the process of identifying any and all areas that they can work on together and they are confident that given the natural synergies between the two companies, what they develop jointly will definitely be greater than the sum of its parts, she said.

If you look at the sort of films that Screwvala’s UTV has produced over the years – from “Swades” to “Lakshya” to “Rang De Basanti” – they have encouraged cinema that reaches out to a global audience and has a strong appeal even beyond an audience of Indian origin, Kapoor said.

“They will continue to support and produce movies that cut across geographical and cultural boundaries, driven by the sheer strength of their storytelling,” she said.

RDB has witnessed a “stupendous” response across North America since its release in January 2006, Kapoor said.

“RDB has been one of the best performing Indian films ever in the US and it has helped to inform (and entertain!) people of Indian origin across the world about the changing face of the youth of the country and the issues and dilemmas they face today.”

However, it is difficult to rate its prospects at the 2007 Academy Awards, given the large number of worthy contenders this year, she said.

“But we would encourage every member of the academy to watch RDB. If not for anything else, then simply to get an understanding of the exciting new wave of cinema coming out of India, which is very different from the sort of Indian movies they might have been used to watching in the past.”

“RDB has evolved a new grammar of filmmaking in the country and its impact is being felt strongly by filmmakers and audiences,” she said.

Kapoor’s own firm Altior enables the Indian entertainment sector to develop relationships with US audiences and corporate partners. Its mission is to create and capture opportunities for revenue growth and recognition of the Indian film industry in the US market.

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