Future bleak for small-timers in Bollywood

By Priyanka Khanna, Indo-Asian News ServiceimageNew Delhi, Nov 26 (IANS) The trend of mergers and acquisitions sweeping across various industries the world over is redefining business dynamics in the Hindi film trade as well, leaving small-time operators out of action.

While production studios are turning into conglomerates that can make, distribute, market and even exhibit films, the ever-increasing investment required for a movie venture and the paucity of saleable stars are squashing starry dreams of many.

This week by releasing “Dhoom II” on their terms and conditions, the famed and illustrious Yash Raj Films (YRF) movie studio has once again shown that it is all-powerful.

News reports say that YRF demanded a 50 percent share in the first week as against 48 percent, which is the norm. Many distributors who did not give in are left licking their wounds given the staggering box office opening that the film starring Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan has garnered.

YRF had made similar demands for their previous release “Faana” as well. News reports quoted trade analyst Amod Mehra as saying: “It is unethical for any distributor to make outrageous demands. This matter should be dealt with collectively at the association level. Individual demands should not be entertained.”

He is echoing the sentiments of many in the industry but is highly unlikely to have any effect on YRF that is set to grow from strength to strength, especially now that “Dhoom II” is about to become a blockbuster.

And then there are some production houses going in for pacts with leading stars and directors for a series of films under their banner. Hrithik, recently, signed a Rs.350 million deal for three films with Adlabs and Akshay Kumar got into a contract with them for four films.

The Anil Ambani company has also signed up director Vipul Shah for eight films at Rs.200 crore and Ram Gopal Varma for 10 films at Rs.100 crore, including the “Sholay” remake and “Sarkar II”.

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All saleable stars are simply out of dates. The situation is exasperating for new entrants and even corporate houses that have big funds and great scripts in hand aren’t getting any stars who have the time.

News reports say that the phenomenon is restricted to Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. “If you plan a film today you will have to wait till 2008 or late 2007 because all top actors are booked,” Vinod Mirani, film trade analyst, said in an interview.

With little time to spare, stars are quoting and getting unheard of prices. After Hrithik’s deal with Adlabs, Venus offering Rs.850 million to Akshay Kumar has made industry folks gasping.

Business-wise, a studio culture is the best bet. It makes movie making more structured and legitimised. And since the number of films will increase annually, it will improve the business average for many production houses.

But in an industry where favouritism is rampant, a handful of all- powerful studios could mean a stalemate in terms of creativity.

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Waiting in the wings are big Hollywood studios that want a share of the action in the country’s bustling film industry, leaving even less for small-timers.

After investing heavily in the local language cinema, including in China, Hollywood studios are looking at India that has a vast network of theatres and production facilities.

Thus, Sony Pictures is co-producing “Sawariya” directed by well- known filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Paramount is keenly eyeing the Indian market and recently one of its top brass, Tom Freston, said his studio was determined to go global and had a lot to offer to India.

“We are restructuring Paramount to a global model. This will include an entry into Bollywood for co-production projects with Indian filmmakers,” said Tom.

Though Hollywood is the world’s most powerful film industry – boasting more than 90 percent of the European market as well as a large share in other movie-going regions – it has barely made a dent in India, with only about four percent of the market.

Industry players say that the box office share of Hollywood films vis-à-vis the local content has declined marginally from about eight percent in 2002-03 to five percent in 2004-05. Secondly, Hollywood studios have largely stuck to distributing films or dubbing them in regional languages to reach a wider audience.

Given this backdrop, Hollywood studios have been toying with the idea of co-producing films in India since 2002 when corporatisation of the Indian film industry came into play.

Twentieth Century Fox was the first to ink a deal with Varma to co- produce three Hindi films in India way back in 2002. The deal, however, fell through as the Hollywood company shut down its operations in India.

For Hollywood studios – with presence in film distribution in India – production is a natural extension. That is where the big moolah is.

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