By Arun Kumar, Indo-Asian News ServiceWashington, March 12 (IANS) With Bollywood slowly but surely crossing the ethnic borders in North America, Hollywood is looking eastward to make Indian language films, according to a man scripting this success story.
“We believe major studios here are looking at tie-ups with Bollywood for co-producing Indian language films,” said Ronnie Screwvala, executive producer of Mira Nair’s “The Namesake”, which opened in the US with a string of positive reviews in the mainline media.
Released worldwide Friday with 1,150 prints and a budget of $8 million jointly invested by Screwvala’s production house UTV and America’s Fox Searchlight, it’s “India’s first truly crossover movie”, Screwvala told IANS in a telephonic interview from Los Angeles. The prints and marketing would cost another $10 million.
“We have been exchanging scripts and ideas ever since the tie-up for mainline releases,” said the UTV CEO.
UTV and Fox Searchlight will have another mainline global release on March 16 of a co-production, “I Think I Love My Wife” (ITILMW), with a budget of $14 million.
Directed and enacted by America’s number one comedy icon, Chris Rock, it will be released in the US with over 1,800 prints and then worldwide between April and June with another 1,200 prints. The marketing and prints budget in this case is $20 million.
In a little less than a year, UTV has forged alliances with three of the top five media majors in the world – Fox, Sony and Disney – as part of a strategy to achieve mainline participation in global cinema.
Over the next 12 months, two of its co-productions with Sony will roll out worldwide. Both films star Will Smith, whose last film “The Pursuit of Happyness” has grossed a strong $280 million worldwide and is still counting. With Disney, UTV is equity partner in movies, animation and broadcasting.
“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,” Screwvala said.
Screwvala said he could not think of any other producer who is following the UTV formula. UTV’s tie-ups with major US production houses had resulted from over two and a half years of building relationships. “Commitment is very important and it takes time to build credibility,” he said.
To build global appeal of Indian cinema, his team has been active in every film festival around the world and more and more of UTV productions are getting global releases. For example, “Jodha-Akbar” will be released in 26 countries simultaneously as against 11 in the case of “The Namesake”.
“If you look at the sort of films that UTV has produced over the years – from “Swades” to “Lakshya” to “Rang De Basanti” (RDB) – we have encouraged cinema that reaches out to a global audience and has a strong appeal even beyond an audience of Indian origin,” he said.
Asked why Indian films, including RDB, had failed to win an Oscar to date, Screwvala said since the Academy awards and the jury are US-based, the ratio of winners was bound to be tilted towards North America. Besides “we don’t make movies of durations to which Western audiences can relate”.
But RDB witnessed a “stupendous” response across North America and the response to “The Namesake” is “exceptional,” he said, adding, “We will continue to support and produce movies that cut across geographical and cultural boundaries, driven by the sheer strength of their storytelling.”
Besides “The Namesake”, ITILMW and the two Will Smith movies, Screwvala has a fifth co-production in the pipeline. “It’s a very big one. Absolutely mainline,” but he will not say anything more for now.